As you may remember, we added an outdoor entertaining space to our backyard in late summer.
We’ve enjoyed many relaxing evenings on our beautiful pergola-covered patio, but I’m still in the process of finishing the space so I haven’t posted a tour yet. To be honest, we’re still looking for patio furniture, and I’m still in the process of decorating. So, it may be awhile before I post the space reveal.
Except for the addition of some lawn chairs and a bench, it looks pretty much like it did on the day it was finished. Real life home makeovers don’t happen at the speed of a reality show.
But I did want to share this post that will be helpful if you’re thinking of building a pergola to enhance your home and yard.
I did a lot of research, beyond just collecting inspiration photos, before we started our patio and pergola project. When embarking on any major home improvement, I think it’s important to do your research, consider all the options and talk to experts and other homeowners who may bring up issues and questions you never considered.
6 Questions You Need to Ask Before Building a Pergola
This post is aimed at helping others who are planning on building a pergola as part of an outdoor home renovation. I hope it answers some of the questions you may have.
I’m going to break down the important things we considered when planning and building our pergola. And I’ll also explain why we we ultimately decided to go with a pergola kit from Average Joe’s Pergola Depot versus the other options we considered. I’ll also explain why I think that was the best decision for us.
(Disclosure: I am working in partnership with Average Joe’s Pergola Depot and as an affiliate, I receive a commission on any referrals. However, we had already decided to purchase one of their pergola kits before negotiating this sponsored blog partnership. As always, all opinions are honest and my own, and I only recommend products I use and believe in. You can read my full disclosure policy here.)
Now onto those six important questions.
What material is best for a pergola?
Wood, composite, aluminum or fiberglass?
Who knew there were so many different options for pergolas.
I was drawn in by the promise of low maintenance. Composite pergolas come pre-finished, so you never have to paint them. However, composite pergolas aren’t zero maintenance. They can develop stain or mold, just like the siding on your house, and need to be cleaned regularly to keep them from becoming permanently discolored.
They also are expensive; the quotes I received were about twice the price of wooden pergolas of similar size.
Vinyl and aluminum are inexpensive options, and you often can find prefab pergolas at big box and home improvement stores. I wasn’t really into the look of these, so they were never a serious contender for our patio. Plus, I was worried about how the lightweight material would stand up to wind and other elements. I worried that if we went with a pergola made from one of these materials, we’d have to replace it in a few years, either because of durability issues or dissatisfaction with the look.
So, that brings us to wood, which we chose for our pergola.
Wood definitely is not maintenance free, but there’s a reason why it’s the most commonly used material for decking, fences, pergolas and outdoor structures. It’s moderately priced, sturdy and it has a long life span. Plus, it is relatively easy to repair.
Whether you choose pressure-treated lumber or cedar for your pergola, you’d be wise to stain or paint and seal it occasionally to keep it looking good and protect it from rot and water damage. We chose cedar for our pergola, which is a bit more expensive than pressure-treated lumber, but it also should last longer. Cedar contains natural defenses against rot and insects, and it doesn’t have to be stained to look good. (We will be sealing ours to extend its life and maintain the color.)
Initially, I thought we would use pressure-treated lumber for our pergola, but aesthetics and maintenance requirements convinced me to go with cedar. Pressure-treated wood can’t be painted or stained right away. You have to wait several months for it to dry and cure. So, we were looking at an entire season with an unfinished pergola, and I wasn’t keen on that. I also couldn’t see myself on a ladder cleaning and painting or staining our tall, large pergola year after year.
What is your budget?
With any home improvement project, you have to temper your dreams and plans according to your bank account.
We have been planning an outdoor entertaining space since we moved into our house four years ago, so we’ve been saving for quite a while. My husband and I did a lot of ciphering to figure out what we could afford — and also what we wanted to spend — on our entire outdoor room. This included furnishings, decor and a new grill.
I could show you lots of spreadsheets!
We got quotes from three contractors and asked them to bid on everything — excavating and laying the pavers for our patio, building a pergola, constructing a grill island and creating an outdoor fireplace. Then we looked at our budget and made some decisions:
- We decided to make the fireplace and grill island Phase 2 project because of the cost.
- We’re not going to buy a new grill just yet, as ours is still in great shape. It just needed cleaning and a new set of heat tents (which cost less than $50).
- We could get a pergola kit and have it customized to our exact specifications for cheaper than we could have anyone build it. That’s even with hiring a crew to assemble it for us.
A little more on pricing. A composite pergola in the size we wanted would have cost $8,000 to $12,000, excluding installation. Local contractors bid anywhere from $4,000 to $11,000 to build a pergola like we wanted. The high side quote would have likely gotten me my exact Pinterest fantasy, but it was way out of budget. And the low-end quote would have been a very plain-Jane model, with none of the details we wanted.
The retail price for our Pergola Depot kit was just under $5,000, plus a day’s worth of labor cost for installation. (Prices for freestanding pergolas from Average Joe’s Pergola Depot start at around $1,500. Be sure to sign up for the company’s email newsletter for a discounts.)
DIY or hire someone?
I really admire anyone who takes on a DIY project the scale of our outdoor room. We knew from the start that we didn’t have the skills, tools, time, back strength or marital fortitude to attempt this project ourselves. I’ve watched “Renovation Realities.”
So, we decided to hire an experienced landscaping and hardscaping company to do the work for us. Best decision ever. I can’t say enough great things about these guys, from the quality of their work to their work ethic. If you’re in North Carolina and looking for someone to do this sort of work, check out Ayers Landscaping.
And while we could have attempted to build the pergola ourselves, we decided to let them handle it for us, as well, for all the reasons I mentioned above. (That said, Pergola Depot’s kits are designed to be put together by DIYers. Everything comes pre-cut and pre-drilled with detailed instructions. The company also has some great video tutorials on YouTube.)
What size should the pergola be?
There are a few of measurements you need to consider when building a pergola:
- the outside post dimensions
- the overall size of the pergola, including the shade canopy/overhang
- the height
We wanted a big pergola for our large patio, so we went with the 15X15 Big Kahuna model from Pergola Depot. Those dimensions refer to the overall size of the pergola, basically the dimensions of the canopy.
The posts of our pergola are positioned 12 feet apart, giving us 144 square feet of covered area on our patio. Be sure to account for post placement when planning your space.
Finally, consider the height of your pergola. If yours is an attached model, the roofline or architecture of your house may determine that dimension.
Sight lines and neighborhood covenants may also come into play. Be sure to check with your homeowners’ association before you start any home improvement project.
In our case, I knew I wanted the pergola to be tall enough to hang an outdoor chandelier from the rafters. So, we wanted at least 10 feet of clearance from the ground. Otherwise, we would have probably chosen an 8-foot tall pergola.
We also had to take into consideration how the planned fireplace chimney would relate to the pergola.
When specifying the height of your pergola, don’t forget to consider whether you will be mounting it with anchors or with concrete footings. For the latter, you’ll need an additional 2 to 3 feet of length for your posts, depending on where you live and whether the ground freezes in the winter.
Will the pergola be freestanding or attached?
You can attach a pergola to an existing structure, like a wall or the side of your house. Or you can build a freestanding pergola, like ours.
You’ll need to buy the right kind of mounting hardware and make sure you have the right tools, depending on the type of pergola you choose.
What do you want the pergola to look like?
This is where I started the process, with my mood boards and Pinterest boards of beautiful, inspiring outdoor spaces.
When it came time to pick materials for our project, I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like. I knew that I liked thicker, sturdier rafters for a pergola. While I didn’t go with the round columns I originally thought were a must-have, I did choose a pergola kit design with strong columns and decorative end caps.
I knew I wanted detailing and decorative cuts on the angle braces. I knew I wanted decorative ends on the rafters (Pergola Depot offers four different options), and I knew I wanted closely spaced top slats for aesthetics and more shade.
I was able to get exactly the look I wanted using one of Pergola Depot’s existing kits, but they do offer more customization. If you call their toll-free number, you’re likely to get the company owner on the phone. He will answer all your questions and really walk you through the process. He and I traded severak emails and phone calls before I placed the order for our pergola kit.
As you can probably tell, I tend to deliberate a lot before starting a home makeover. So, it often takes a while for things to happen around here.
But my deliberation has a few definite upsides. We have longer to save for our home improvements. And when the work is done, I am always in love with the finished project, with no regrets.
Stay tuned for more about our patio and pergola installation — ending with the final reveal of the fully decorated space. I’m really looking forward to that one!