I thought I would post details of what we did, the cost for the project and how it has held up for us. Ahem. I meant to post last August. Now it is January 2015 and I am finally getting to this project 🙂 Perfect timing for those that might be considering spring and summer projects – plus we have lived with it for several months so I can tell you how it held up to some pretty nasty storms over the winter.
EDITED: Now it is April 2016 and the project still looks exactly the same. The pictures in this post are updated to reflect how to the pergola still looks over a year later. We did add a TV to the pergola so I will show you how we did that.
This project was pretty awesome. We live in Northern California and the winds here can be incredibly strong plus it gets very hot in summer. We purchased a gazebo several years ago for about $300 and held up for exactly one summer. It was really hard to disassemble so we wound up keeping it up for fall and winter and it took a beating. In late winter I went outside after a nasty wind storm and very literally found the entire gazebo structure in the pool. That was super fun to fish out and I was already unhappy because the gazebo was dark brown and the colors of the fabric had really faded in the sun and just looked shabby. After just a few months- boo!
So we decided a more solid structure was in order. We did request quotes from contractors and looked at some pre-made kits from home improvement stores and discovered it would be about $700 to $2000 for a pergola. Ouch! More then we wanted to spend on this project.
We had discussed just building our own from scratch and one day my husband comes back with the supplies from Home Depot and boom! He was ready to get started :).
So when it was all said and done we spent roughly $400 on materials and it took about 2 days. My husband did most of it by himself and two of those days were weekends so he spent probably 2 almost full days on the project and then a few hours after work on it. At least $100 of the budget was sun shades so if you don’t need those, your project will be cheaper.
This project is one of those that seems more complicated or difficult then it really is and doesn’t require tons of fancy tools or special skills.
The most important thing about this project is ensuring the structure is very safe and sound and I think we did do that. I can tell you we had a few nasty storms over the winter and the pergola did not budge at all. It still looks really great!
So here are the steps that we took to build the pergola plus a few little extras that we did to snazz our structure up a bit.
Here is the before:
Boring and super ugly concrete and pitiful palm trees- gah!
As I mentioned above the pergola needed to be incredibly strong and secure. It sits in front of the pool and we have kids that climb, jump, pull and hang on everything so delicate is not really an option. Plus the winds in Sacramento are crazy so I didn’t want a pergola flying through the kitchen window one day ;).
Our pergola is a free standing unit but you can build one that is attached to a deck or house very easily.
*Note my husband and I did this entirely ourselves with some minor assistance from our landscape design crew (Adriana 7 years and Maya 5 years). You can totally do this yourself too!
———-Step 1: Design——–
We started by measuring where the structure would go and drafting a rough design. We didn’t want anything too intricate but we still wanted something that looked nice and would stand the test of time- so our design is fairly simple. We also took into consideration building permits. Our structure is small enough to not require a building permit but you might want to check on ordinances in your area before you get started.
You can choose whatever type of lumber you prefer. We used a pressure treated hem-fir lumber that was already stained dark brown. Cedar or pine would also be gorgeous and you can stain it any color that you like. You probably want to use Thompson’s water seal to protect your wood and I would do that before assembling everything.
———-Step 2: Dig it baby!——–
If you are going into the dirt, you will need to dig a hole and use concrete to bury your posts. (Find a more detailed post about how to bury posts in concrete here).
We were going into concrete so we used a rotary hammer and masonry bit and went roughly 4 inches into the concrete.
Next we used 4×4 EZ Bases to secure the posts into the concrete.
We went ahead and started to assemble the structure right where it would stand.
———-Step 3: Build and they will come——–
To do this we first attached (4) 2 x 8 x 12 pressure treated studs to (4) 4 x 4 x 10 posts. We drilled holes through the 2×8 and 4×4- using bolts for additional reinforcement. We cut the corners of the 2 x 8 at a 45 degree angle to make it a little more decorative. You can skip this step if you prefer the flush ends. You can see the angled beams in the photo below- it adds a nice touch and is pretty simple to just make the extra cuts on the end.
Once you have your wood frame assembled, push the posts into the EZ Bases.
Screw the bases into the posts. We used galvanized screws. I just held the frame up while my husband zipped around to each of the (4) posts and screwed them into place.
We chose to use (11) pressure treated 2 x 4 x 12’s and positioned them evenly across the top of the frame. Once they are evenly spaced on the top, screw them into the frame. We used 4 inch screws to attach the wood to the frame.
You can use fewer beams depending on the look that you want. If you want to grow Jasmine or something on your Pergola- you might want to use more beams so that the space in between is closer together. In cooler climates where you don’t need the shade from the Pergola, you can probably get away with using fewer beams on top.
It is hot as heck in Sacramento and we wanted this structure to serve many different functions- including shade in the summer so we used more beams with the intention of weaving in a sun shade once we finished.
We cut 4 x 4’s into 30 inch pieces at a 45 degree angle using a miter saw. That creates the corner bracing for the pergola. We also screwed those in with 4 inch screws. If you have a Jigsaw you can make even fancier edges.
———-Step 4: I’m So Fancy——–
We decided to try and give the pergola a little more of a custom look by adding boxes to the base. We used 2 x 8 x 6 and cut them in half to make them 36 inches tall for the base. We primed and painted the boxes white. You can get very detailed directions on how to make the boxes by clicking the Ana White tutorial here. We actually did not use her tutorial for our project but the end result does look very similar.
Often Pergolas don’t serve any real purpose other than defining an outdoor room. We actually needed ours to offer shade in summer so we added a few more touches. If you don’t need the shade, your project should be even cheaper.
For shade you can go a few different routes. The easiest option is to purchase actual sun shades which are 20 feet long. You should only need about 12 feet so you can either have some hanging over or trim it to the right size. This can kind of add up- we would have needed (4) so $140 or so.
As a cheaper alternative, we took a standard 12 x15 painter’s tarp and cut that into (4) equal strips. Next we treated the tarp by painting equal parts of standard school glue and water all around the sides. You don’t need to do the entire tarp- just about 6 inches in or so from the edges. This will prevent any fraying of the tarp so it is a time consuming but worthwhile step. You can see above the tarp is nice and clean when it is weaved into the top- no little strings and such hanging off the sides. (Update: the following year we did have some tiny strings that needed to be trimmed off. So the school glue does work but a year later there was about 10 minutes of maintenance needed on the tarp in the form of trimming off little strings. Sewing would be the best option if possible.)
We did need to trim the tarp down a bit to exactly the right size – our strips were roughly 2 1/2 feet.
To get a taut finish for the tarp and to ensure it didn’t wind up blowing off the pergola and into the pool, we screwed the tarp into the top of the frame with screws and washers. We used 24 screws so the tarp would be super secure.
The last two steps were adding a sunshade to one side of the pergola and lights. We got a 6×9 sunshade and attached it to the side and you can crank it up or down to provide additional shade. We live in Sacramento so it gets very hot in summer and the extra bit of shade is really worth it. This year we want to add more privacy to the backyard so we might add another sun shade to the back of the pergola or we might add some larger trees against the fence.
And the very last step was adding globe lights all around the base– they look so gorgeous at night! Ours twinkle in the pool water and look so peaceful- I highly recommend these for beautiful ambiance at night.
So that was last summer’s project! This summer I can’t wait to replace our old fence with a brand new one and I will get some updated pictures of the pergola a year later with (hopefully) a gorgeous new fence around it.
Here are a few more pictures of the finished product– please excuse our sad old fence and the neighbors about 2 inches away (welcome to California!)
Sunshade cranked down a bit- it actually goes almost down to the ground.
And the later addition of the TV:
We actually added this little detail very quickly late last summer when there were a few big soccer games on TV. We invited some friends over to watch the games and wanted to entertain outside so my husband quickly added this T-Shape with a flat screen tv mount (similar to this one.)
We have an extra flat screen in the guest room that gets moved outside when we want to have movie night or friends over and then back inside when we are done.
I want to mention my husband works for a broadband company so he is very comfortable with all this stuff and very quick at hooking things up and whatnot. We have power at our pool pump (located just past the post on the left side of the pergola in the photo above) so we can just bring a cable box outside and the TV plays anything. If you want to have TV or movies here are three options- consult your local cable provider and see if they can wire your outdoor space, some cable companies offer wireless receivers that would be very easy to move in and out, and a third option would be a Roku or other streaming device to just play movies. If we had a larger yard space I would look into one of these projectors too and maybe consider that to project movies onto the fence or onto the sun screen that pulls down on the side of the pergola.
Let me know if you decide to tackle a DIY pergola this summer! I’d love to hear how yours works out!
And if you like this post, you might also like:
How to Build Shutters (in 15 minutes!)