Pergolas are a functional and aesthetically pleasing outdoor home improvement project. Building your own pergola can be a very rewarding and satisfying project you can do yourself. Before you build your own pergola, you’ll want to investigate the available options and see which design best fits your location.
What Are Your Building Options?
Most pergolas are constructed from pressure-treated lumber, or some other low-maintenance material, such as vinyl, redwood, aluminum, or steel. Wooden pergolas are the most common, as the materials are widely available and the easiest to work with. However, pergolas built from wood do have their drawbacks, such as twisting, splitting, and susceptibility to fire.
Today, we will discuss pergolas built from metal, and which options may be within the skills of a do-it-yourselfer.
Can I Build a Metal Pergola Myself?
The short answer is, probably. Typically, a do-it-yourselfer will have some basic tools and the experience to use them. However, as homeowners, we tend to work with wood most often, so we won’t always have the tools we need to fabricate metal.
Therefore, building a metal pergola from just a set of plans can be a very involved and labor-intensive project for all but the most experienced homeowner. If this describes you, you likely already have the tools and experience you need. For the rest of us, this information is for you.
Metal Pergola Kit
Building a metal pergola from a kit is undoubtedly the path to follow for the average handyperson. These kits will usually have all the parts cut to length and ready to assemble. They will also contain all of the hardware and sometimes, even the tools.
These kits eliminate any potential design mistakes someone new to the project may make. If you have ever put together a piece of furniture from a box, chances are very good you will be successful with a metal pergola kit.
What You Need Before Starting to Build Your Pergola Kit
Building a pergola from a kit will require some common mechanic’s tools and the experience to use them safely. Below is a list of common tools required for this project, but your design may require others as well:
- Bar clamps
- Drill with both metal and masonry bits
- Carpenter’s square or speed square
- Shovel and post hole digger
- Wheelbarrow, mixing pan, or large bucket
- Tape measure
- Pencil or marker
- Socket set or wrench
How to Build a Typical Metal Pergola Kit
As with any home improvement project, avoiding injury is always job one. Make sure that you have eye and ear protection, gloves, and any other safety gear you feel is necessary. Having help available is always a good idea.
Today we will discuss the typical strategy and methods used to build your metal pergola kit. We will be discussing a free-standing, four-sided pergola, but if your design has only two or three sides, the process will be basically the same. Since your parts will be already measured and cut for you, you’ll just need to determine where you can build it.
Step 1. Location
Your new pergola will need space, so the first step is to decide where your pergola will go. This will be determined by the available space you have and the prevailing building codes in your area. If your jurisdiction requires a permit, get one.
Also understand the setbacks in your area and make sure you don’t get too close to a property line. If your neighborhood has an architectural committee, get any required approvals before purchasing your kit.
Step 2. Layout
Your kit will provide the required locations of the piers or nominal size of the concrete pad you are attaching to. Follow these measurements as closely as possible to avoid twisting or bending your posts.
Step 3. Foundation
After you have marked the locations for your posts, you’ll need to dig the post holes. If you are attaching your new pergola to a concrete pad, you can skip to the next step.
Metal posts are stronger than their wooden counterparts, so your instructions will provide the required pier dimensions. For example, an 4” x 4” post will usually need an 8” diameter hole. The depth of the hole will be determined by the frost line in your area, which is the depth to which the ground freezes in winter. Your local codes official will have this information. In the southern United States, this is typically 8” deep. In the northern states, the depth may need to be five times deeper.
After your holes are dug, you are ready to mix and pour your concrete. Many jurisdictions allow for concrete to be poured directly into the hole, but a better method is to use widely available cardboard forms. Mix your concrete per the instructions and fill the concrete form to the top. These forms make the holes uniform and aid in the curing of the concrete. Finish the concrete to a flat, even finish as this will allow for maximum contact with the post.
Step 4. Install The Posts
Attaching the posts to the concrete is done with masonry screws. These screws are specifically designed for attaching metal to concrete and are typically rust resistant.
If you are setting your pergola on a concrete pad, mount your brackets at least 4” from any corner to avoid putting undue stress on the concrete. Using the mounting bracket as a template, mark and drill pilot holes for the screws. After you have secured the bracket to the concrete, set the posts onto the bracket and connect them using the parts provided in the kit.
Pro Tip. If you own or have access to a hammer drill it will make drilling the pilot holes much easier.
Step 5. Set The Beams
The beams will run from post to post, tying the structure together. With most kits, this can be done fairly easily, but having an extra pair of hands is recommended. Most kits will have the screw locations pre-drilled to connect the post and beam together, but if yours doesn’t, you can use the hardware provided as a template.
Pro Tip. Purchase a white grease pencil. A regular pencil works fine with wood, but not dark metal.
Step 7. Set The Rafters
After the beams are in place, it is time for the rafters. The rafter locations will be marked along the beams. The rafters are typically embellished with curves, so make sure and follow the directions that came with your kit to avoid installing them upside down. Connect them perpendicularly to the beams with the hardware provided.
Step 8. Attach The Louvers
Not all pergolas will have louvers, but many will. Some will have manually retractable louvers while others may have a remote control. Others will omit the louvers altogether, as they are designed to be covered with climbing vines.
Enjoy The Outdoors
If you enjoy the outdoors, but prefer to do it in the shade, building your own pergola can be the most rewarding project you can build. Metal pergola kits are easy to assemble, require just a few tools and are often affordable. Just remember to stay safe, take your time, and enjoy being outside.