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9 DIY Pergola Building Tips Every Homeowner Should Know


Pergolas are one of the hottest trends in outdoor living. These open-air structures define areas, while offering partial shade for seating, outdoor kitchens, and patios. Pergolas can be custom made or built from kits, but these are often more expensive than most people would like.

Building a DIY pergola, however, can be done for a few hundred dollars within a weekend making this a much more affordable and accessible type of project.

With the range of different pergola styles available, it’s possible to build one that will fit both your property and your comfort level with DIY projects. The following tips will help you make the most of the project, so you can start enjoying your new DIY pergola faster.

9 DIY Pergola Tips

DIY Pergola Tip #1 – Plan Your Style

Pergolas can be freestanding or built cantilevered to a building. They can be very contemporary in style with clean lines and no overhang on the rafters, or they can have a more traditional look. 

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DIY Pergola plans are easy to come by, with many plans online giving you the exact amount of lumber you’ll need, as well as step by step instructions. Take the time to read through the various plans and find a style that not only meets your needs for a structure and appearance, but that also meets your comfort level in DIY projects.

For example, contemporary pergolas often lack the curved ends of the rafters, which may require more specialized equipment and knowledge to create. 

DIY Pergola Tip #2 – Call Your City

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Some areas may require permits for structures such as pergolas, especially if you plan on attaching the pergola to your home. Freestanding DIY pergolas may have fewer restrictions, but could still be subject to HOAs and neighborhood regulations.

So, before you begin, make sure you find out if there are any restrictions on size or placement, and if a permit is necessary.

Because you will need to dig holes for your posts to set the pergola, take the time to also call to check on where your utilities may be buried. A quick phone call can help you avoid accidentally hitting a gas line or buried wire.

DIY Pergola Kit #3 – Choose Your Materials Wisely

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You have a lot of choices for building a DIY pergola from. Remember that it will be exposed to the elements, so you’ll want wood or another material that can withstand this without too much issue. Cedar and redwood are naturally rot resistant materials that work well for pergolas, but they can be expensive.

Pressure treated lumber is another option, but it may leach chemicals into the ground or it may crack over time. Research what’s available so whichever material you choose, you can be informed about the best way to maintain it. 

DIY Pergola Kit #4 – Rent Tools Rather Than Buy Them

Unless you already own all the various saws, post diggers, and other equipment that you’ll need to build your DIY pergola, you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by renting your tools.

Most big box stores will rent out whatever you need, and show you how to use it as well. This can be helpful for more expensive equipment that you may not end up using again after the project is through. 

DIY Pergola Kit #5 – Cut Everything Before Assembly

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Your assembly will go much more smoothly if you cut all of your posts and boards to the correct size before you begin putting them together. Rather than cutting the first post, installing it, then cutting the second, if you have everything waiting to be put together, you’ll save time on the actual installation.

This is especially helpful if you have someone on hand to help with the heavy lifting and other work; you can better utilize their time if all you have to do when they arrive is put the structure together.

DIY Pergola Kit #6 – Use Concrete to Set Your Posts

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You have a few ways of setting and securing your posts, but unless you’re placing your posts directly onto a patio or deck, you will get the best results if you concrete the posts into place.

This means digging your holes, setting your posts into place, then using concrete to secure them there. This will give you longer lasting results with a more secure DIY pergola. Make sure that you account for the length of posts that will be placed into the ground, as this will shorten the finished structure.

DIY Pergola Kit #7 – Use Supports When Necessary

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When setting the columns and starting to string them together, your structure may feel more stable if you support the columns. This is the process of creating a temporary structure of boards that lend some support to the columns while the concrete sets and the stringers are attached to one another.

They’re designed to be removed when you’re done, so if you’re struggling with getting things into position, support as needed.

DIY Pergola Kit #8 – Consider Notching Your Beams

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After your support beams are in place, you’ll install the rafters across them. This process will go much more smoothly and quickly if you notch your beams first. This means taking out a small piece of the beam right where the rafter will sit.

Then you just drop the rafters into place and secure them, without needing to hold them steady. This also gives you a more pleasing finished design as well. 

DIY Pergola Kit #9 – Determine Your Shade Options

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Pergolas don’t provide the most shade of any structure, but they do offer some. They can also be designed to offer more either through vines, sailcloth, or by attaching additional beams. Figure out what you want your shade options to be ahead of time, and plan it into the finished spacing of the pergola, so you can get the most use out of it when it’s done.

Build Your Ideal DIY Pergola

While there are a lot of diy pergola kits on the market, they don’t offer the level of customization that building your own can bring. They also cost considerably more, making a DIY build one of the most affordable types of outdoor projects out there.

Use these tips to help make your building process smoother and more enjoyable, and start getting more out of your yard this summer.

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