How to Build a Pergola
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Few structures manage to be as versatile and attractive in your outdoor space as a pergola. Pergolas offer instant shade for your patio, as well as structural interest in your landscape. Learn how to build a pergola for your backyard in this step-by-step guide.
This simple pergola design uses pressure-treated lumber and decking materials available at your local The Home Depot. Most anyone with basic tool knowledge can tackle this woodworking project. The finished pergola will be eight feet tall by eight feet wide. If you feel more comfortable using pergola plans and blueprints, then check out ready-to-go pergola kits.
Before starting your pergola project, check out community and neighborhood building codes to determine if a permit is required or if other restrictions apply. It's also a good idea to contact local utility companies before you begin. You will need to dig a hole below the frost line, so knowing where the utility lines are located will prevent damage to underground pipes or utilities.
Prep the Area
- Select the site for the pergola.
- Measure an area that is 8- x 8-feet square.
- Use spray paint to mark the area.
- For a pergola that’s smaller or larger, adjust the sizing as needed.
- Use a post-hole digger to dig a hole 24 inches deep by 9 inches wide at each corner of the outlined area.
- Add 3 to 4 inches of gravel to each hole.
Level the Posts
- Place the 4- x 4-inch posts in the holes. The tops will need to be level with one another, and each post will have to be plumb. Add or remove gravel as needed in order to level the tops of the posts.
- Nail two 1- x 4-inch boards on each side of one post as temporary braces. The braces should angle to the ground at 30-degree angles. Use a level against the side of the post to check that it’s plumb. This temporarily holds the post in position.
- Repeat with the other three posts.
Set the Posts
- Mix fast-drying cement according to the manufacturer's directions.
- Pour into holes.
- Use a thin, scrap piece of wood to “churn" the concrete in the hole. This ensures that there are no air pockets in the concrete.
- Let the concrete cure for 24 hours.
- After the concrete cures, remove the braces.
Tip: If you are placing your pergola over a patio or any other stone surface, you’ll have to use metal post anchors instead of digging holes.
Prepare the Crossbeams and Rafters
- While the concrete is curing, prepare the 2- x 6-inch crossbeams and rafters.
- The crossbeams carry the load of the pergola. You will need two beams on each side.
- Optional: Cut a decorative angle on the ends of the rafters. To make simple, decorative ends, cut a 45-degree angle on the bottom corner at each end of the rafters.
Tip: Buy the beams and rafters precut to the size you need. This saves installation time. Your local The Home Depot will cut lumber to the size you need.
Install the Crossbeams
- Install the crossbeam pairs on the posts first. Each beam consists of a pair of 2 x 6’s on either side of a post – an inner and outer beam.
- Measure 5 1/2 inches down from the top of each post on the side that is facing the interior of the pergola. Mark it. Make another mark on the opposite side of the post. Repeat for all four posts.
- Drive a 4-inch nail halfway through on each mark you made on the posts. This temporarily holds the crossbeams.
- Position inner and outer crossbeams onto the nails between the front set of posts. Make sure there’s a foot of overhang on either side. Use your level to make sure everything’s square and level. Temporarily screw them in place with 4-inch screws on each end.
- Drill two 1/2-inch holes, one above the other, through both crossbeams and posts at each end.
- Attach the beams to the posts using the carriage bolts, washers and nuts.
- Repeat for the crossbeams on the rear set of posts.
- The pergola should now have two crossbeams running parallel to each other on each side of the structure.
- Remove the nails and screws that temporarily held up the crossbeams.
Install the Rafters
- Lay the rafters perpendicular across the crossbeams.
- The rafters on the edges sit on the posts. Space the rafters a foot apart on center.
- Make sure the overhangs are even on each end of the rafters.
- Fasten the rafters in place by driving two 5-inch galvanized screws into the crossbeams at 45-degree angles.
- Paint or stain the pergola and let dry.
- Train vines or other climbing plants to grow over the rafters to create a shady retreat.
If you are looking for a quicker, easier way to enhance your outdoor space, consider a prebuilt pergola. The Home Depot also has pergola kits and all the supplies you need to build your own custom pergola. Use The Home Depot Mobile App for a pergola that fits your style. The Home Depot also offers pergola installation services.