Pergolas are open framework gazebos that serve as design focal points and practical backyard gathering areas. You can outfit them with outdoor furniture, climbing vines and even lighting. Use this guide to bring the warmth and convenience of a pergola to your backyard.
The Difference between Pergolas, Trellises and Arbors
Pergolas. Pergolas are four-pillared structures with an open, latticed roof. You can purchase prefab styles or hire professionals for a custom design. Pergolas work as outdoor living spaces and accents to outdoor kitchens and shaded patios.
Most are wooden with a concrete or flagstone patio. Some smaller models sit directly on the lawn. Custom pergolas built by a pro will cost around $3,500 for materials and labor. You can also DIY which will lower your costs to around $3,000.
Trellises. Trellises are lattices used for walkways and garden accents. Unlike pergolas, trellises serve primarily as design elements. Also, most are smaller than pergolas and differ in shape and construction.
Trellises come in wooden, metal and plastic designs. Custom, professionally built styles will cost between $400-$900 for materials and labor. Prefab models are more affordable and range from $10-$100.
Arbors. Arbors are arched, tunnel-like lattices that serve as focal points for outdoors walkways, gates entrances and gardens paths. You can choose from a wide variety of wooden, plastic and metal designs. Arbors are normally prefabricated and cost between $100-$1,000.
The size of your backyard will affect construction. Measure your outdoor space and keep the dimensions on hand for your pro. It’s important to also factor your materials and designs into your space.
Wood is the most common pergola material, but metal and fiberglass designs are available for a variety of looks. The look of your pergola, arbor, or trellis will also affect your space. You can attach a pergola or trellis to your home to accent a patio, or build a freestanding model to brighten your yard or garden space. Some homeowners also include lighting and stereos in their pergolas. Each of these factors will impact the price of your project.
Understanding the size, design and materials of your project will help your pro deliver your desired results.
Once you have your space designed, it’s time to look at costs. Here’s what you can expect to pay for a professionally built pergola: * (all prices are based on a 10-foot-by-10-foot design.)
Cedar: $3,000 for materials and $500 for labor.
Teak or Ipe: $5,000 for materials and $750-$1,000 for labor.
Fiberglass kit (depending on size and design options): $1,000-$5,000+ for materials. Labor costs will vary.
Aluminum kit (depending on size and design options): $1,000-$5,000+ for materials. Labor costs will vary.
Exotic materials, additional square footage and extra comforts — like lighting and stereos — will increase your prices. Outline your plans with your builder before you finalize your budget or sign a contract.
If you have the know-how, building your own pergola can offer stunning results. You can approach a DIY project in two ways: prefab kits and do-it-yourself construction. Here’s what you can expect to pay for each:
Kits: Pergola kits include the precut lumber, hardware and instructions you need to build. Prefab kits are perfect for homeowners with basic construction knowledge or a limited budget. Kits range in size, design and price. You can expect to pay between $1,500 for a 10-by-10 kit and $2,000 for 12-by-12 kit. Pros: affordability, ease of construction. Cons: limited design options.*Exotic materials, like fiberglass or aluminum, will cost more than wooden models.
DIY: DIY pergola construction requires extensive knowledge and planning. Do-it-yourself projects also require you to purchase all of your own materials: lumber, screws and other hardware. Most ground-up projects cost around $3000 to complete. Pros: unlimited design options. Cons: time, money.
Building your pergola. If you’re constructing your own pergola, use these basic steps to get started:
Here are the tools you’ll need:
Post-hole digger or auger
Here are the materials you’ll need: (If you bought a kit, all of this should be included.)
Power screw tips
Pre-construction considerations. Before you begin building, make sure you have these pre-job chores checked off:
Finalize your location: Be sure your pergola, arbor, or trellis is on solid, level ground. Also, ensure it isn’t crowding other backyard relaxation areas. If you’re building near your home, remember to leave room for overhangs, which can extend 18 to 20 inches.
Check your excavation. Pergolas require you to dig holes to set pillars. Call the city to ensure your construction area is free of buried lines.
Get permits. Some cities require permits for projects like construction. Call your local municipality before you begin construction.
Building your pergola.
Measure your base. Measure off the base of your structure with stakes and string.
Dig your posts. Make sure your postholes are twice as wide as the width of your pillars. The depth of the holes should be one-quarter of the height of your pergola. For example: If it is 8 feet tall, dig your holes two feet deep.
Mix your concrete. Each hole will require four to six bags of concrete, depending on the size of your postholes.
Set your poles. Set your poles level in the hole and pour the concrete to within one inch of the top of the hole. Mix the concrete to remove any air bubbles and let it sit for 24-48 hours.
Construct your beams and rafters. Cut your boards to length. Also, prepare any decorative trim or other design elements.
Install your roofing. Check that your pillars are level. Next, install each beam parallel to one another. Once your beams are secure, add the rafters to the top, ensuring they are evenly spaced.
Materials. The materials you choose will affect your pergola, trellis, or arbor’s looks, price and longevity. Here are the pros and cons of several materials:
Wood: Wood is a cost-effective material that’s easy to work with and repair. But wood is also susceptible to weather and age. As a result, your wooden pergola will require maintenance. Different wood types also vary in weight, which can impact the location of your project and the quality of your build. Pros: affordable, several options, easy to work with. Cons: maintenance, weight, durability.
Fiberglass: Fiberglass pergolas are strong, lightweight, easy to maintain and simple to paint. If you’re spanning a large area, fiberglass is perfect because of its strength — fiberglass pergolas don’t sag over time. They aren’t as common as wooden models, making them considerably more expensive than wooden options. Pros: strength, simple maintenance. Cons: cost, availability.
Aluminum: Aluminum pergolas are strong and simple to maintain. The initial cost of aluminum is high, but maintenance costs remain low. Most dealers sell aluminum pergolas as kits, which can limit your design options. Pros: maintenance, looks. Cons: cost, design options.
Matching your home. It’s important that your pergola matches the aesthetics and space of your outdoor areas. An over-sized structure will restrict movement and limit additional design elements like gardens or patio sets. Also, make sure that your pergola meshes with your home’s overall décor — an ultra-modern style will clash with classical design elements.
Attached pergolas: It’s important to hire a pro if you’re considering an attached pergola. Attached designs can affect the structural integrity of your home if improperly installed. Also, most attached designs will require permits. Ask your pro about the proper licenses before you begin your project.
Permits. If you’re running gas or electrical lines, it’s very important that you check for permits. Improperly installed utilities can halt your project and result in large fines.