What Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Backyard Pergolas

What Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Backyard Pergolas

Pergolas are beautiful extensions to your home, giving you the serenity to have fun and relax outdoors. While easily mistaken for gazebos, pergolas are different. When constructed with the right materials and design, your pergola can last for years, allowing you to enjoy your exterior space.

You can build your pergola yourself or hire a professional to create one for you. You must choose the right material, the befitting design, and execute the anchoring correctly for the pergola to last. You can either stain or paint your pergola to make it last longer. 

Aside from the maintenance and the design of pergolas, there is so much homeowners are eager to know about pergolas. Many are curious about which type of wood is best for their pergolas, the typical cost of pergola construction, if aluminum pergolas are as good as wooden pergolas and if they can put their pergolas on grass. Let us find the answers to these and many more frequently asked questions about pergolas.

How Much Do Pergolas Cost to Build?

The cost of your pergola is primarily determined by your choice of materials, the design you desire, and the size of the pergola. Low-end pergolas can cost barely $500, while high-end pergolas can cost you over $10,000. On average, expect to spend around $3,550 on building a pergola. Let us break this down into labor and cost of materials.

You can save significantly on labor if you build your pergola yourself and don’t hire a contractor. However, you will need construction tools. You can either buy this new or used – or even borrow them for a while. Next, are the materials you need for the construction.

Let us assume you are building a 10X10 pergola. You can spend about $3,200 if you are using cost-effective cedar. Should you be hiring a contractor, he may charge you about $600.

Most high-end pergolas don’t use cedar; many are built with either teak or Ipe material. For these models, you can spend about $5,500 on materials and then pay the contractor $950 for labor.

To reduce the need for maintenance, many would opt for aluminum or fiberglass pergolas over wooden pergolas. For fiberglass, you can spend about $7,400 on the kit with a labor cost of about $450. For aluminum, expect to spend around $5,580 on the material, and then $550 on labor cost.

What is the Best Wood to Build a Pergola?

Wooden pergolas are the most popular types around. There are several wooden options; let us explore the best types of wood for your pergola.

Ipe

Ipe is one of the best wood types for your pergola. It is strong and resilient. The durability of Ipe is not even threatened in salty coastal conditions where most other types of wood would struggle. You can either leave your Ipe naturally or stain it. Indeed, Ipe is relatively high end.

Cedar

Cedar is the most popular wood type for pergolas. Yes, it doesn’t boast the strength of tropical hardwoods like Ipe, but at least it does well in withstanding atmospheric elements.

Cedar is fairly resistant to warping, rot, moisture, and insect attack. It is lighter and is more flexible to work. Cedar is far more affordable, as well. You have to bear in mind that cedar weathers to a grayish color (relatively quicker). But you can stain or paint it as it sticks longer.

Douglas fir

If you don’t have much to spend and are not necessarily concerned about how long the wood will last, you can go for douglas fir. Admittedly, it is more susceptible to decay and insect attack. But it can yet last fairly if you regularly inspect and maintain it. Elevated installations using proper footings are ideal.

Redwood

This is another high quality wood option for your pergola. It has impressive resistance to elements. Redwood is more beautiful, and unlike Ipe and cedar, it doesn’t readily lose its color to weathering. Redwood retains its reddish-brown color well longer than most wood types.

Pressure-treated pine

This wood type is inexpensive and yet boasts impressive resistance to rot and insect infestation. It doesn’t have much aesthetic vigor, but it lasts. Pressure-treated pines accept a wide range of stain colors. To reduce the weathering of your pressure-treated pine, ensure to add a preservative when you are done with the construction.

There are other wood options like teak, oak, and cypress. These options are more expensive. Nonetheless, make sure to treat any wood type you go with. If untreated, wooden pergolas are very prone to damage from high humidity and cold. Untreated wood is also more vulnerable to insect attacks.

How Tall Should a Pergola Be?

The width of your pergola is not as consequential as the height. You need the right height to create sufficient headroom. The ideal height should be around 8–10′. It can be lesser.

Nonetheless, your pergola should have a minimum height of 7’6″. The pergola width can be just anything you want, provided it has sufficient beams to give the roof the necessary support.

How Big can You Make a Pergola?

The size of your pergola depends on the purpose of the pergola, the design style, and if you want shade for it. Typically, for small to medium deck pergolas, a size of 12X16 is befitting. With this size, the pergola shouldn’t take much of your yard. The shade would still be suitable.

If you want a large deck pergola, you can go for about 16X24. This size of pergola can accommodate additional facilities like built-in seating arrangements, fire pits, and even outdoor kitchens.

This is suitable for those pergolas where you intend to host a lot of entertainment for your guests; hence, the need for a proper shade.

Free-standing pergolas in your backyard can be somewhere around 16X20 depending on the number of people it would conveniently accommodate in a seating arrangement. 16X20 can hold up to 12 people seated comfortably.

What Direction Should Pergola Face?

The orientation of your pergola is crucial to its shading. If you have an open-roof pergola, and you desire the best shading during the day, your rafters should face north and south.

With this orientation, the crossbeams can create sufficient shade as the sun travels. The only time this orientation will not give you a suitable shade is when the sun is directly overhead. This is typical of midday summer.

How Long Will a Wood Pergola Last?

The longevity of pergola is decided by the prevailing weather conditions where you stay and your maintenance culture. Typically, wooden pergolas can last decades if you make sure to stain or paint periodically (say every 8 years). If it is vinyl, you don’t need to bother about maintenance that much.

Vinyl pergolas can last over 25 years. You just need to power wash every two years to maintain the appearance. This will reduce the mold and deterioration, especially in areas of high humidity.

Does a Pergola Provide Shade?

Many doubt if pergolas provide shade given their open design which can easily be mistaken for being unfinished. However, while pergolas provide shade – it can’t give you a fully shaded space. The amount of shade you enjoy from your pergola is determined by the spacing of the beams and the beam size.

Do Pergolas Need Footings?

Many homeowners want to directly fasten the posts of their pergolas to paving stones without the requisite footing. This is wrong. You can’t get sufficient anchorage from just the paving stones for your pergola.

The pergola that way will lack the sturdiness and resilience to withstand wind pressure and other atmospheric elements that come with the seasons.

You should sink footings into your paving stones where the post of your pergolas would be located. This will give it that valuable mounting. You can also go with earthen screws or helical screws for your footing. Most importantly, the footing shouldn’t flout your local code.

Can a Pergola Have a Roof?

By their basic design and purpose, pergolas don’t have roofs, unlike gazebos. However, these days, many homeowners want full shade for their pergolas so they can enjoy more comfort and serenity there.

Just going with the basic lattice roof of your pergola can’t give you the shade or protection from sunlight, wind, and rain. This necessitates getting a roof.

Before buying the roofing material (which can also include polycarbonate and PVC), make sure to get an accurate measurement of the square footage of the top of your pergola. This ensures you buy the right amount of roofing panel material.

You can attach the panels (after you have cut them to correspond with the length of your panel) with screws. It is better to allow the panels to overlap and also allow for some overhanging.

What Do You Cover a Pergola With?

A pergola on its own will not give you the full shade you may need. This is why you need a cover to increase your comfort and protect you from direct exposure to weather elements like rain and sun. Let us look at some typical options of cover for your pergola.

You can use a tent to cover your pergola

Many resort to portable canopies to cover their pergolas. These tents are very affordable. To keep the canopy steady, you can stake its ends around your pergola in a way that the pergola is yet amply ventilated and breathable.

You can use branches or straw

This is relatively vintage, but straws and branches just like bamboo work well to cover your pergola. The branches can be tied with twines to the slats of your pergola. However, take note that this cover may not be ideal if you are raising plants in your pergola.

You can use drop cloths

Drop cloths can give your pergola good roofing. They are not as conventional as louvers and roller shades, but they work fine. You can use grommets in attaching these canvas drop cloths to your pergola.

Go with roller shades

Roller shades are the most popular types of covers to give your pergolas the necessary full shade. There are several options, like window roller shades.

You can attach these roller shades with a staple gun to your pergola. Depending on the amount of cover you need for your pergola, you can buy the required number of yards of shade fabric.

Does Pergola Block Sun?

Pergola without roofing or cover can’t entirely keep out the sunlight. It can yet contribute to reducing the intensity of the direct sunlight, ensuring adequate air circulation. You need cover to block the sun fully.

Can You Put Pergola on Grass?

Let us start by saying it is not ideal, but you can yet set your pergola on grass. If you want to set it on grass, ensure the anchoring is perfect. This way, the posts have a good ground grip. If you want to anchor your pergola at ground level, then you need sturdy steel brackets well embedded in concrete footing.

Are Aluminum Pergolas Good?

Wooden pergolas are more popular than aluminum pergolas. This makes many question the viability of using aluminum for your pergola. Let us measure aluminum pergolas against their wooden counterparts.

Let us start with the need for maintenance between wooden and aluminum pergolas

Wooden pergolas need more maintenance than aluminum pergolas. Wood weathers faster and requires regular staining, sanding, and painting as the years go by. If you are not using cedar (and the stronger wood types), then your pergola could warp and rot easily. This makes it far more susceptible to cracks and insect infestation.

Even pressure-treated wood is yet prone to warping from sharp variations in temperature or settling. You don’t need to bother about a lot of these handicaps when using aluminum pergolas. So long the aluminum pergola installation is done rightly, there is far reduced need for regular maintenance.

Let us talk about the cost

If you are on a tight budget, you may go for wooden pergolas as they are cheaper than aluminum pergolas. But if you were to handle the assembly yourself, wood is harder to work than aluminum.

When you look long term as regards the maintenance costs you will incur in the latter years for wooden pergolas, it would be wiser to just spend more on the outset on aluminum pergolas (so you wouldn’t have to be bogged down later on with maintenance expenditures).

Lastly, let us explore the design options you have

There is more versatility in design when you use wood compared to aluminum for your pergola. You can realize more exclusive and personalized designs with wood. You can readily cut the lumber to your preferred style and size and assemble it how you want.

On the contrary, you would have to make do with prefabricated kits for aluminum pergolas even if there are provisions for angles and scrollwork. There is more restriction on the design options using aluminum as you can’t readily add custom design elements. Wood also accepts more colors than aluminum.

Should I Paint or Stain My Pergola?

There is a famous argument among wooden pergola owners over if they should paint it or stain it. Let us explore the respective advantages and disadvantages of both painting and staining so you can decide you want.

The advantages of painting

If you are painting, you choose any color. Painting allows you to cover the original color of your pergola (especially if it is already old and weathering). This is owing to the solidness of the paint.

Another advantage of using paint for your pergola is that being a thicker finish, paint fill cracks and gaps better. So if you have an already weathering or aging wooden pergola, you can use paint to repair it. Depending on the color of paint you go with, it could be easier to clean your pergola.

Disadvantages of paint

Unlike stains and sealers, paint is for life and almost impossible to undo. You can easily move from stain to paint for your pergola, but it is complicated to go back from paint to sealers.

If you want to preserve the original beauty of your wooden pergola, then you shouldn’t use paint as it will mask the original hue. Paint covers the wood grain, preventing it from showing through. Therefore, your wooden pergola may not look as attractive as initially.

Advantages of stain

Stain is the better option if you want to retain the natural beauty of your wooden pergola. Unlike paint, it doesn’t hide the wood grain. Also, stain isn’t as slippery as paint. The application for stain is easier. Also, unlike paint, you can readily undo or reverse staining.

Disadvantages of stain

Stains aren’t as excellent as paint at filling gaps and cracks. The implication is that staining is not as befitting as paint for repairs (splinters and voids) of your pergola. Also, paint is more durable than stain.

How Do I Protect My Wood Pergola?

There are many ways to protect your wooden pergola to ensure it stands the test of time.

You can seal and stain it 

Weathering is a common problem with wooden pergola. For example, if your wooden pergola is made from cost-effective cedar, it is common for it to weather from its original color of light red to silvery gray as it ages. Should you want to protect that natural hue, then you should stain it.

Choose the right sealant for this, depending on the original color of the pergola. This will help to preserve the wood grain. We recommend you go with translucent oil-based stain if your pergola is made from with cedar.

Before applying the stain, make sure to clean the wooden pergola properly. The stain must dry well before you seal the wood. To enhance its beauty, you can repeatedly stain it every 12 months.

Repair faults as soon as you notice them

Many homeowners procrastinate on the repairs of their pergolas when they notice defects forming. Unfortunately, defects when not promptly attended to in wooden pergolas rapidly deteriorate, damaging the pergola significantly.

Aside from painting, staining and power washing, make sure to diligently inspect your wooden pergola and repair any problem at its nascent stage before it escalates.

Some of the common problems are the formation of stain. This is usually caused by fasteners. Replacement should be prompt. Given that some fasteners react with the pergola’s material, we advise you to use stainless steel fasteners.

Agreed, they cost more, but they are worth the expense given they save you the maintenance expense from staining. Stainless steel fasteners even have a cleaner look.

Paint your pergola

Extreme temperatures will damage your wooden pergola. But you can protect your pergola from such intense temperature and dry heat by applying premium heat resistant paint to the pergola. This will enhance its longevity and prop up its appearance.

Does a Pergola Protect from Rain?

With its basic design, pergolas will not protect you entirely from the rain. However, you can enhance your pergolas with roofs like roller shades and louvers to block the rain when it pours heavily.

Are Pergolas Waterproof?

No, pergolas are not waterproof. There are, however, some additional installations that can help it keep out the rain. If you have a low budget, go for canvas.

Canvas has excellent water repellence property. You can install it under the eaves of your pergola – or on top. If you want to slide your canvas — when you desire—over the pergola area, you can install a retractable system.

If you have a bigger budget, you can go for louvers. There are more flexible than canvas. The louvers pane can be made from plastic, fiberglass, or wood. Yes, you can install them in a flapping arrangement so that they cover the cross-sectional area of your pergola.

Rather than the rigors of sliding and rolling over (in the case of canvas), you can easily wind your louver panes up when you want more sunlight to penetrate. If the rain is pouring or the sunlight is too intense, you can wind down your louver panes to increase the shade.

Does a Pergola Need to be Anchored?

Settling is common with pergolas. Also, high wind pressure can threaten the structural integrity of your pergola. This is why anchoring is vital to sustaining the sturdiness of your pergola.

A well-anchored pergola lasts far longer with its shape intact even in the face of high winds so long it is appropriately mounted. Steel pole anchors are an excellent fit.

Anchoring your pergola is even more important when you use wooden material. This is because of the susceptibility of wood to warping, bending, and twisting. Such defects are common when the wood is exposed to sustained humidity and frost.

When anchored, wooden pergolas get stronger and retain their shape for longer. Note that the anchoring isn’t necessarily part of the foundation.

Can You Put a Pergola on Concrete?

Yes, you can put pergola on concrete. Once again, for this to last, it needs to be mounted appropriately and anchored. Therefore the drilling of anchor bolt holes into your concrete pad is essential.

To drill these holes, you can outfit a hammer drill to a masonry bit. The diameter of the masonry bit is critical here. For best results, the diameter of the metal anchor’s holes should equal the diameter of the masonry bit.

After that, you should secure your meal anchor to the chosen location. This can be realized with a ratchet. Such will give the anchor a secure grip on the ground.

What’s the Difference Between a Pergola and a Gazebo?

Gazebos and pergolas, while similar, have their distinct differences. It is typical for gazebos to be round in shape (others are octagonal), but pergolas are predominantly rectangular in shape or square.

Also, pergolas fundamentally don’t have roofs. They have cross beams rather for shade. Gazebos, on the other hand, are fully shaded with roofs. Most pergolas act as a nexus between nearby structures. But gazebos are independent and most times stand on their own.

Does Pergola Increase Home Value?

Pergolas will not significantly raise the value of your home, but it does increase the appeal of your home to prospective buyers. People are now increasingly savoring time spent outdoor in their homes. Hence some may pay more for a nicely designed pergola. Expect around 30%-50% return on your investment on pergolas from the resell value of your home.

Why are Pergolas so Popular?

Pergolas are becoming trendy because of the beauty and extended space they give you outdoor in your home. This can be great locations to enjoy some good time outside the confines of your home. You can host get-togethers in your pergola, equip it with suitable furniture and create a seating space there for some jolly time.

While you can leave it unroofed and bask in direct interaction with nature and its element, you can roof it reasonably to give you sufficient shade. This way, you can stay in your pergola when the intense summer sun is beating down or the rains are pouring hard.

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Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare

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