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How to Build a Freestanding Pergola

Freestanding Pergola Plans For The Perfect DIY Summer Project

Are you looking for help on How to Build a Freestanding Pergola? We’re here to help you get that project done!  All it takes is a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, a good set of plans, and a proper list of materials.

Let’s face it, as important as the sun can be, sometimes we all just want a little less sun. The sun can be overly hot when you are enjoying the outdoors, and the rays can interrupt vs. enhance your experience.

What Is A Freestanding Wood Pergola?

Bringing life to your backyard, a new freestanding wood pergola (see top photo) can give your space an Italian, Renaissance, or even a Rustic feel. You can create stone or gravel pathways to your new pergola, and create a major destination to hang out and lounge around with friends.

How Much Does a Wood Pergola Cost To Build Yourself?

A typical 10′ x 10′ Cedar or Redwood Freestanding Pergola will average between $1500 – $2000 for materials only.  However, a pressure-treated lumber option may only set you back $700- $1,000 for materials. 

TIP:  Be sure to have your local Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Lumberyard provide the material and delivery estimate before you get started.  Their price should also include delivery to your doorstep.

With a lot of pergola plans out there in this day and age, it might be overwhelming to decide on one that works for you and your lifestyle. This should not be a run of the mill decision. Picking the right pergola design should be a calculated and thought-out process.

 

How To Build a Freestanding Wood Pergola: 8 Steps

 

 

1)  Pick Size of Pergola to Build

Pergolas can come in many sizes and shapes. Traditionally, you can find pergolas between 8 to 10 feet to cover a backyard space.

Size should be determined by the seating group you plan on setting up, and of course the available space you have to build a pergola.

Depending on what material of wood you decide on, you should be able to construct your pergola for between $500 and $750 because you are doing it yourself and cutting out the costs for labor.

 

2)  Pick the Type of Wood To Use

Typically, Cedar is the wood of choice because it does not decay in the same way woods like pine do throughout the year.  Another more common wood due to its affordability is treated pine.  Where treated (pressure-treated) lumber isn’t as attractive as cedar, you will definitely save a few bucks.

One of the neat things about cedar is, besides being naturally defensible to insects and rot, is if left unfinished, it turns into an attractive brownish-gray color. Even cedar that has stayed in place for over a hundred years will have a fantastic look to it. Exterior stain can also be used to seal your wood year around if you prefer.

Depending on what material of wood you decide on, you should be able to construct your pergola for between $500 and $750 because you are doing it yourself and cutting out the costs for labor.

 

2) Get Your Materials:

Note: 10′ x 10′ Freestanding Pergola Material List below.  This is a general list of materials you will need.  The following materials are required to build a typical 10′ x 10′ freestanding wood pergola:

  • A – 4 pieces of 6×6 lumber – 96″ long – FOR POSTS (120″ if set in-ground)
  • B – 4 piece of 2×8 lumber – 12′ long – FOR SUPPORT BEAMS
  • C – 10 pieces of 2×6 lumber – 12′ long – FOR CROSS BEAMS
  • D – 12 pieces of 1× 3 lumber – 12′ long – FOR SLATS
  • E – 8 Pieces Decorative Wood Braces – To connect posts to support beams (See top photo)
  • (1)  Box 1 5/8″ galvanized deck screws
  • (4)  6×6 post anchors for the concrete slab, (or 1 bag concrete ready-mix for in-ground posts)
  • (1) Box of rafter ties (for crossbeams)
  • (8) sets of 9″ carriage bolts, lock washers, nuts
  • Any necessary wood filler, wood glue, and stain or paint
  • Tools Needed:  Skil saw, Drill, Hammer Drill (if mounting posts to concrete), 4 or 6 ft. Level, Stakes, String.
  • Note:   Cordless Power Tool Kits (including a cordless circular saw, drill, and hammer drill, are handy tools to use for this job – with no cords to drag around.

Material list: Courtesy of myoutdoorplans.com

 

If you would like to watch a step by step tutorial on How to Build a Pergola on Youtube,  check you this video:

 

3)  Choose The Proper Placement For Pergola

If you choose the wrong place for your new pergola, you won’t get the intended shade and enjoyment you expected. For instance, if you place the pergola too close to your house, you may be providing unwanted shade and darkness in that area inside the home.

Also, look for natural settings both in the topography of the land, as well as nearby trees or bushes that could enhance the setting of your pergola. Plopping a pergola smack dab in the center of a large lawn, may not appear very natural.

Finally, and probably most important in choosing your placement, is laying out the design and orientation to protect yourself from the Sun.

The rafters when installed should typically run North and South, so as the sun travels, it will cast nice lines of shade under the pergola. At midday, the sun will be directly overhead and be less shaded.

You can learn how to install vines or lattice if you require even more shade.

 

Easily clear the area you need before building a pergola, by removing any tree limbs, bushes, with a pole saw and wood chipper.

 

4)  Install Pergola “Posts” (A)

When placing your pergola posts into the ground, remember a few things. First, make sure that the cedar, or other wood you are using, has been pressure-treated, so the wood will not rot quickly over time. 4 by 4 posts are perfect to stay securely in the ground.

Before you place your post locations, check out this short video on how to install temporary batter boards from Lowes.

Option #1:  Install Pergola Posts on a Concrete Slab”

  • Step 1: Install the pergola posts on a concrete slab for ultimate strength. Start by marking where you will screw the posts into the concrete slab with a marker. Step 2:
  • Step 2:  Next, have concrete screws handy, like Tapcon screws, which are over a ¼ inch in length, and a hammer drill to pre-drill tapcon holes first, to help the screws go in easier.
  • Step 3:  Install the (4) Post Anchors, using tapcon screws to the concrete slab.

Option #2:  Install Pergola Posts in the “Ground”

Some of you might not have a concrete slab to put your wood pergola on. If you can’t put your posts on a concrete slab, make sure to place them in the ground, below the area where frost can wreak havoc.

Before you start digging, contact your local utility company, so you do not dig in an area that has electric or gas lines that could severely hurt you and your project. After your utility lines have been marked accurately, then you can proceed to dig your pergola away from utter danger.

  • Step 1:  Using a batter board method,  mark your post locations with small wood stakes, so you can visually see your layout. Measure twice, so you only have to install your posts once. Measuring should not only take place parallel and perpendicular from each other but also diagonally for accurate dimensions.
  • Step 2:  Use a post hole digger to dig the hole. Also, an auger, shovel, or clamshell excavator will suffice as well.

Note: The hole needs to be at least  12-18″ in diameter. With a post hole at the correct width and depth, you will be able to support a typical 4 by 4 or 6 x 6 post correctly.

Depending on local building codes, an 8-foot tall structure needs to have holes at least 2 feet deep in the ground for stability’s sake. If you live in an area prone to high winds, you may want to make your pergola even deeper at 3 feet or more into the ground.

You can use a formula similar to this one:  .25 x (the height of the post) = the depth you should dig the hole. Example:  10 ft. post x .25 = 2.5 ft. post depth in the ground.  This provides an 8 Ft. (exposed) structure if placing posts in the ground.

These guidelines will help you stay to code and keep your pergola resilient and sturdy for years to come.

4)  Pour the Concrete For Posts

  • Step 1:  Now that your post is in the ground, you will need to place concrete around it to make it even stronger. For your pergola plans, a 40-pound bag of ready-mix should be enough for this project. You will need to mix 6 gallons of water with the concrete ready mix.
  • Note:  If you mix too much water, your concrete will be weakened, it will take longer to dry, and your pergola could have structural problems.  If you do not use enough water, the concrete will never form properly, creating another set of problems. So you need to get the mix right by following the instructions. The mix should generally have a peanut butter type consistency, to be ready for use.
  • Step 2:  Pour the concrete into the hole surrounding your post, and use a stick to push through air pockets in the concrete. This way, the concrete will settle properly.
  • Step 3:  Allow the concrete to settle over a minimum of 48 hours before you proceed with the project.

5) Install The Support Beams (B)

The support beams are the next thing you should focus on when you are figuring out how to make a pergola.

2″ x 8″ beams are the best option when it comes to your pergola plans. You can also opt to leave the beams as they are, or you can use a jigsaw to cut or scallop out rounded edges, for a little more design. See our photos for example.

  • Step 1:  Pre-drill holes (for 9″ Carriage Bolts) into the Beam ends.
  • Step 2:  Tack a temporary nail through the beam at each end.  This will keep your beams in place while installing the carriage bolts.
  • Step 3: Using a level, keep your work perfectly level.
  • Step 4: Install the 9″ carriage bolts that are at least 9 inches in length and secure with lock washers and lock nuts
  • Step 5:  After you have one support beam, mirror another beam parallel on the other side of the pergola

6)  Install The Crossbeams (C)

Depending on the size of the support beams that you use, you typically use the next size down for the cross beams, ie; 2 x 6 lumber if support beams are 2 x 8.

Step 1:  Start by notching your crossbeams so they will fit seamlessly over the support beams. No matter your DIY pergola plans, a dado blade is one of the best options used with your table saw.

If there is some excess wood in the area you notched, use a jigsaw to clean the rest out.

Step 2:  Continue by scrolling the ends (optional) or leave the crossbeams as a straight edge.

Step 3:  When you are ready to install the 2 x 6 crossbeams, lay the first crossbeam in place and secure to support beam with 1 5/8″ galvanized screws.  Place a screw through the top of the crossbeam into the support beam below.

Step 4: Continue installing cross beams, by using an identical wood spacer at both support ends.  The spacer should be the length that allows you to have “equal crossbeam spacing” across the structure.

 

7) Install Braces and Trim (E)

To this point, you almost have your pergola plans completed. There are just a few more things to do with your free standing pergola plans. Braces and trim are next. When it comes to braces, you will need to stay with the same wood that you used for the support beams and cross beams.

For example, if you used 2 by 6 lumber, then use the same 2 by 6 wood for your diagonal sided braces. Cut them, by using a chop saw, at 45 degrees. Cut 8 diagonal braces to fit in between the cross beams and support beams around the posts. Fasten with screws, and you will really be on your way to finishing up your pergola.

When it comes to trim, cut pieces that cover the outsides of each post. Make sure the length and width are measured accurately for the best outcome. Most pergola plans will ask you to notch your trim effectively so it will fit sandwiched between your support beams.

 

7)  Install Shade Slats (D)

You are nearly done with your pergola plans. To finish up, you will need to add your shade slats.

1 x 3 treated lumber is the perfect size for your shade slats. Shape the ends if desired, to make them more decorative, or leave as a square end.

Simply space evenly, 10 -12 pieces of shade slat lumber in the opposite direction of the cross beams.  Secure with galvanized screws.

 

8) Install Braces and Trim (E)

To this point, you almost have your pergola plans completed. There are just a few more things to do with your free standing pergola plans. Braces and trim are next. When it comes to braces, you will need to stay with the same wood that you used for the support beams and cross beams.

For example, if you used 2 by 6 lumber, then use the same 2 by 6 wood for your diagonal sided braces. Cut them, by using a chop saw, at 45 degrees. Cut 8 diagonal braces to fit in between the cross beams and support beams around the posts. Fasten with screws, and you will really be on your way to finishing up your pergola.

When it comes to trim, cut pieces that cover the outsides of each post. Make sure the length and width are measured accurately for the best outcome. Most pergola plans will ask you to notch your trim effectively so it will fit sandwiched between your support beams.

Now that your pergola is complete:

You may need some Privacy in your Backyard to enjoy that new Pergola.  If so, check out our Article for the simplest and “Cheapest Way to Build a Wood Privacy Fence”.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

 

What Type of Wood is Best For a Pergola?

Generally “Cedar” and “Redwood” are considered the most attractive and best types of lumber to use for building a Pergola.  Both species of wood are rot and insect resistant – naturally, and have an inherent beauty in the wood.

However, if you wish to save money, we recommend using pressure-treated lumber (pine). This lumber has a greenish color when new, which fades to grey as it ages. If you intend to stain or paint your pergola after it ages, pressure-treated lumber is a great cost-saving option.

Is it Difficult To Build a Wood Pergola Yourself?

If you have reasonable carpentry skills, and a friend that is as capable (or more capable 🙂 than you to help you out, there’s no reason you can’t build your own DIY wood pergola.  Be careful not to make it too complicated.

There are a ton of DIY pergola plans out there that you can build yourself, which can be a little overwhelming.

Should you hire a Pro To Build A Pergola?

Not to rain on our own how to build a pergola article, but there may be some folks out there who are little unsure they possess the right skills to build their own Pergola. That’s quite alright – you have to know your own limits.

The cost, however, will be considerably more – as you will pay for labor and the contractor’s profit mark-up on the materials.

If you are leaning that way, you may want to consider hiring a pro instead. Hey, they may even give you a good discount for providing your own muscle to the project. Our advice – Price it both ways – DIY & Hiring a Pro.

Check out this quick video if you’re considering hiring a builder to build your Pergola:

 

Conclusion

 

Learning how to build a freestanding pergola, is the perfect project for anyone who enjoys hanging out in the backyard, but wants some protection from the sun. A pergola is not a full shelter against rain and wind, but more of a shield against direct sun exposure, so It’s important to know that distinction moving forward.

No matter what pergola plans you decide to use, pergola construction needs to include all of the major construction elements mentioned above. Without them, your freestanding pergola plans could end up as a disappointment, or worse it could be unsteady or unsafe.

Some might wonder why anyone would need a pergola at all. Well, it is a magnificent structure that gives life to your backyard, without causing an eyesore to your property. With a pergola, it is like you can be in both an indoor and outdoor space all at once.

When you have completed your pergola structure, you can make it more your own special hangout. Maybe you want to set up a wireless flat-screen TV in the summer months or add LED lighting year-round by weaving through your ceiling slats.  With a privacy fence and pergola in place – you now have your own private backyard oasis!

This can really liven up your pergola space for years to come. Bottom line – Have fun building your very own pergola and start with your preparation today. You’ll love the space and so will your friends!

 

Thanks for visiting BestHomeGear.Com and much success Building Your Freestanding Pergola!

 

Additional References & Resources

 

Kevin

2 Comments

    1. I agree that building a Pergola is a pretty big project. Find a friend with good carpentry skills – and it will be a whole lot easier!

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