Pergolas are one of the most popular and beautiful addition to any backyard space. They provide a designated area for relaxing, eating, and enjoying your outdoor space. They look great as an addition off of the house, a covering over your pool or space, or a secluded garden space.

Building a pergola is a big undertaking, it’s one of the largest construction projects you can do in your own backyard. Anytime you consider adding a structure to your property, it is important that the structure is sturdy, secure, and safe for your home and family.

pergola building tips

If you are considering adding a pergola to your outdoor space, be sure to do your homework before you start. Take careful consideration into the details. Understand the process, the materials, the location, and the time required to complete this project. By doing so, you may be able to avoid these common mistakes many homeowners make when building a pergola.

1. Starting off wrong

It can be tempting when you see easy DIY pergola plans online to hit “print” and head to Home Depot with big dreams. Take the time to read through the entire plans, and compare at least two or three to pick the one that fits your preferences and abilities.

Be sure you consider the size, design, and materials required (including tools) before you get overly ambitious because it looks gorgeous on Pinterest. Choosing the wrong plans will only leave you with a half-finished structure and sunk costs.

white pergola with stained top

2. Being overly ambitious

Pinterest makes everything look quick and easy, that’s it’s job. However, pergolas are neither easy nor quick. They take time, patience, and a fair amount of construction experience. If you’ve never build anything out of wood before, you probably don’t want to start with a pergola.

Find a plan that matches your level of expertise. If you are new to building buy a plan. Plans for purchase offer must more detail than online tutorials that have a handful of images.

If you want a full structure but you don’t have the skills to complete it, consider hiring a contractor, or purchasing a pergola kit rather than constructing one from scratch. You can find these kits at your local hardware store or nursery.

3. Choosing the wrong size

Whether you choose to buy or make a pergola, too many homeowners choose one that is either too big for the space, or way too small. It is obvious that a really large one or a pergola takes up the entire yard and looks completely out of place.

On the other hand, a pergola that is too small looks like a mistaken afterthought. The pergola has to be an appropriate size to accommodate the guests and furniture for the potential gatherings. Trace out the size of your pergola with landscaping string, or spray paint on the lawn. Consider the placement, size, and shape, before moving forward.

white pergola on brick pathway

4. Failure to check on permit requirements

Any construction projects may require permits. This is especially critical if your pergola will reach over your existing fence line. You must find out in advance the types of permits you need to obtain and so this in advance. The last thing you need is to build a beautiful pergola and then have a neighbor sue you and force you to take it down.

stained pergola with dining chairs

5. Buying the wrong materials

Be sure your pergola plans specify exactly what materials you need. If they list “lumber” as a material, toss those plans in the trash. They should spell out exactly what type of lumber you need.  This will save you a lot of trouble with weakening or rotting wood in the future. Poor materials make poor structures.

Purchase high-quality materials from reputable vendors to ensure your structure lasts the test of time. If you are using wood, use teak, redwood, or pressure-treated pine. Composite materials do great outdoors as well.

diy pergola

6. Planning for shade

It’s a common misconception that pergolas provide shade. Most do not. Shade is shade. Pergolas are pretty. If you want your pergola to provide shade you need to plan for that ahead of time. This means putting your crossbars extremely close together, or adding shade with a canopy or climbing vines to fill the in gaps, which can affect the design of your build.

pergola with drapes

7. Failure to account for weather

Make sure the pergola you build is made to withstand your climate. Cheaper materials may work OK in dry climates, but will gradually weaken with moisture. In areas that receive a lot of rain, materials that are designed to handle that are necessary. You should also consider the freezing level common wind speeds, and other weather conditions that are common in your area. Drier gentle climate areas are easy on pergolas, though the quality of wood becomes an issue whenever there is significant moisture or weather extremes.

8. Digging before checking

Before you dig holes for your pergola posts, you must check for underground utilities. Inspect all aspects of the property before you start construction. If you hit a power line, you’re going to have big problems on your hands. Make sure you know what’s under the soil before you dig into it to avoid issues and ensure that you are working within the law.

9. Going it alone

Building a pergola is not a one-man job. It’s a big undertaking, and you’re going to need help. Enlist the help of family or friends before you get started. If you don’t have family or friends in the area, consider hiring a contractor to build the pergola and offer him your assistance in exchange for a discount on his labor. Having a builder on site that is trained and competent is key to a successful structure.

pergola with brick

10. Pushing kits aside

Pergola kits have come a long way since they were first introduced. Today some of the most beautiful pergolas are actually manufactured and purchased as kits and shipped directly to your home.

This saves you the headache of creating the pergola yourself. This is perfect for homeowners that don’t have the time, equipment, or expertise to build a pergola from the ground up. Kits can be a great way to get the pergola you want and avoid common pitfalls of construction. They are definitely worth looking into the options available in your area.

Need help finding the perfect pergola look? Check out this article:

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Learn how to build DIY pergola with these common mistakes other make.  Make your pergola great and enjoy your yard more than ever before!
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