Pergola Plans

Pergola Plans: Where to Start and What to Consider

With the popularity of pergolas growing, we get asked more and more about how to best navigate the choices that can make or break a project. I have outlined the most general among them to provide the framework for pergola plans and the major things to consider toward a totally satisfying pergola construction experience!


It’s important to balance your current budget with longer term needs to get the best value for your investment. For example, it may be a stretch for the budget to go the size you want, but that is the most important thing for the long term. Maybe forego the fire pit to make sure you have the area constructed that will provide spacious enjoyment for years to come. Once the pergola is constructed, ‘additions’ are not practical. Use some markers to lay out the area you want and do a walk around inspection. Put furniture in the space to model in life size scale the area you will need. It will be the best exercise you can do to get your project off on the right foot.


The most common question is will it be attached (to your home) or stand-alone? If you want the pergola to be an extension of your outdoor living space, then attached is the best option. On the other hand, a stand-alone pergola would allow you to break away from the house for that vacation setting in your own backyard. The most important thing to consider here is local bylaws. Sometimes an attached pergola will add square footage to your home’s municipal tax base. In this case, you can make a stand-alone pergola located right next to the house. Likewise, if stand alone in the far end of the yard is your plan, make sure the required set back from the property line is known.


Pergolas are made from a broad range of materials. These different choices all have their characteristics and benefits. Learn more about the available materials here. Take the time to understand them and you’ll be ready to make the right choice.

Style Types

Double beams supporting rafters is the most common and easiest to make. However you will want to consider the style of your home, the period of the architecture in your neighborhood, and the personal style you want to convey to make the best choice. The options are endless, posts (square) vs columns (round), scalloped (fancy) rafter tips or plain, post caps or not, plain cedar (au natural) or stained, etc.


We make retractable canopies, but there are other options that are solid and permanent. One is to cover the pergola with a clear sheet of polycarbonate. The cover will collect dirt which becomes very visible over time and tinting the cover takes away from the benefits of the sun when you want it. There are webbed fabric panels which you see in the tropics but they don’t protect from rain.


The outdoors isn’t what it used to be. With the advent of outdoor living comes the advent of outdoor comforts. Will you be using radiant heaters, ceiling fans, and lighting? Consider the wiring for these which could necessitate hollow posts. By the way, the most popular pergola accessory according to my personal observation in 2012: Flat screen TV’s.


Ahhh canopies are near and dear to our heart and definitely the accessory that will provide the most benefit among all the accessories you will consider. There are a number of ways to cover your pergola with a canopy starting with the simple fixed fabric ‘tarp’ fastened to the tops of the rafters. Another is the webbed multi strip fabric you see in the islands. Many try the cable suspended option and later realize it is fraught with problems. Some retractable systems require multiple tracks to cover areas as narrow as 5 feet. Tracks on outdoor wood frames tend to jam and bind over time, and the canopies don’t drain properly when supported at the ends. Go ShadeFX here. It’s our patented single track canopy system designed to mount to wood pergolas and overhead frames of any type. The single track means it will never jam or bind due to misalignment that will happen with two tracks on an outdoor wood frame. The canopy is also suspended from that single track in the middle, so rain runs off to the sides.

The need to have your canopy system mount above the pergola to accommodate accessories should be considered. Our topside mounting option was made for just that.


One word… Low voltage. Okay, that’s two words, but each one is just as important. I have seen too many pergolas of the most beautiful designs cluttered and marred with the addition of conduit protected electrical supply. If it is necessary for fans or radiant heaters which need the power, make sure you have hollow posts. If a ShadeFX canopy is in the plan, simply order the 24’ power cord and the GFI power can be at the base of a post.

The road to ruin is paved with good intentions. Don’t go there! Instead, take the time to get the facts and make informed decisions. I hope this roadmap will make that effort an efficient and effective exercise for you. Also don’t be afraid to ask for directions (Guys…) along the way. It’s why we’re in the business of adding comfort and style to outdoor living.