Building a Pergola

Jun 17, 2020 | Garage

A few weeks ago I told my husband that I wanted to build a pergola over our garage to help contain the trailing hydrangea that had started to creep into our soffit and threatened to damage the gutters. Now that we had new garage doors, I thought it would look so cottage quaint to have the hydrangea crisscrossing through the slats of a pergola. Very “having tea in little cups with pinkies flying high in an English garden” type of cottage quaint.

In typical fashion, my husband said reluctantly said, “sure, do it” (while muttering under his breath, “but don’t rope me into it!”). Again, in my family I have the big ideas when it comes to renovations and my husband reigns me in so that I don’t build a $500,000 addition onto our house. Or build a $10,000 treehouse, which I actually did do, so it looks like I’m not always the loser Bud! So imagine my surprise when he offers to help with this one! Seriously, knock me over with a feather is how shocked I was! But I digress…

Okay, so I wanted to build a pergola and got lots of ideas from Pinterest and YouTube (my forever inspirations) and came up with a number of photos that reflected what I wanted.


After looking at the Pinterest photos and checking to make sure that I had enough clearance between my gutters and the bottom end of my soffit, I scoured YouTube and found an awesome step by step guide AND a video tutorial from This Old House. The pergola that they built was smaller than what I wanted, but all I had to do was follow step by step with the video and just make a few adjustments to account for mine being longer. If you can follow basic directions and have minimal tool skills, YOU too can be a pergola building MASTER! That was my pep talk for you and I think I nailed it.

I won’t go into all the details because that’s why I linked the tutorial, but I will go over the general way I attacked the project. The pergola is really built in three parts: hanging the brackets, building the trellis, and attaching the trellis to the brackets. That’s it!

The tutorial shows a pergola for a one car garage and I wanted to build a two car garage pergola so I doubled (plus 20% to account for the portion in the middle of my two garage doors that would also be covered by the pergola) all the supplies on the list. Then my neighbor posted on our FB neighborhood site that he was giving away a bunch of wood from a deck that he was demolishing and wouldn’t you know it… what had been deck railing was going to work perfectly for my purlins (the pieces that form the lattice of the pergola). So, I snatched those up super quick! I’m an environmentalist at heart (I graduated from law school with an environmental law certificate) so I try to make my projects as earth friendly as possible.

I ordered the middle brackets from a site recommended in the tutorial since I couldn’t find them at my local hardware store. All other supplies were ordered through Lowe’s so that I could pick them up curbside.

First, I painted all 4 brackets (2 middle brackets and 2 end brackets) and hung the 2 middle brackets centered on each garage door.

From those two brackets, I was able to hang the end brackets using a long piece of 2×4 wood and a level to make sure everything was plumb and level.

I had to drill through brick to hang the 2 end brackets and originally I used my power drill thinking it could handle going through such a durable substance. It couldn’t. I was drilling and drilling and going nowhere and the entire time, my drill was getting really hot and overworked. So, NEW TOOL! It feels like Christmas every time I get a new tool and buying a hammer drill was no different!

A hammer drill made such a difference in my frustration level! A hammer drill not only spins the drill bit but it also hammers with these little hammering motions that don’t feel like a lot when you’re holding the drill but make a huge impact on how quickly you can go through brick (or concrete or grout, really anything super hard). It took about 7 minutes of drilling with the hammer drill to drill all the way through brick. Not bad! If you’re looking for one, this hammer drill is highly rated.

Ryobi Hammer Drill

The other thing to note is that I had to use special anchors to attach the brackets (which weighed about 30 lbs. each and were 4 inches thick) to the brick. I searched and searched for just the right anchor and/or screw set because the last thing I wanted was for the whole thing to come crashing down which it very well could if you don’t use the right anchoring set. I found this to work the best for brick.

After hanging the brackets, I built the top portion that sits on top of the brackets. This part is easy because you’re just making a very basic trellis with rafters going parallel to the garage and purlins going perpendicular to the garage.

To make the 2×4 rafters look a little more fancy, I rounded out the ends using a jig saw.

And look! My husband helped and he did a good job!

Because the purlins that I was using were old deck spindles, they were already cut at a 45 degree angle on the ends so luckily I didn’t have to do that. I just had to cut them on the other end to fit hanging over the edge of the rafters and I was done with those.

The next step was to paint all the trellis pieces.

I chose to paint the pergola Dark Kettle Black to match the garage doors, shutters, and front door.

It will be nearly impossible to see the pergola when it’s warm because the hydrangea will be covering most of it, but come Winter when the leaves fall off, you’ll be able to see it clearly so I wanted it to tie in with the other black accents.

After painting, it was time to put the trellis together and I found that a square and pre-cut measuring blocks were essential.

Luckily when everything was painted and I was ready to place the trellis on top of the brackets, my son’s friends were just walking down the driveway. HELLO… FREE LABOR! Like I said, I retired from heavy lifting when my boys turned into teens and seeing a bunch of tall boys with muscles vs. short me with no muscles was a god send! So, they lifted the trellis into place and I supervised.

After a few minor adjustments with a mallet…

Pergola done!

I did rearrange the hydrangea a bit to best fit onto the pergola and also whispered sweet nothings into the hydrangeas’ ears to get it to grow since I did smoosh it a little in installing the brackets.

Now, to break out the tea and crumpets!