Choosing a Pergola?: DIY, PreFab Kit, or Contractor?

Pergola on top of the deck

Pergolas are an excellent addition to any outdoor space.  They provide a shaded area for relaxation and entertainment.  However, before you install a pergola, you need to decide whether to build it yourself, buy a manufactured kit, or hire a local contractor.  Each of these options has its pros and cons.  In this article we will discuss each of them in detail.

DIY Wood Pergola

A DIY wood pergola structure can be built from scratch using lumber from your big box hardware store.  This option requires woodworking experience, as well as owning the right tools and knowing how to use them.  Here are the pros and cons of building your own wood pergola.


  1. Customization: Building a DIY wood pergola allows you to customize the structure to exactly what your needs and preferences are.  You can choose the dimensions, design, and features that you want.  Including the type of wood, stain color, and design details.
  2. Cost Savings: A DIY wood pergola can be less expensive than buying a manufactured kit.  You can choose the wood and hardware that you want.
  3. Satisfaction: Building a DIY wood pergola can be very rewarding.  Especially if you enjoy working with wood.  You can take pride in the fact that you designed and built the pergola with your own hands.  And you can show your handiwork to your family and friends.


  1. Time-Consuming: Building your own wood pergola can be very time-consuming.  Especially if you are not an experienced woodworker.  It can take several weeks or more depending on how complex the design is.
  2. Skill Required: As previously mentioned, building a DIY wood pergola requires a decent amount of woodworking experience.  If you are not experienced you will need to learn some new skills before you can start a project of this magnitude.
  3. Risk of Mistakes: If you make a mistake when you are building your pergola, it can be very costly and time-consuming to repair.  This risk is even greater if you are not an experienced woodworker, and are not following a professionally designed set of plans and instructions.
  4. Equipment: Depending on the overall footprint of the pergola you are building, the cross beams can be quite large if you are doing a span between posts more than 10-12 feet.  Most home-use woodworking equipment will not be capable of cutting larger beams.
  5. Bolt & Brackets:  How are you going to connect all of these posts, beams, rafters, and roof slats?  Bolts & brackets are an option, but there are some drawbacks to metal on a pergola.  Mainly, you might need custom brackets.  And bolts & brackets can rust over time.

Manufactured Pergola Kit

A manufactured pergola kit is a pre-fabricated structure that has been professionally designed to handle any snow or wind loads.  They will come with all the needed hardware and complete instructions for you to assemble.  Here are the pros and cons of buying a manufactured pergola kit.


  1. Easy to Assemble: A manufactured pergola kit is designed for easy assembly.  No woodworking skills are required.  There are usually very detailed instructions, and some manufacturers have YouTube videos demonstrating the assembly.  The time to install with a couple of friends will most likely be within one day.
  2. Time-Saving: Buying a manufactured pergola kit will save you a significant amount of time compared to building your own pergola from scratch.  You will not be spending all your time designing, shopping for materials, cutting all the components, and figuring out how to attach all the parts together.
  3. Low Risk: A manufactured pergola kit is pretty much foolproof.  All the parts are designed to fit together perfectly.  There are large companies that manufacture kits that cut the wood parts with robotic saws and routers.  This creates wood parts that fit together perfectly.
  4. Dovetail Joints: There is a kit manufacturer in Utah that uses robotic wood-cutting equipment to cut precision dovetail joints to connect the cross beams to the vertical posts.  This type of structure has no visible hardware.  And no metal brackets are needed to hold the whole structure together.
  5. Beam & Post sizes: The lumber for the posts and beams that are available to you at the big box stores usually consists of 4″x4″ or 6″x6″ posts, and beams made out of 2″x 8″, 2″x 10″, 2″x 12″, etc.  This is called nominal lumber.  Meaning that a 4″x 4″ post is actually 3-1/2″x 3-1/2″.  A kit manufacturer will often offer 6″x 6″, 8″x 8″, or 10″x 10″ posts.  They will also offer beams in sizes like 3″x 10″, 4″x 12″, or 4″ x 14″.  These lumber sizes will far exceed the capacity of any home-use chop saws.
  6. Quality: If you purchase a manufactured kit from a reputable company with high-quality products, you will almost always end up with a better quality structure.  The manufacturer has vast experience in choosing the wood species as well as where on the tree the boards are cut from.  This matters in the longevity of the product as well as how well it resists warping.


Cost: A manufactured pergola kit will be more expensive than just buying lumber at the big box store.  You will need to pay shipping from the location of the manufacturer.  The big heavy beams might be too heavy for you and your friends to lift.  You might need to hire a crew to help with assembly.

Limited Design Options:  A manufactured kit will likely have some design options and color options.  But it will never have as many options as a scratch-built structure, where the sky is the limit on your design.

Hiring a Contractor to Custom Build the Pergola

Hiring a contractor to custom-build your pergola will be the most expensive option.  Here are the pros and cons of hiring a contractor to build your custom pergola.


  1. Professional Quality:  Hiring a licensed contractor should ensure that the pergola is built to the local building standards in your city.  A professional contractor will have the skills, tools and experience to build a quality, long-lasting pergola.
  2. Customization: Hiring a contractor will allow you to customize the design of the structure just as you could if you did the DIY option.  The contractor will likely have some design suggestions to help you make the final design decisions.
  3. Saves Time: Hiring a contractor can save you time compared to building the pergola with the DIY option.  They are professionals and will most likely build it faster than you ever could.


1- Expensive: Hiring a contractor to custom-build your pergola is the most expensive option.  Since it will be a custom project.  They will need to figure out the design, and engineer for the strength and longevity of the pergola.  Most of these will be one-off projects.  They won’t have the advantage of a pergola kit manufacturer who designs it once and then sells that pergola design over and over to spread out the design and engineering costs.

2. Finding the Right Contractor:  Finding a reputable and experienced contractor that you can trust can be a crap shoot.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of horror stories of contractors that don’t complete jobs, take down payments, and then don’t come back, or take advantage of naive consumers.  You will need to do your due diligence and thoroughly check references and reviews.  Get multiple quotes and don’t rush into choosing your contractor.

3. Lumber size: The contractor will most likely use the sizes of lumber that is available from the big box stores.  The contractor will likely have more capable equipment than the typical homeowner.  But he still won’t have the equipment of the kit manufacturer that can cut and route 4″ x 14″ beams.

4. Bolt & Brackets:  Just as I mentioned with the DIY option for attaching posts and beams.  The contractor does not have the specialized equipment to do specialty joints like dovetails on the heavier-sized post and beams.  They will most likely need to use bolts and brackets for securing the beams to the posts.


Each option for building a pergola has its pros and cons.  Hopefully, I have given you enough information to help you make an informed decision.  If you have the skills, tools, and know-how to DIY your pergola, then that might be a good option for you.

If you want a quick and easy solution with a professionally designed and manufactured pergola, then a kit might be the best option for you.

Finally, if you can’t find a pergola kit manufacturer to build exactly what you want, then you might need to hire a professional contractor to build your specific design.

Regardless of your choice, a pergola will be a great addition to your outdoor living space and will provide many years of enjoyment and relaxation.

My name is Steve and I am passionate about designing beautiful and functional pergolas and pavilions.

Whether you need help coming up with an idea or already have something in mind, my goal is to help you explore the possibilities and find the perfect addition to your outdoor living space.  With my design consultations, you will have access to my decades of design experience and a personalized plan that fits your vision and budget.

If you are interested in taking the next step, I am a sales agent for one of the largest timber pavilion manufacturers in the country.  I can arrange to have your timber pergola or pavilion shipped directly to your location in the continental USA.  From start to finish, I am here to help you make your dream a reality.

Thank you for visiting my site and I am looking forward to working with you!







Steve Fleischer

Designer for one of the country's largest pergola and pavilion manufacturers. Steve has decades of design experience. Let Steve design an unforgettable structure for your backyard.

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