How to Build a Pergola on a Deck | Step-by-Step Guide

Last Updated on July 19, 2023 by Kimberly Crawford

A pergola is a beautiful structure, often made from wood or metal, that creates a shaded walkway or sitting area in a garden or outdoor space. Comprising vertical posts and a sturdy open lattice, it’s often adorned with climbing plants, offering an enticing mix of shade and sunlight.

Building a pergola on a deck has several benefits. First, it provides a defined space for outdoor living, enhancing the usability and comfort of your deck. It offers shade, making your deck more enjoyable on hot summer days. Additionally, it can improve the aesthetic appeal of your outdoor space, potentially increasing your home’s value.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of building a pergola on a deck. We’ll discuss everything from choosing the right location and design, preparing your deck, to the actual building process and finishing touches.

Whether you’re a seasoned DIY enthusiast or a novice builder, this step-by-step guide will provide you with all the information you need to create a stunning pergola on your deck. Let’s get started!

Necessary Materials and Tools

Building a pergola on your deck requires careful planning and the right materials and tools. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:


  1. Wood: The type of wood you choose will depend on your budget and aesthetic preferences. Cedar or redwood are popular choices due to their natural resistance to rot and insects. You’ll need posts for the vertical supports, beams for the horizontal elements, and slats for the top.
  2. Screws and Bolts: Galvanized or stainless steel will be the most durable. You’ll want screws for attaching the beams and slats, and longer bolts for securing the posts to the deck.
  3. Brackets: Metal post brackets will help secure the posts to the deck and keep them stable.
  4. Concrete: If your deck is not built to support the additional weight of a pergola, you may need to pour concrete footings for extra stability.
  5. Paint or Stain: This is optional but can enhance the look of your pergola and provide extra protection against the elements.


  1. Saw: A circular saw or table saw will make cutting your wood to size much easier.
  2. Drill: Needed for pre-drilling holes and driving in screws.
  3. Level: Essential for ensuring your posts and beams are straight and level.
  4. Measuring Tape: Accurate measurements are critical in any building project.
  5. Ladder: Depending on the height of your pergola, a ladder may be necessary.
  6. Pencil: For marking where cuts and holes should be made.
  7. Square: A carpenter’s square will help ensure your cuts are precise and your structure is square.

Choosing the Right Location

Before you start building your pergola, it’s crucial to carefully consider its location on your deck. Here are some factors to keep in mind when deciding where to place your pergola:

  1. Sunlight: One of the primary functions of a pergola is to provide shade. Consider the path of the sun over your deck throughout the day. You may want to position your pergola in an area that gets a lot of sun, so it can provide a cool, shaded retreat.
  2. View: A pergola can frame a beautiful view or screen an unattractive one. Consider what you’ll be looking at when you’re sitting under your pergola. If you have a gorgeous garden or a stunning sunset view, position your pergola to take full advantage of it.
  3. Deck Structure: Your deck needs to be strong enough to support the weight of the pergola, especially if you’re attaching it directly to the deck. If your deck isn’t built to handle the additional load, you may need to reinforce it or adjust your plans accordingly.
  4. Traffic Flow: Consider how people move around your deck. You don’t want your pergola to obstruct pathways or make your deck feel crowded.
  5. Privacy: Depending on your deck’s layout and your home’s location, you might want to use your pergola to create a more private space. If this is the case, consider placing it in an area where it blocks sight lines from neighboring properties.
  6. Size of the Deck: The size of your deck will also dictate where you can place your pergola. Ensure you leave enough space for other furniture or activities on the deck.

Different Design Options for Pergolas

pergola on deck

Pergolas are versatile structures that can be designed in a variety of ways to match your home’s style and meet your outdoor living needs. Here are some design options to consider:

  1. Traditional Pergolas: These typically feature a simple, square or rectangular shape with an open-top lattice roof. They’re often made from wood and can be painted or stained to match your home’s exterior.
  2. Modern Pergolas: These designs feature clean lines and minimalistic details. They’re often made from metal or vinyl and may include features like a louvered roof that can be opened or closed to control the amount of sunlight that filters through.
  3. Arched Pergolas: These pergolas have curved roofs that can add a romantic, whimsical feel to your outdoor space. They’re ideal if you want something a bit different from the traditional flat-roofed pergola.
  4. Gabled Pergolas: Gabled pergolas feature a pitched roof, which can provide better protection from the rain and sun compared to flat-roofed designs. This style can blend well with homes that have a gabled roof.
  5. Attached Pergolas: These pergolas are attached to the side of a house or other structure. They’re a great option if you want to create a seamless transition between your indoor and outdoor spaces.
  6. Freestanding Pergolas: Freestanding pergolas can be placed anywhere in your yard or on your deck. They can be used to create a separate outdoor living area, frame a beautiful view, or provide shade for a hot tub or outdoor kitchen.
  7. Pergolas with Extras: Depending on your needs, you might want to add extra features to your pergola. This could include built-in seating, a swing, curtains for privacy, a ceiling fan for added comfort, or lights for nighttime use.

Preparing the Deck

pergola on deck 1

Before you start building your pergola, it’s crucial to properly prepare your deck to ensure a smooth construction process and a safe, sturdy result. Here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Inspect the Deck: First, inspect your deck carefully. Look for any signs of wear or damage, such as rotting wood or loose boards. These issues should be addressed before you begin constructing your pergola.
  2. Check the Stability: Your deck needs to be stable enough to support the weight of the pergola. If it’s not, you may need to reinforce it. This could involve adding additional joists or posts, or even pouring concrete footings. Consult with a professional if you’re unsure about your deck’s stability.
  3. Clean the Deck: Clean your deck thoroughly to remove any dirt, grime, or debris. This will provide a clean working space and ensure that your pergola components can be securely attached to the deck.
  4. Mark Out the Pergola Area: Use chalk or string to mark out the exact location where you plan to build your pergola. This will help you visualize the end result and ensure you have enough space for construction.

Safety Considerations:

  • Always wear appropriate safety gear, including safety glasses, gloves, and sturdy footwear.
  • Use tools correctly and follow all manufacturers’ instructions.
  • Make sure your ladder is stable before climbing on it.
  • Avoid working in wet conditions, as this can make surfaces slippery and dangerous.
  • If you’re unsure about anything, particularly when it comes to the structural integrity of your deck or the construction of your pergola, consult with a professional. Your safety is paramount.

VI. Building the Pergola

Setting the Posts

Measuring and marking for post placement is a crucial step in building structures like pergolas. Here’s a general guide on how to do it:

  1. Decide on the Layout: Start by deciding where you want your posts to be placed. Typically, posts are placed at the corners of the pergola. If your pergola is large, you may need additional posts for extra support.
  2. Measure the Distances: Use a tape measure to determine the distance between where each post will be placed. The distance between your posts will depend on the size of your pergola and the load it needs to bear. As a rule of thumb, posts are often spaced between 6 to 10 feet apart.
  3. Mark the Spots: Once you’ve measured the distances, mark the spots where each post will go. You can use a marker or spray paint to make the markings. Make sure each mark is visible and precise.
  4. Check Your Work: After marking the spots, measure the distances again to ensure accuracy. It’s also a good idea to use a level to make sure your marks are even.
  5. Prepare for Digging: If you’re installing the posts in the ground or in concrete footings, use a post hole digger to dig holes at each marked spot. The depth of the holes will depend on the height of your pergola and local building codes, but a common rule is to dig to a depth of one-third to one-half the above-ground height of the post.

Remember, precise measuring and marking are key to ensuring your pergola is level and structurally sound. Take your time with this step to get it right.


Installing the Beams

Once your posts are securely in place, the next step is to install the beams. These horizontal pieces will provide structural support and form the skeleton of your pergola’s roof. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Measure and Cut: Start by measuring the length you want your beams to be. This will typically be the distance between your posts, plus a little extra on each end if you want your beams to overhang your posts for aesthetic reasons. Once you’ve measured, use a saw to cut your beams to size.
  2. Mark the Posts: Determine where on your posts you want your beams to sit. This will usually be at the top of your posts, but it could be lower if you’re planning a multi-level pergola. Use a level to ensure your marks are even, then use a pencil to mark the exact spot on each post.
  3. Attach the Beams: Position your beams on your marked spots, making sure they’re level. Then, use a drill to pre-drill holes through the beams and into the posts. Insert screws or bolts into these holes and tighten them securely.
  4. Double Check Your Work: After all your beams are installed, check that they’re level and securely attached. If anything seems loose or uneven, make adjustments as needed.

Tips for Ensuring Structural Integrity:

  • Use heavy-duty screws or bolts to secure your beams. These will provide more strength and stability than regular screws.
  • Consider using metal brackets or joist hangers to reinforce the connection between your beams and posts. These can add extra strength and make installation easier.
  • If your pergola is large, you may need to install additional beams or crossbeams for extra support.
  • Always use pressure-treated wood or a wood species that’s naturally resistant to rot and insects. This will help ensure your pergola lasts for many years.

Measuring, Cutting, and Installing Crossbeams

Crossbeams are the horizontal elements that connect the main beams of your pergola, forming a grid-like pattern on the roof. They provide structural support and shade. Here’s how you can measure, cut, and install them:

  1. Measure: Start by deciding how far apart you want your crossbeams to be. The closer they are, the more shade your pergola will provide. Once you’ve decided, measure the distance between your beams where the crossbeams will go. This will tell you how long to cut your crossbeams.
  2. Cut: Use a saw to cut your crossbeams to size. Remember, it’s better to cut too long than too short, as you can always trim a piece down if necessary.
  3. Mark for Placement: Decide where on your beams you want your crossbeams to sit. Then, use a pencil to mark these spots. Make sure your marks are even and level.
  4. Attach the Crossbeams: Position your crossbeams on your marked spots and use a drill to pre-drill holes. Then, insert screws and tighten them securely. If you’re using brackets, attach these to your beams first, then insert your crossbeams and secure with screws.
  5. Double Check Your Work: After all your crossbeams are installed, check that they’re level and securely attached. If anything seems loose or uneven, make adjustments as needed.

Remember, safety is crucial when building a pergola. Always wear appropriate safety gear, and if you’re unsure about anything, don’t hesitate to consult with a professional.


Installing the Top Slats

Adding the Top Slats for Shade

Top slats are the final layer of your pergola’s roof. They’re smaller and thinner than the crossbeams, and are installed perpendicular to them. Here’s how to add them:

  1. Measure and Cut: Determine how long you want your top slats to be. This will typically be the distance between your crossbeams, plus a little extra if you want them to overhang. Use a saw to cut your slats to size.
  2. Decide on Spacing: The spacing between your top slats will determine how much shade your pergola provides. Closer spacing will provide more shade, but will also block more light. Decide on a spacing that suits your needs, then use a tape measure and pencil to mark where each slat will go on your crossbeams.
  3. Attach the Slats: Position each slat on your marked spots, making sure they’re aligned properly. Use a drill to pre-drill holes through the slats and into the crossbeams, then insert screws and tighten them securely.
  4. Check Your Work: After all your slats are installed, check that they’re evenly spaced and securely attached. If anything looks off, make adjustments as needed.

Advice on Spacing and Securing Slats:

  • For a traditional look, try spacing your slats evenly across your crossbeams. For a more modern look, consider using a staggered or patterned arrangement.
  • If you live in a windy area, consider using metal brackets or clips to secure your slats. These can help prevent your slats from lifting or shifting in strong winds.
  • Always use weather-resistant screws or nails to secure your slats. This will help ensure your pergola lasts for many years.

Finishing Touches

Recommendations for Staining or Painting the Pergola

Once your pergola is built, you’ll want to protect it from the elements and enhance its appearance with a stain or paint. Here are some recommendations:

  1. Choosing Between Stain and Paint: The choice between staining and painting your pergola depends on the look you want and the type of wood you used. Stain tends to show off the natural beauty of the wood, while paint provides a uniform color and can cover up any imperfections. If your pergola is made from a beautiful wood like cedar, you might want to use a stain. If it’s made from a less attractive wood, or if you want a specific color, paint might be the better choice.
  2. Selecting the Right Product: For staining, Cabot is a highly recommended brand available at most hardware stores. You’ll need to choose between semi-solid and solid stains. Solid stains give an opaque look, resembling paint. For painting, Cabot’s Timbercolour Deck & Exterior Paint is suggested, as it’s designed for exterior wooden surfaces.
  3. Preparation: Whether you’re staining or painting, preparation is key. Clean your pergola thoroughly and let it dry. If you’re painting, you might need to apply a primer first, especially if you’re using a light color paint on dark wood.
  4. Application: Apply the stain or paint with a brush, roller, or sprayer, depending on the product instructions and your personal preference. Always apply in the direction of the wood grain. You might need to apply multiple coats to get the desired color and protection.
  5. Weather Considerations: The best weather for staining or painting is a dry, overcast day with temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid working in direct sunlight, as this can cause the stain or paint to dry too quickly.
  6. Maintenance: Over time, your pergola will be exposed to sun, rain, and possibly snow, which can cause the stain or paint to fade or peel. Regular maintenance, including cleaning and reapplying stain or paint as needed, will keep your pergola looking its best.

Maintenance Tips

Routine Care for Your Pergola

  1. Cleaning: Regular cleaning can help your pergola look its best and extend its lifespan. Use a soft brush and mild detergent to gently scrub away dirt, bird droppings, and other debris. Rinse with a garden hose and let it dry completely.
  2. Inspection: At least once a year, thoroughly inspect your pergola. Look for signs of damage or wear, such as loose screws, wood rot, or peeling paint or stain.
  3. Staining or Painting: If your pergola is painted or stained, you may need to reapply the finish every few years. This will help protect the wood from the elements and keep your pergola looking fresh and vibrant.
  4. Sealing: If your pergola is made from a wood that’s susceptible to water damage, consider applying a water sealant. This can help prevent rot and extend the life of your pergola.
  5. Pest Control: Keep an eye out for signs of pests, like termites or carpenter ants. If you notice any signs of an infestation, contact a pest control professional.

Dealing with Common Issues

  1. Wood Rot: If you notice any areas of wood rot, it’s important to deal with them quickly. Small areas can be scraped out and filled with wood filler, then sanded smooth and repainted or restained. Larger areas may require replacing the affected piece.
  2. Loose Screws: If any screws become loose, try tightening them. If they won’t stay tight, you may need to replace them or use a larger size. If a screw hole becomes stripped, you can fill it with wood filler, then drill a new hole.
  3. Peeling Paint or Stain: If your paint or stain starts to peel, you’ll need to remove the old finish before applying a new one. Use a scraper or sandpaper to remove the peeling areas, then clean the wood and apply a new coat of paint or stain.

Remember, maintenance is the key to keeping your pergola looking great and standing strong for many years. A little time spent on routine care can prevent major problems down the road.



In conclusion, building a pergola on your deck is a multi-step process that includes:

  1. Setting the Posts: Measure and mark for post placement, dig holes, and secure posts to the deck.
  2. Installing the Beams: Cut beams to the correct length, mark their position on the posts, and secure them using screws or bolts.
  3. Adding the Crossbeams: Measure and cut crossbeams, decide on their spacing, and attach them to the beams.
  4. Installing the Top Slats: Cut top slats to size and decide on their spacing. Attach them to the crossbeams.
  5. Finishing Touches: Stain or paint the pergola for protection and aesthetic appeal. Decorate or accessorize with lights, plants, and curtains as desired.
  6. Maintenance: Regularly clean, inspect, and re-stain or repaint your pergola. Deal promptly with common issues like wood rot or loose screws.

While this may seem like a daunting task, remember that the end result is well worth the effort. A pergola not only enhances the beauty of your outdoor space but also provides a shaded area where you can relax and entertain.

So, gather your tools, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to transform your deck into an outdoor oasis. With careful planning, some DIY spirit, and a bit of hard work, you’re more than capable of making this project a success. Happy building!