A Homeowner's Perspective on Patio Covers

If you've come across this site and you're wondering something like "does this person even know anything about patio covers or how to build one? I can tell you first hand that I do. In fact, this whole article is about my experience building my own cover for my patio – a pergola style patio cover to be more specific. Actually, I laid the brick pavers as well for the patio itself, but that's for another article.

You must be pretty serious about building your cover for your patio or you would not be searching searching information out. I'll tell you one thing, they're not easy to build. Simple, yes. Easy, no. If you have some good skills (and tools) you will be able to handle the job. Just make sure you put in the proper planning and prep time. A few friends would not help either when it comes to the heavy lifting.

Having friends that like to build things like patio covers would not hurt. I dare say, they will make your life much easier. In some respects, you will need some help just to be safe on the job. This part is related mainly to hoisting the beams into place.

I honestly do not recall the site I went to when I searched for "patio covers" or "pergola style patio cover" where I got my basic plans. Once you get your plans (this could be as simple as a picture of the one you would like to build – this is what I did) you can start a materials list. After doing my research, I chose to go with a bit larger dimensions (4×6) posts and 4×8 beams. I chose to use 2x8s for the top slat or lattice pieces used for the shade element. In hind site, these could have even been 2x10s, but I did not want to spend a fortune or have to decide how to mount them.

Out here in the southwest, Arizona, these types of covered patios are common and provide a lot of welcomed shade in the months when sitting outside is even comfortable. The basic notification with a pergola is that those slat pieces (my 2x8s, could also be more beam-like and use 4x4s or 3x3s) provide a lattice shape that blocks the angle of the sun. It can also provide the support for vines or other plants to grow on and over giving more appealing shade and ambiance.

I chose the larger sized lumber over the easily purchased off the rack 4x4s from the local home improvement stores because that larger lumber has a more fundamental and handsome look to it. It is really all about your personal preference when it comes to how you want the finished look of your patio cover.

With my project, I chose to pour footings and set prefabricated brackets purchased from my local home improvement store into this as it cured. The posts of my pergola were then set on these brackets after it was completely cured. The patio deck was made of brick pavers, so I needed a stronger foundation to set my posts on. If you have a slab already beloved or are going to go this route, you can also buy brackets that will mount directly to the slab with anchor bolts drilled into the slab. I had to do it the first way by necessity, but I also read that patio covers built this way would remain level and plumb for longer.

When you are preparing your footings or area for your posts, ensure that you have taken careful measurements as this will allow for true angles and a square structure. I made this mistake with my pergola and I have a little bit of a lean when seen from a certain angle. With the plants and slats on, it is not noticeable, but I see it of course. So, remember to draw all of your measurements from one place in order to keep everything true.

Once I knew that my feet were dug out in the right place, I poured the concrete and set the brackets. This took a little bit of trial and error to figure out how to get the brackets to sit up right. I think my concrete mix might have been a little thin. Well, once they were all scattered, I had a cold beverage. I figured it would save me time and hassle to just do my staining (used a colored water sealant) while all the wood was on the ground. It was a good idea and I recommend it. After that, one more cold beverage and then wait until the next weekend to get started on the rest of my new patio cover construction.

Next step was assembly of the pergola. All my lumber was cut to size for the most part. I left the posts approximate cuts, so I could do some fudge work once I had a dry footing that was not going to change my measurements. Brackets can also be used to connect and anchor the posts to the top header beams. I chose to fabricate my own (happen to know how to weld). Not a necessary step, but it does add some custom appeal over the home improvement store galvanized zinc brackets. You can also paint those if you desire.

After using a lot of energy to get the posts set and plumb (tricky little buggers for the beginner) we put carriage bolts through the brackets and were ready to attach the beams. But first, I made sure the posts were cut to be the same height. After this step, the posts were holding firm and this allowed the rest of the patio cover project to go much easier. Now, all the weight would be resting on the posts. The only heavy lifting next would be the beams.

The custom made brackets then slide over the tops of the posts and I used lag screws to attach them. The beams dropped right into place in the channels I made. Finally, a smooth step in this pergola project! I opted to notch my top beams or slats so that the cover to my patio would appease my height restrictions from the HOA regulations regarding patio covers. I guess I should feel lucky they allowed it at all, right? Argh! In the end, the height measured at about nine feet. Also, the notched slats helped to provide some added stability to the top beams. These were simply screwed to the beams and I am looking forward to the vines and plants to grow over it now and provide that precious shade -not to mention hide all those minor imperfections …. er … character.