A pergola is an outdoor structure made of parallel colonnades that support a grid of roofing beams and rafters.
It comes in various styles and sizes, but it’s usually affixed to the wall of a home or building structure for increased stability.
But what if you don’t want to attach it to an edifice or structure? Can a pergola be freestanding? If so, is it safe?
The short answer to this question is yes, a pergola can certainly be freestanding! With proper installation and anchoring, it’s as safe as its attached or wall-mounted counterparts.
In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about freestanding pergolas, including benefits, drawbacks, and placement measures to take during installation.
Let’s dive right in!
What Is a Freestanding Pergola?
As the name suggests, freestanding pergolas—also known as self-supporting pergolas—are outdoor structures that aren’t anchored to walls or buildings.
They’re held up by at least four beams and firmly mounted into the ground, usually in concrete footings.
Freestanding pergolas are best suited for large outdoor spaces, where size, style, and structural height don’t pose any issues.
They’re much more versatile than attached and wall-mounted pergolas as they don’t depend on the dimensions and the restrictions of existing surfaces.
Freestanding pergolas give you a near-infinite amount of design possibilities.
You can use them to create a simple yet serene seating nook, a country-chic backyard escape, or even a carport.
As long as the structure is firmly attached to the ground, you can get creative with your ideas!
Are Freestanding Pergolas Safe?
Freestanding pergolas are safe as long as they’re mounted into the ground with solid supports.
Poorly anchored pergolas can tip over and cause damage, making them a safety hazard. As such, structural stability is of utmost importance when installing freestanding pergolas.
Freestanding pergolas should be solidly and adequately fastened to the ground to sustain structural integrity and prevent movement.
Since they don’t depend on walls or building structures for stability, installation can be a bit trickier than their wall-mounted counterparts.
They’re usually anchored to concrete, deck, grass, stone, or bare earth so they won’t tip over when leaned against or faced with particularly harsh weather (high winds, rain, snow, etc.).
What Are the Benefits of Installing a Freestanding Pergola?
Freestanding pergolas have become increasingly popular over the years, and this isn’t without any reason. Here are some of the top benefits of installing a freestanding pergola:
Perhaps the biggest benefit of freestanding pergolas is that they offer maximum flexibility in terms of style, size, and height.
As long as you have the space, you can set up freestanding pergolas anywhere in your garden or backyard.
They’re not limited to wall space or attachments, so you can get as creative with the design as you want.
Weather and Sun Protection
Like all pergolas, freestanding pergolas offer decent protection from the sun and harsh weather. With them, you won’t have to worry about intense heat or light rain.
You’ll be able to chill outside with a good book, invite guests over for a backyard barbeque, or dip in the pool without the fear of intense heat or weather putting a damper on the mood.
You can even use it as an outdoor office!
Increases Value of the Home
Nowadays, outdoor living is more important than ever.
So it isn’t a surprise that freestanding pergolas increase the value of your home, especially when designed and oriented correctly on your lot.
They’re considered a backyard improvement, so for every $1,000 spent on building and installing the pergola, expect an ROI of $3,000.
What Are the Downsides of Installing a Freestanding Pergola?
Despite all its benefits, freestanding pergolas do come with their own set of disadvantages that might dissuade you from building one on your property:
Freestanding pergolas require regular maintenance because they’re constantly exposed to the elements.
Wood is the most commonly-used pergola material since it’s budget-friendly, readily available, and attractive.
Unfortunately, it’s vulnerable to chipping, splintering, and damage from wood-destroying insects like termites.
To extend its life, you’ll need to regularly clean, paint, and repair chips or breaks every few months.
Planning Permits and Permissions
In most cases, you need a permit to install a pergola on your property.
Pergola code requirements vary from municipality to municipality, but it often needs an engineer-approved project plan to secure the required permits.
This can be inconvenient if you’re planning to build the pergola yourself, as these plans can be quite costly.
Moreover, getting a permit can take a while depending on the state you live in.
Placement Tips to Follow When Installing Freestanding Pergolas
To ensure the stability of your freestanding pergola, follow these crucial installation tips!
Anchoring Pergolas to Deck Surfaces
A pre-constructed deck provides ample strength to anchor a pergola. However, there are some factors to keep in mind during installation:
- Anchor the pergola’s beams onto the deck’s wooden surface with heavy-duty 90-degree strap brackets.
- Don’t attach the pergola’s beams onto the deck’s boards, as this may compromise the pergola’s structural integrity. Instead, install a 2X6 flat under the deck boards and make sure it runs across several of the boards. Then, screw the pergola beams directly through the deck board and into the 2X6 you’ve just installed.
- If you’re not too confident with the pergola’s stability, add some posts or railings into the structure. Just make sure the railings are installed deep into the wooden decks.
Anchoring Pergolas to Concrete Surfaces (Pools or Patio)
Concrete is arguably the best surface to build a pergola on since it’s solid, durable, and unmoving. Here are some tips to follow:
- The concrete surface should be at least four inches in depth to properly hold the weight of the pergola, with an additional depth of 12 inches on the outer edge.
- Fasten anchor brackets with hammer-set fasteners onto the concrete surface then attach the pergola’s posts directly to the concrete foundation.
- For areas without concrete slab foundations, dig post holes onto the soil to accommodate concrete footings. Once in place, the pergola’s beams can be affixed with anchor brackets fastened into the concrete.
- Don’t anchor a freestanding pergola to paver bricks as they can easily “pop out” when force is applied.
Anchoring Pergolas to Grass or Earth
Believe it or not, building a pergola on soil or grass tends to be more difficult than building it on concrete or a wooden deck. This is because it provides the least structural hold out of any other option.
Here are some installation and safety tips to follow:
- Install concrete tubes or helical piers in the ground to provide secure footing for the pergola posts. These foundation pins need to be drilled at least 30 to 48 inches deep into the ground.
- If helical piers aren’t an option, you can dig deep five-foot holes onto the ground and situate the posts in the holes. Then, pour at least 12-inches of concrete in and around the posts. Once dry, fill the rest of the hole with grass or soil.
Unlike attached or wall-mounted pergolas, freestanding pergolas don’t depend on other structures for stability.
Instead, they’re held up by at least four beams and firmly mounted to the ground.
They’re best suited for large outdoor spaces, and since they’re not attached to anything, they’re much more versatile in terms of design than their counterparts.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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