DIY or Not: Prefab Pergolas vs. Custom Pergolas

We all catch the weekend warrior itch at some point. The thought of getting out there and building something makes us proud. 

When it comes to pergolas, some homeowners opt to buy a prefabricated kit from a big box store or online retailer and just go for it. Others hire a professional contractor to create and build a custom structure.

So which option is best for you?  

We’ll break down how DIY pergola projects and professional pergola installations differ. Read on.  

Complexity & Customization

Most prefab pergola kits are super simple freestanding structures made with common materials like aluminum and pressed woods. Because they are simple enough for the average homeowner to assemble, DIY pergolas leave much to be desired in terms of style or customizability.

If you want an attached structure, lighting, electrical sunshades, or specific materials, however, DIY kits may not present you with a ton of options. Prefabricated kits that do offer these features will often cost just as much time and money as a custom built one. 

If you know exactly what you want but DIY kits aren’t giving you exactly what you want, a professional contractor can. Always ask potential professionals for references and examples of previous projects that are similar to yours. 

Skills & Tools

Even DIY pergola kits require power tools, ladders, and a little bit of know-how. As with any project involving these items, there is an inherent risk. If you don’t own tools or have experience using them, you may be in for more headache (and cost) than you bargained for.  

The toughest part of any pergola project is measuring, excavating, placing, and setting (using concrete) your main support posts. If that sounds like a daunting task, the DIY route may not be the best option for you. 

Hiring a professional contractor to design and build your pergola means there’s no need to buy tools you don’t already own, risk injuring yourself, or incorrectly assembling your pergola. 

Time & Money

Depending on the material, size, and complexity of the chosen kit, prefab pergolas range in price from $1,000 to $7,000+ (not including tool purchase or rental). On average, a 12×12 pergola kit will cost about $2,000.  According to Home Advisor, the average custom-built pergola is $3,500.

Depending on your skill set, you may be able to erect a pergola kit in a weekend. This generally doesn’t include the time it took for your prefab kit to be shipped and arrive at your door. 

Contractors generally have project lead times and busy schedules. Seeing that a pergola is a fairly simple project for an experienced professional, a few days is a fair estimate for construction. That is, once designs are finalized and materials are acquired. 

To DIY or Not?

Pergolas may seem like straightforward structures. Yet, there’s time, money, tools, and trouble that go into building something that will last for more than a few years.

Here’s what we’ve covered (pun, intended):

Pergola KitPros: Affordability, sense of accomplishment Cons: Limited designs and materials, sacrifice a few days of personal time, construction riskCustom PergolaPros: Endless design and feature options, contractor assumes risk, sacrifice little personal time Cons: Cost, lead times and scheduling

So, prefab or professional?