Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mike Holmes Has It Made In The Shade: Arbors and Pergolas

In this article, one of Mike's monthly columns reposted from the National Post (Canada), Mike talks arbors (or arbours in Canadianese). What is an arbor? "An arbour is an outdoor structure made from a wooden frame. It’s usually four feet wide, two feet deep and eight feet tall. Some people put them in gardens or at the entrance of their homes," writes Mike. Arbors are not the same as pergolas, as Mike explains in the article. Pergolas are large, freestanding structures with vertical posts that, much like arbors, provide shade and beauty to an outdoor space. As always, before you build an arbor or a pergola, you must ask yourself several questions, such as "Do I really, really know what the hell I'm doing?" or maybe "Do I have the skill level to build a large wooden structure that won't blow over and  kill me and my family?" If the answer to any of the above questions is no, then it's probably better to hire a professional. DIY kits are available in the big box stores, but as Mike always says, you get what you pay for.


Mike Holmes: Harbour arbour love — it offers shade

  Jun 25, 2012 – 8:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Jun 22, 2012 11:01 AM ET
Peter Redman/National Post
Peter Redman/National Post
A good contractor will make sure the structure is solid, looks good and lasts.

A few days ago, I had to reveal a huge job for my new series. While I was outside waiting for the homeowners to return — so I could reveal their house — something caught my eye.
At the entrance of one of the neighbour’s homes was an arbour. And it made me think. Arbours seem just decorative, but they’re also practical — if you design and build them right and place them properly.
An arbour is an outdoor structure made from a wooden frame. It’s usually four feet wide, two feet deep and eight feet tall. Some people put them in gardens or at the entrance of their homes. But a custom one can be built to fit any space.
A large one with vines growing over it provides shade and privacy. If it’s built on the sunny side of the house, it can prevent heat from entering the home. This can help cut cooling costs — very practical.
Building an arbour seems simple. But you can mess up even a simple job without proper planning. First, you might want to hire a contractor to build it. A good contractor will make sure the structure is solid, looks good and lasts. This is especially important if you want to build something bigger, such as a pergola.
Unlike an arbour, pergolas have vertical posts that support large crossbeams and joists. The structure is ideal for vines, creating shade underneath. If the pergola is freestanding, it usually has four support posts. If it’s built off the side of a house, it will have two.
Building a pergola is a big job. You need a pro with the right skills and craftsmanship.
He or she will use proper construction techniques. Are the support poles deep enough? Do you need a permit? Was the yard surveyed? Are there utility lines to worry about? A good contractor takes care of these details for you.
Ready-made arbours and pergolas might look good in the big-box store flyer. But remember, you get what you pay for. If you don’t care how long it lasts, ready-made might not be bad. But in general, they’re not built well.
Like most mass-produced items, manufacturers try to cut costs to increase profit margins.
This usually compromises the quality of the product, which we know compromises its longevity and durability.
For example, most store-bought arbours use staples instead of screws — or even nails. So they’ll only last a couple of years before high winds and storms wear them down or break them apart.
You especially don’t want to to go cheap if you’re building a pergola and attaching it to your home. Why not? First, you might need a permit — it depends on the municipality where you live. If that’s the case, you’ll need plans that need to be approved. And two, if it’s windy and the pergola gets torn away, it could also rip off your home’s siding.
You want a solid structure that can withstand a storm, or you risk damaging your home.
Some manufacturers also cut costs by using inferior wood. But if you hire a contractor, you can choose the wood yourself. I suggest quality, long-lasting lumber such as cedar, Douglas fir, hard spruce or redwood. There’s also pressure-treated or PT lumber, which is cheaper but corrosive to metal fasteners.
Someone who is experienced building arbours and pergolas will know how to assemble it right — and that depends on the materials. For example, they’ll know spruce and fir need to be sealed or stained. They’ll know cedar, PT and redwood don’t.
Quality lumber costs more. But arbours and pergolas don’t require as much lumber as fences do. It might be something you can budget for. Not to mention it will last for years. It’s worth the investment.
A pro will also know to seal or stain the pieces before they’re put together, so all the sides and edges are completely covered. And they’ll use stainless steel, galvanized or zinc hardware connectors, depending on your budget. This stops the screws from rusting.
Arbours and pergolas are exposed to the same harsh elements as fences. A pro will build them just as sturdy.
The stability of these structures depends on the depth of the wooden framework’s support poles. The main thing to keep in mind is to get the poles below the frost line. That changes depending on where you live. Every region has different minimum depth restrictions. For a fence it’s usually three feet.
To me building an arbour or pergola is a simple job. Make sure it’s levelled, make sure it’s strong and make sure it looks good. And for years to come it will still be standing.

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