Solar Pergola (A Step-by-Step DIY Guide)

A pergola is a perfect, multi-purpose addition to any backyard. It offers shade, ambiance, and an area for entertainment. But what if you could turn it into something more – say, a solar pergola.

Believe it or not, you can have a pergola with solar panels attached to it. This will leave you with an eye-catching structure capable of offsetting your monthly electrical bill.

But how much would a DIY solar pergola cost? What can it power, and how exactly do you go about building your own one?

We answer these questions and more in the article to come.

Foreword
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What is a Solar Pergola?

A DIY solar pergola.
A DIY solar pergola.
Image Source: EnergySage

A pergola is an outdoor structure that provides gardens with shaded areas, sitting areas, or walkways.

A solar pergola adds an integrated solar system to the equation. These are mounted on top of the pergola, at an angle so as to receive the maximum amount of sunlight possible.

Depending on the size, these structures can provide you with enough energy to power certain elements of your property, or the property as a whole.


Can Solar Panels Be Installed On A Pergola?

Absolutely! Solar panels can in fact be added to an existing pergola.

So if you do happen to already have a pergola in your backyard, you can simply go about
adding solar panels to the structure.

Solar Panel Weight

If you already have an existing pergola, you might be curious as to the weight that it can hold.

Let’s consider you’re average 100w solar panel:

The dimensions of a 100-watt solar panel typically measure about 40 x 20 x 3 inches. Shorter ones have measurements around 32.5 x 26.4 x 1.18 inches. In terms of weight, you can expect a 100w solar panel to weigh anything between 14 lbs – 20 lbs.

How Much Weight Can A Solar Pergola Support?

The average pergola is able to hold up to 300 lbs of weight. Factor in the size of the pergola, and the dimensions and weight of your chosen solar panels, and you’ll have a good idea as to the number of panels a pergola can hold.


How Much Does A Solar Pergola Cost?

The cost of a solar pergola will vary greatly. It can depend on:

  • The size of the structure.
  • The amount of solar panels.
  • The type of solar panels being used.
  • The construction materials that need to be purchased.

If however, you were to consider a basic 10′ x 10′ design, you can expect to pay in the region of $1500. But again, you need to consider the above factors.


How Big Should Your Solar Pergola Be?

Here are some typical sizes for a pergola:

  • Small to Medium Sized Decks – 12ft x 16 ft
  • Large Decks – 16ft x 24 ft
  • Backyard Free Standing Pergola – 12 ft x 16ft or 16ft x 20ft
  • Small Patio – 12 ft x 12 ft

But here’s the honest truth – your solar pergola doesn’t need to be a particular size. Again, the size is totally dependent on you.

How big is my yard?

What is my budget looking like?

Am I only looking to power a few things in your household or go off-grid?

These are all important questions that you need to ask yourself and think about before you decide to add a pergola to your property.


What Can A Solar Pergola Power?

This will largely depend on the size of your solar pergola, as well as the size and wattage of your chosen solar panels.

Generally speaking though, if a solar pergola were to be used as a stand-alone, off-grid system, it’s capable of producing enough power for the following:

  • Outdoor lighting.
  • Water pumps.
  • Swimming pool lights.
  • Charging of battery powered devices.

Best Solar Panels For A Solar Pergola?

There are three main types of solar panels that are available on the market:

Types of solar panels.
Image source: Treehugger

The type that is best for your setup will really be dependent on your budget.

But, if you’re thinking about size, then a collection of 100-watt solar panels would be a good place to start from. As previously mentioned, the size of these panels makes them nice and lightweight. You can even go a step further by purchasing thin-film versions.

Flexible/thin-film solar panels are far lighter than regular ones, meaning you can hook up far more panels to your pergola.

Here’s an example so you can note the weight difference:

Solar PanelPanel TypeWattageWeight
12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar PanelFlexible100W4.2 lb (1.9 kg)
12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar PanelRigid100W14.3 lbs/6.5 kg


How To Build A DIY Solar Pergola?

In this section, we’re going to provide you with a step-by-step breakdown of a solar pergola build.

  • Two people can build this structure in 5 days
Please Note: This particular pergola build involves the structure being attached to the roof of a house.
All images are courtesy of Ripple Energy.

Tools Required For Building A Solar Pergola

Before we get stuck into the phases of construction for a solar pergola, let’s have a look at the materials and tools that you’ll require:

Tool/MaterialProduct Links
ConcreteSource locally
Concrete forming stakes Source locally
Spade + Wheelbarrow
/Concrete Mixer
Fiskars 46 Inch Steel D-handle Square Garden Spade

Garden star wheelbarrow

Alternatively, you can rent or buy a concrete mixer
Sonotubes/ two by foursSource locally
Jackhammer/DingoXtremepowerUS Electric Jack hammer

TR Industrial Electric Jack Hammer


Alternatively, you can rent a jackhammer or dingo
Laser LevelsBlack & Decker Laser Level

BOSCH Cross-Line Laser Level
ScrewsTimberlock Screws

Simpson Strong Tie Structural Wood Screws And Nut Washers
DrillBlack & Decker 20V MAX Cordless Drill
Wood Source locally
Wood SanderDEWALT Palm Sander
Wood Stainer#1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain for Decks, Fences, & Siding
BrushesPro Grade – Paint Brushes
Roof RisersPurchase from manufacturer
FlashingProvided by riser manufacturer
Solar PanelsRenogy panels are a good option

Phase 1: Constructing The Base

Pre-Construction

Before you go about constructing your pergola, you need to consider the following:

  • Where are you going to place your pergola?
  • What will the dimensions be?
  • How many panels will you need to create the electrical output that you require?

There is a fantastic 3d modeling software program called SketchUp that can be used to assist you in designing the pergola.

However you approach the designing process, once it has been completed you’ll need to have your design approved before you can get to work.

Why is this step necessary? Because like all home construction projects, a permit authorizes the construction project as being safe and stable.

There are state, county, and city codes, so this can get a bit confusing. The rule of thumb is to abide by the most local requirements.

In addition to obtaining a permit, you need to inspect the property before digging holes for your pergolas foundation. By doing this, you’ll be able to avoid hitting any electrical wiring, sprinkler lines, or gas pipes beneath your property. If you’re unsure about this step, source a local service provider to assist you.

Columns belonging to a solar pergola
Columns that are perfectly aligned with one another – vital for your build.

Digging The Foundations Process

  • After the holes have been dug, straighten and align your columns. (you can use string lines or laser levels)
  • Before securing the forms to their final position, remember to finish them entirely. You can build your forms with sonotubes and two-by-fours. You can then stake them to the ground using standard steel-concrete forming stakes
  • Mix the concrete – rent a concrete mixer for this, or purchase a spade and wheelbarrow.
  • Finally, once you have your forms down, pour the concrete and let it dry for a day.
String line being used to align solar pergola columns.
String line being used to align solar pergola columns.

Additional Info: Ideally you want to do all the pouring in a single day. It’s vital that you add small amounts of concrete at a time.

Phase 2: Wood Preparation

You want wood that provides visual aesthetics and structural integrity. For this, you’ll need wood sanding and staining equipment.

Process

  • Select your desired wood, along with the number of wooden posts, beams, and rafters that your build will require.
  • You’ll determine the number of rafters and the spacing between them by the number of solar panels you’re looking to add (along with their weight and dimensions)
  • Make sure to measure the height of your columns so that you can them to the correct length.
  • Before any structural assembly, you’ll want to sand and stain your wood to get rid of any imperfections.

Staining

Staining the wood to be used for the solar pergola.
Staining the wood to be used for the solar pergola. Each coat can take 24 hours to dry. Be patient, you cannot overlook this step.

Staining is important for aesthetic reasons, but it also serves as a protective layer so that your wood can withstand harsh outside elements. 2-3 coats of wood stain are recommended.

Additional Info: Wood staining is a time-consuming process. Each layer can take over 24 hours to dry. This may frustrate you, but you must not skip this step. It is vital for the longevity of your pergola.

Phase 3: Roofing

Prepping the roof

As previously mentioned, this DIY guide will use a design that requires you to anchor the skylift risers directly to the outside top plate of your house.

Removing roof shingles to open holes on the roof. This is how the pergola structure will be attached to the house.

Process

  • First, remove the shingles and open holes on your roof. Do this carefully to avoid any leaks.
  • To install the roof structure, you’ll need risers, screws, and flashing provided by the riser manufacturer. You’ll also need a way to cut through the roof layers.
  • Identify the top plate of your house. Each house will be different so once you establish this, then the next step is to open the holes of the roof.
  • You also have different types of roofs. Once you understand and identify where your top plate is located, you need to open a hole big enough, normally square, for the base of the post.
  • Open the hole, with a circular saw or reciprocating saw. Once the hole is done, you can install the post on top of the top plate, then cover that hole.
  • After covering the hole, you need to go ahead and put the flashing. The flashing is what will make everything waterproof.
  • Once you’ve finished with the riser and the flashing, then you can put the U itself which will hold the entire beam up.
  • Lastly, put the beam in. Then you can attach the beam to the U with some screws.

Additional Info: The riser – consists of two pieces: The U, along with the post and base, and the flashing.

Roof riser as part of a solar pergola build.
A wooden beam is fitted to a roof riser.
Flashing for solar pergola installation.
At the bottom of the riser is the flashing, used for waterproofing.

Phase 4: Assembling The Structure

Building the structure

Once you have the concrete footing with braces ready, and the wood has been sanded and coated, you can assemble your wooden structure.

To do this, start with your ground posts. Make sure you have enough clamps so that you can brace everything before screwing and attaching.

Additional Info: You’ll have to make small adjustments while fitting everything together, so leaving everything unscrewed is important.

After sanding and staining, the wooden structure is assembled.
After sanding and staining, the wooden structure is assembled.

Process

  • Place your columns, posts, climb your upper braces and place the upper beam into position.
  • To anchor everything you can use the following screws and bolts: Simpson strong tie structural wood screws and nut washers.
  • After securing the first beam, replicate the process on the second one, present it and attach them to the roof risers.
  • With both beams secure, it is time for the rafters.
  • You can either do all the woodwork of the rafters onsite or off. If on-site,  you’ll need a Japanese handsaw, a circular saw, a sander and some chisels.
  • After the cuts are made, you can sand and stain the rafters.
  • Then measure the final resting place and screw them up from the top with timberlock 10 inch long screws.
Wooden beam being attached to the roof via the roof risers.
Wooden beam being attached to the roof via the roof risers.

Phase 5: Solar Panel Installation

Laying down trunk cabling via the racking on a solar pergola.
Laying down trunk cabling via the racking.

Overview

Panel installation is a multi-faceted process that starts with placing the rails or racking. This area is where the cables will be concealed, the microinverters will be attached, and where the panels will rest.

Process

  • Place the rails or racking – the panel manufacturer will provide you with alignment and spacing measurements for the rack assembly.
  • Lay down the cabling (trunk cable).
  • Ground the pergola with bare copper.
  • Attach the microinverters. Each panel requires one.
  • Bring each panel up to your structure and connect each one to a microinverter.
Attaching a microinverter to a solar pergola.
Attaching a microinverter. Each solar panel requires 1 microinverter.

Additional Info: It’s important that you recreate the layout of your microinverters by mapping out the position of each of them using the stickers provided so that you can easily monitor each panel and know where each panel is in the system

Solar panels are fitted to the top of the pergola.
Solar panels are fitted to the top of the pergola. The spacing and number of microinverters show how many panels you can expect to see on this particular pergola.

If you still need to set up a solar system at home that your solar pergola can connect to, we strongly recommend our articles below. These resources will provide you with plenty of useful information that’ll assist you in setting up your very own residential solar system.

Further Reading:


Final Thoughts

Some of you out there may still be a little undecided as to whether investing in a solar pergola is worth it or not. So here’s a friendly reminder about some of the advantages to having one on your property:

  • Aesthetics – Not only are these structures practical, they’re also aesthetically pleasing. A solar pergola can transform any ordinary garden into an eye-catching space.
  • Helping our green friends – Pergolas provide all sorts of plants, ivy and climbing flowers to thrive in and around their structure. Who doesn’t want to green up their space a little more?
  • Shading – There’s nothing better than being able to spend lots of time outside while under the comfort of a shady spot.
  • Durable & Low Maintenance – Build it with care and your solar pergola will be around for years to come, with only intermittent maintenance required.
  • Energy – Free, environmentally-friendly energy, anyone?

Looking at the above, it’s easy to see how adding a solar pergola to your property is a no-brainer (if you have the means to do so). These structures are the epitome of beauty meets practicality, and in this day and age, there’s are very few things better suited to that purpose.

Robert Wortrich

Robert is a content creator and editor. His passion for researching and the environment led him to joining the Climatebiz team. When he isn’t busy writing articles or learning more about everything Green Technology-related, you’ll find him spending time with friends or hiking one of the many wonderful trails that his home – Cape Town – has to offer.

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