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4 Tips to Prepare Your Yard for an Outdoor Structure

Adding a new gazebo, pergola or pavilion to your backyard can be an exciting and rewarding experience that adds value to your home. However, careful planning is essential to ensure you enjoy your new outdoor structure for years to come. Following these guidelines can help to ensure a smooth installation of your new gazebo, pergola, or pavilion.

1. Decide on the placement of your outdoor structure

If you’re planning to add a gazebo, pergola, or pavilion to your backyard, you probably already have some ideas on where you’d like it to go. However, you’ll want to evaluate this location carefully to be sure it meets your needs and provides the best environment for the structure you’re building.

The best sites for outdoor structures are level and flat for proper support and drainage. You’ll want to avoid adding a new structure to low-lying areas in your yard where water tends to pool or collect after heavy rain.

You’ll also want to avoid building your structure near immature trees that may interfere with your proposed site as they grow larger.

Also, consider the paths you are likely to take through your yard to reach the structure. You won’t want to place your structure in areas that encourage family members or guests to take a shortcut through your flower garden or near any potential hazards such as beehives or protruding tree stumps.

Finally, you’ll want to choose an area that’s compatible with your intended purpose for your new outdoor structure. If possible, choose a site that is centrally located to encourage socializing and entertainment. If privacy is the goal, choose a more remote location near fencing, bushes, or trees to provide a quiet haven for relaxation and reflection. If you envision having your morning coffee or quiet dinners in your new structure, it might be wise to build it close to the house for easier access.backyard blueprint

2. Take measurements for proper sizing

After you’ve decided on the potential placement of your new structure, it’s time to take some measurements. You’ll want to measure the length and width of the area to narrow down your size options. You should also look at how the potential height of a structure will affect other elements in your yard.

Be sure to factor in any space you might need to walk around the structure to other areas of your yard or garden.

Based on the area you have available, you should be able to narrow your size choices for the structure you’re considering.

For maximum entertainment value and room to grow, choose the largest structure you can easily accommodate in your space. Over the years, we’ve learned that most never regret purchasing a larger structure, since there are always more ways to use it, once you have it.

3. Research building codes & Homeowners’ Association requirements for outdoor structures

After deciding on the size and proposed placement of your new structure, you’ll want to research local building codes within your township or county and the rules of your Homeowners’ Association (HOA).

HOA

Local building codes:

Since gazebos, pergolas, and pavilions are not normally considered permanent outdoor structures, you may not need a building permit to add one to your yard. However, many local municipalities and townships limit the size of structures you can build on your property, so you’ll want to check to be on the safe side.

There may also be specific requirements concerning the distance of structures from public roads, utility poles or other structures, including your home.

If you intend to attach the structure to your home, there will likely be other requirements to meet.

Homeowners’ Association regulations:

If you live in a development or community of homes, you may also need to get approval from your Homeowners’ Association before adding a new structure.

Most HOA’s limit the height of structures to preserve the site lines of surrounding homes. They may also have regulations regarding how close a structure may be built near fences, walls or other structures.

The best way to get approval for your new structure is to be to explain your project fully. The more detail you can provide about your structure and its intended uses, the better your chances of receiving any required approvals. Drawings of your structure with clearly labeled dimensions and pictures of your intended site location can be very helpful.

It might also be helpful to use garden or construction stakes to plan out the area for your new structure. This will allow you to look at site lines and distances, sun exposure and other factors that may affect your new structure.

4. Site preparation for an outdoor structure

Careful site preparation is necessary to ensure the stability and long-term enjoyment of your outdoor structure. Proper site preparation techniques depend on the size and type of structure you’re installing.

You may choose to have the company that builds your structure prepare the site or hire a contractor to handle this task. However, depending on the structure, you could save a significant amount of money by handling at least some of the prep work on your own.

Gazebos:

  • Gazebos that come with a floor installed can be placed on a crushed stone pad or concrete foundation.
  • Gazebos without floors should be placed on a concrete foundation.
  • Most gazebos can also be placed on an existing concrete, but check with your gazebo builder to be sure and ensure there is a proper amount of drainage for the structure to stay dry.

Concrete Foundation Guidelines

Your concrete pad should be poured at a 4″ depth plus additional depth around the outside edges to ensure even weight distribution and stability. See our engineered foundations plans for more details.

Adding a concrete pad requires digging. Be sure to call 811, a nationwide service, to have local utility companies dispatched to mark the location of any water, sewer or electrical lines before you begin. Utility marking can take several days, but it’s worth it to avoid fines from damage to utility lines.

Crushed stone pads

A crushed stone pad can be created on a level frame of 4×4 or 4×6 pressure-treated lumber. Place the lumber about 12″ wider than the dimensions of your structure. Then fill the frame with 4 to 6 inches of gravel or crushed stone. The stone used and the pad design should allow rainwater to drain properly. It is important that any foundation has proper water drainage. Your resulting pad will provide stability for your new structure while keeping your floor dry.

Pergolas & pavilions:

Since pergolas and pavilions have no base, they need to be attached to either a concrete foundation or continuous post footings that anchor the structure.

Be sure to call 811, a nationwide service, to have local utility companies dispatched to mark the location of any water, sewer, or electrical lines before you dig. It usually takes several days to complete, so plan accordingly.

Concrete slab foundation

Most pergolas and pavilions can be successfully anchored to a reinforced concrete slab at least 4″ in thickness with additional depth of 12” total on the outside edge. See our engineered foundation plans for more details. In this case, the support columns of the structure are held in place with anchor brackets that are bolted directly to the concrete foundation.

Concrete Footings

If you wish to install your pavilion or pergola in an area without a concrete slab foundation, you will need to dig post holes to accommodate concrete footings. Footings are also useful if you wish to install your pergola or pavilion over an existing paver patio. All structures need to be anchored to concrete footers. The footer very on size depending on the size unit you purchase. See our detailed foundation plans for more information.

If you wish to prepare the footings on your own, you will need to consult the post diagram for your structure. Next, dig post holes to the appropriate depth below the frost line or deeper. This will prevent the structure from “popping out” due to thawing and re-freezing.

Next, fill the post holes with concrete and rebar. Be sure to plan enough time for the concrete to properly cure before the delivery of your new structure.

After the post footings are in place, the structure can be attached with anchor brackets that are bolted into the concrete.

As you can see, there’s a lot more that goes into adding a new structure to your backyard than simply choosing the best design for your needs. Deciding on the proper size and placement, checking with your township and homeowners’ association and following the right site preparation techniques can help you avoid many pitfalls and get you well on your way to enjoying your new gazebo, pergola or pavilion.