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posted: 8/21/2013 5:00 AM

Pergola kits cut the project down to size

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  • Pergolas have been popular in Europe for generations, and now are commonly seen in the Midwest.

      Pergolas have been popular in Europe for generations, and now are commonly seen in the Midwest.
    Photos Courtesy of Quality Built Backyards

  • Homeowners who want to add shaded seating areas to their yards are opting for pergolas.

      Homeowners who want to add shaded seating areas to their yards are opting for pergolas.
    Quality Built Backyards

  • The rooftop pergola built from a Quality Built Backyards kit was installed in the city.

      The rooftop pergola built from a Quality Built Backyards kit was installed in the city.
    Quality Built Backyards

By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent

The craze to expand outdoor living in recent years has led many to build pergolas and arbors to add interest to their yards and create a sitting or eating area that offers protection from the harsh glare of sunlight.

Many gardeners also enjoy using them to grow wisteria and ivy vines that are both beautiful and provide another layer of protection from the sun, said Don McSwain, owner of Quality Built Backyards. But such vegetation does need to be carefully monitored for wood-boring bees and other insects, he cautioned.

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"Pergolas, which can cost as little as $1,500 to $1,700 for a do-it-yourself, 12-by-12-foot kit, is a great alternative to building a Florida room which can cost between $20,000 and $40,000," said McSwain, whose company is based in Indianapolis and sells wooden pergolas through local retailers.

"This is a very traditional item which has long been popular in the South and West and now we are bringing it to the Midwest, where we are sure its popularity will explode," McSwain said. "It will help residents here maximize their outdoor season without costing too much."

In fact, pergolas are found all over Europe, dating from the 1600s. They were particularly popular in Italy and England.

Functionally, pergolas provide residents with more shade in their yards and a measure of protection from a light rain. To get additional cover, homeowners may simply add more wooden slats to the roof area of the pergola, which McSwain advocates as the best solution.

Shade cloths may also be draped below the structure or smoke-colored polycarbonate panels added to the roof, but he cautions that the cloths tend to mildew and the polycarbonate panels demand more heavy-duty mounting to the patio, deck or ground because the wind can get under them and lift the pergola during a big storm.

Quality Built Backyards offers its pergolas, arbors and arbor swings to Chicagoans online (, over the phone -- (317) 840-7469 -- and through cooperative marketing agreements with local retailers like Schwake Stone in Mundelein.

The company also had a display featured at the recent Lake County Fair and can provide customized quotes for those who need them.

Pergolas are measured based on the size of the canopy -- that part of the structure which hangs over the supporting posts by one foot. So a 12-square-foot pergola actually has a 10-by-10-foot space within the posts, McSwain said.

Quality Built Backyards offers pergola kits in many sizes, the most common being 12 square feet, 14 square feet and 12-by-16 feet, but some are much larger.

The structures are factory-made of cedar or white pine in Indiana and then painted and delivered to the homeowner by truck. Four colors are standard -- redwood tone, cedar tone, rustic brown and white -- but custom colors can also be accommodated for an additional charge.

"We paint them because that type of finish lasts much longer than stain does, and once the pergola is assembled, it is not easy to repaint or re-stain," he said.

Those who wish to install the pergola themselves may easily do so with the provided instructions, McSwain said. But Quality Built Backyards can also provide installation using local contractors for those wanting to buy a finished product.

"It someone wants to install a pergola on their patio, holes are drilled through the concrete. The wooden posts of the pergola have steel rods in the center of them, which then extend into the ground to anchor the pergola," he said. "Additional brackets can be added to further stabilize it if they want to mount a swing on the pergola or add the polycarbonate panels to the canopy."

Other mounting methods are detailed for those wanting to attach their new pergola to a wood deck or to the ground in their yard.

McSwain has a long history in the prefabricated storage building and outdoor structure industry, building sheds each summer when he was in college. Such buildings are not very popular anymore, except for use by hobbyists, McSwain said, but pergolas and arbors are exploding on the scene as homeowners choose to actively enjoy their yards, not just store things in them.

To see a sample of a Quality Built Backyards pergola, stop by Schwake Stone at 1440 Townline Road, Mundelein, or call (847) 566-0799.

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