Build a Graceful Retreat in Your Yard
Gazebos offer shade, shelter from passing showers and a great place to build summer memories.
There's something irresistible, almost magnetic, about a gazebo. Come upon one in the middle of a garden or tucked into a remote corner of a yard, and you can't help but stroll toward it. Spend more than a few moments inside and you'll start thinking about adding one to your own backyard.
We've assembled a gallery of these links to a more gracious time. They range from small, simple structures to large, elaborate buildings. We'll tell you what's involved in putting one in your backyard, whether you're swinging the hammer, hiring a carpenter or something in between.
A gazebo is simply a roofed structure with open sides or perimeter railings. It typically has six or eight sides, but also can be square, rectangular or round. The floor is often raised off the ground at least one or two steps. To withstand the elements, gazebos must be built of a decay-resistant wood, such as Western red cedar, redwood or pressure-treated lumber.
Traditional gazebos are freestanding structures. However, many gazebos built today are integrated into decks and patios to provide convenient shade from the sun and shelter from rain. Some are screened-in or are equipped with removable glass panels, which means they can be used in cooler weather.
There are three approaches to building a gazebo: Hire a contractor to custom-build it; order a set of plans and construct it yourself or hire a carpenter; or buy a prefabricated kit and assemble it yourself.
Custom-built option. Going with a custom gazebo usually is the most expensive method. It's also the easiest—your contractor does all the work. Plus, you get the greatest design flexibility because the contractor can custom-build the gazebo to suit your site, desires and personal taste. Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,000 for a 9-ft.-dia. gazebo built of pressure-treated wood; a redwood or cedar structure will nearly double that price.
Building from plans. The most affordable—and time-consuming and difficult—way to put a gazebo in your yard is to buy a set of plans and build it yourself. Constructing any size gazebo is rather complicated. The roof framing alone can take a novice builder several days to complete. This hands-on approach is only recommended for experienced do-it-yourselfers.
Mail-order gazebo plans are available from most companies that sell blueprints. HomeStyles, for example, offers five gazebo plans, including unique saltbox and contemporary designs. Two sets of plans cost $39.95. Outdoor-building-project books often include gazebo plans or sell them separately by mail order.
Some landscape architects, shed contractors and fence builders also sell plans, and free plans are available from manufacturers like Georgia-Pacific and Simpson Strong-Tie and at lumberyards and home centers.
Assembling a Kit. A prefab kit provides the quickest way to build a gazebo. All major components—floor, railings and roof—come in large, preassembled panels. The remaining parts are cut to size with the joints milled and the bolt holes bored out for fast, foolproof assembly. "Most of our gazebos can be assembled in less than a day by two people," explains Christopher Peeples, owner of Vixen Hill, an Elverson, Pennsylvania based manufacturer. "There's no sawing or hammering required; all you need is a ratchet wrench and set of sockets."
Kits aren't cheap—they cost about the same as custom-built models, but the quality is often higher because they're built in the controlled environment of a factory. Prices vary widely depending on size, materials and options. For example, 9-ft. cedar gazebo kits from Vixen Hill range from $3,200 to $6,100; a 21-ft. model can cost over $20,000. Heritage Gazebos from Cox Industries are made of pressure-treated lumber and start at about $2,500 for a 8-ft. model. A deluxe 12-ft. kit costs $4,300. If you don't have the time or inclination to assemble a kit, hire a contractor to do it for you. You'll pay $500 to $700 for labor, plus the cost of the foundation.
This Garden house kit from Vixen Hill can be outfitted with insesct screens or glass panels for three-season use.
If you're planning to use your new gazebo for dining or entertaining, build one that's at least 12 ft. in diameter. Anything narrower than that will be too small to accommodate a table and chairs or more than six people at a time.
However, if the gazebo is going to be built in the middle of a garden to serve more as an architectural accent than as a meeting place, an 8 ft. or smaller structure will suffice.
Before you erect a gazebo, call the building department to determine whether you need a permit. (In some towns, a permit is only required for structures larger than 10 ft.) The local building code will also dictate the type of foundation needed. Again, it differs from town to town, but in most areas gazebos smaller than 10 ft. can be built on concrete blocks or pressure-treated timbers set right on the ground. Larger ones must be supported by poured-concrete footings dug down to the frost line.
If you live in a mild climate where frost isn't a concern, dig the footings at least 18 in. deep or pour a 4-in.-thick concrete slab to serve as the gazebo floor.
Siting the gazebo is another important consideration. First, never build at the bottom of a hill where water collects. Pick a level or, better yet, elevated spot that gets some sun; if the gazebo is in shade all the time, mold and mildew will grow on the roof.
Also, clear at least 2 ft. of space around all sides to allow air to circulate and to give you access to make repairs. Trim back low-lying bushes and ground cover from around the base to allow fresh air to circulate under the floor. Damp, stagnant air trapped under the gazebo will attract insects and promote rot.
Most gazebos only require one entrance, but if you're going to build one 15 ft. or larger a second entrance on the opposite side might make sense. That will allow people to come and go freely without having to cut through the main interior space.
The sweeping rooflines and open-air design of this custom-built redwood gazebo create a shady retreat on this deck
Beyond the Basics
However you decide to build your gazebo, think about adding one or more of the following accessories to it: interior lights for nighttime use; exterior lights to illuminate the outside of the gazebo and surrounding area in the evening; an electrical outlet for plugging in a stereo system or blender; a ceiling fan for cooling breezes (be sure the unit is rated for outdoor use); a ramp, especially if you plan to use a serving cart or if access by disabled relatives and friends is a priority; a cold-water supply pipe to serve a wet bar or whirlpool spa; a cupola or weather vane; louvered shutters for blocking out sun and wind; and a copper or slate roof.
Whether you build a gazebo as a private retreat or as a place to entertain friends and family, paying attention to the details will ensure years of trouble-free use. If you're still undecided about building one, visit a friend who has a gazebo and see if you can just walk away. We bet you won't be able to.
Heritage Gazebo Kits from Cox are made of pressure-treated lumber in 8-, 10- and 12-ft.-dia. sizes. The 8-ft. model is shown.
How it all Fits Together
Typically steeply pitched and topped with finial or cupola. Any type of roofing material can be used, but cedar shakes are the most popular.
Six- and eight-sided gazebos are most frequently fitted with 36-in.-high railings set between posts. Decorative fret rails are often installed at the top of the walls.
Can be spaced 2 X 6 decking or tongue-and-groove boards, similar to a porch floor. Floor boards can be laid parallel, as shown, or in pie-slice shapes radiating out from the center.
Should be built of pressure-treated lumber to resist decay and insects. It is often trimmed with cedar or redwood fascia boards.
In a cold climate, concrete footings must be dug down to the frost line, typically 36 to 48 in. In a mild climate, footings should be at least 18 in. deep.
Where to Find It:
Orangeburg, SC 29116
Carlisle, PA 17013
Elverson, PA 19520
133 Peachtree St.
Atlanta, GA 30303
St. Paul, MN 55175
4637 Chabot Dr., Ste. 200
Pleasanton, CA 94588