The Mission:
Install our refurbished hot tub (from St. Louis Spa Warehouse) and build a pergola over the patio. One of the primary goals of this project was to keep the cost as low as possible, so we would be doing all of the work ourselves. This should have taken just a few weekends. Yeah, right. Maybe if the weather would have cooperated.

Obstacle #1:
As our existing patio was not big enough to accomodate the spa, we had to enlarge it. We opted to extend it with pavers, rather than paying someone else to pour concrete. Let me tell you this was a lot of work, and in retrospect, it might have been worth the money to have this done professionally, but we were able to achieve results that were beyond our expectations. However, the worst part of this project was making four trips to Home Depot to schlepp the 174 pavers and 30 bags of sand to our house. (I would strongly recommend paying the fifty bucks to have the materials delivered.)

Don't let the sunshine in this picture fool you. Most of the time we were working on this phase, the yard was a giant mudhole (as witnessed by all of the footprints to the left of the tub). There is also the issue of disposing of the cubic yard of soil and sod that we stacked up on the patio. There is some cosmic law of nature that dictates for every person who generates a pile of unwanted dirt, there exists at least one person who needs said dirt and is willing to come to your house and pick it up. The hard part is finding this person. I was lucky enough to find several of my coworkers who fit this description.

Obstacle #2:
Before the spa could be installed, of course, and even before the pavers were laid, I had to do the necessary wiring. This included mounting a breaker box (pictured at left) for the spa on the outside wall of the house, and burying conduit out to the spot where the pump would eventually sit. After the spa was installed, we wanted to get a jump on the growing season, so we went ahead and planted vines (pictured at right) that will eventually grow to cover the pergola and offer some needed shade in the summer.

Once the hot tub phase was over, it was time to start working on the pergola. We started by buying this book at Home Depot. We didn't like any of the plans that were included, but we took our inspiration from this photo in the book, and ours is patterned very closely to it.

Obstacle #3:
To support the overhead rafters, a stringer would first have to be attached to the house. This was complicated by the contour of our vinyl siding. Solution: remove the contour. About an hour of cutting with my Dremel tool and the siding was flat and ready to have the stringers bolted on top of it.

Obstacle #4:
Next came digging the post holes. I had been dreading this part of the project, but for fifty dollars, I rented a two-man auger for four hours from Home Depot. That turned out to be the best money spent on the entire project. We had all four holes dug, 12 inches in diameter, and 2 1/2 feet deep, in under an hour.

I'll pass along a few tips (that I learned the hard way) for those who have not used one of these power augers before. I hope you find these helpful:
  1. Sod tends to clog the teeth of the auger, so invest the time to dig up the sod before you start.
  2. Put plastic trash bags around the hole before you start. This will make cleanup afterwards a lot easier, and will prevent killing your grass.
  3. Plug the hole with a bucket to prevent the dirt from falling back into the hole when you are shoveling it away.
  4. If rain is on its way (as it always seemed to be with this project), keep the hole dry by stuffing an inflated trash bag in it.

Obstacle #5:
Next came setting the posts in the holes and pouring the concrete. Let me tell you from personal experience that you *can* pour concrete in the rain. Since the instructions on the Quikrete web site said that you were supposed to fill the hole with dry mix and then add water on top of it, I didn't figure it would matter that it was raining -- and it doesn't. It sets just fine.

It was a bit difficult to estimate just how much concrete I was going to need, and I overestimated by about 300 pounds. But if it helps, these four holes took 9 80-pound bags to fill.

I used plain old 1x2s to brace the 10-foot 4x4s. Some people say you have to use 2x4s but even in the wind and rain, the 1x2s worked fine for me.

Obstacle #6:
My plan was to conceal the 4x4s and make them look like columns. After pricing pre-fab columns online at over $200 each, I decided I could probably make my own. Some 6" PVC pipe (at $10 each) and some scrap 3/4" plywood, and I was in business. After several hours with the jigsaw, I had bases and capitals for all four columns. The only PVC I could find locally was unfortunately green (hey, it's sewer pipe, what do you want?), so I sanded them down and applied a liberal coat of primer and two coats of paint. I don't think you can tell the difference. (Of course, after finishing these, I discovered that good ol' Home Depot carries the pre-fab columns, and they're only about $70 -- oh well, I still saved money.)
I left enough of the 4x4s sticking out of the top so that I could saw them off to the proper height and then sandwiched them between two 2x8s.

Obstacle #7:
I lost track of how many hours I spent cutting, notching, staining, and fitting the rafters. It was a lot.
The rafters at either end of the pergola were fitted with eye-bolts that would eventually support framed lattice panels, providing a place for our vines to grow, and adding a little bit of privacy.

Obstacle #8:
At this point in the project, it was time to dress up this rather drab window. This was allegedly my wife's part of the project, but guys, you know how that works, right? She picked out the materials and arranged the flowers.

Obstacle #9:
I intially struggled with the design of these lattice panels, but I think they turned out very well. They are simply 4x8 foot sheets of white vinyl lattice, sandwiched between 1x2 frames that have been stained and sealed, and then hung with U-bolts.

Obstacle #10:
The last aspect of this design was the one I had given the least amount of consideration to -- I figured I could just "wing it." Well, the drawbacks to this approach became apparent after we erected the first frame (top right) and it was too tall. It was a little too close to the power lines above, as well as being aesthetically disappointing. So down it came, and a week later, a shorter, more proportional frame took its place (bottom left). And finally, about six months after it began, the contruction was finished (bottom right).

Final touches:
With the addition of about 150 feet of rope lights from and a misting system from Home Depot to keep things cool in the summer heat, this project was finally complete. The misting system was only about 10 feet long, but they were on clearance for $10 each so we bought four of them and spliced them together by heating the PVC tubing with a hair dryer and then pushing them together.