Landscaping & Gardening: Building A Trellis
Basking in the sun might be perfect while on vacation or when trying to “catch some rays” poolside. On the contrary, “baking” in the sun is no fun whether you are on a tropical island or in your own back yard.
Shade is a precious commodity for any home. In addition to preventing nasty sunburn, a thoughtfully placed tree or shade structure has many benefits beyond beautifying your back yard. It can lower the interior temperature of your home substantially, thus improving comfort and lowering your utility bill.
Moreover, your air conditioner won’t have to work as hard, which can help save on repair and maintenance costs – not to mention the fact that you are helping to save the earth by using less energy. There’s more – the sun’s ultraviolet rays can wreak havoc on drapes, carpet, hardwood, vinyl, fabric and other precious finishes. Shade is a good thing.
As we stated earlier, one of the easiest means of acquiring shade is by planting a fast growing shade tree – or several trees. Another means is by constructing some type of shade structure. These range from a solid patio cover that is an extension of a home’s roof to a freestanding decorative trellis or arbor.
How do they differ? A patio cover is essentially a means to an end. With a solid roof, it not only provides shade, it also offers protection from the elements. A trellis, on the other hand, is a decorative structure that provides shade and little or no weather protection. We think of a trellis as being laden with a beautiful vine that further enhances its decorative appeal.
Don’t get us wrong. We aren’t suggesting that a patio cover can’t be decorative. It just takes a bit more creative energy and a slightly bigger budget. A clever means of enjoying the best of both worlds is to create a structure that combines the both styles.
Whichever style you opt for, the most important aspect of the job is the design and planning phase. When designing your shade structure consider the following questions:
- Which is the best location to maximize the amount of shade?
- Is it important for the structure to be waterproof?
- Will a vine be trained on it?
- How large does the structure need to be to accomplish your goals?
- Will it be connected to the house or freestanding?
- How will it be finished – paint, stain or prefabricated aluminum or PVC?
- What is your budget for the project?
Armed with answers to these questions, you can proceed to create your own design or have a landscape architect or designer create a design for you. Ready made plans can also be found in magazines, books, or online. Keep in mind that a trellis needn’t be a rectangle, square or single height. It can be a conglomeration of heights and angles. Again, it all boils down to needs and budget. Also, don’t forget to check with your local building department to determine if engineering and/or a building permit will be required.
Although a structure attached to your home will have plenty of support, a freestanding structure doesn’t enjoy the same stability. Therefore, the support posts must be properly sized and well anchored. 4 by 4 posts can support a small trellis with a simple design, whereas a larger, more elaborate structure may require 6 by 6 or 8 by 8 posts. Generally speaking, the posts should be set into a concrete pier with one third of the total length of the post in ground and two thirds out. The diameter of the hole should be two to three times the diameter of the post. An alternative to setting the support posts in concrete is to anchor the support posts to concrete piers. This system helps prevent post rot, but will require special lateral support.
If your trellis will be wood construction, consider using cedar, redwood or pressure treated material. They will offer the best rot resistance. A penetrating oil finish (stain or wood preservative) will provide the longest lasting, most maintenance free finish.
With the support posts in place, the “beams” that support the “lintels” can be installed. The lintels are often also referred to as “cross pieces,” “rafters” or “joist.” The beams can consist of on piece of 2 by material the tie one post to another. An alternative is to for two beams to run parallel to one another, notched into either side of the support post. Use a high quality polyurethane glue and ceramic-coated construction screw at all connections. Use through bolts with “malleable” washers for added decorative interest.
Next, install the lintels at a right angle on top of the beams. To create uniform spacing, use a tape measure and a pencil to mark the location of the lintels before installing them. For added strength, notch the top of the beam and the underside of the lintel to create an interlocking connection.
The ends of your beams and lintels should reflect the style of the trellis. The ends can be square with a chamfered edge, they can be beveled, beveled and chamfered or scalloped – the choice is yours.
You can stop here or you can continue with yet another layer of cross pieces that run perpendicular to the lintels. This layer is used primarily to increase the amount of shade, but can have a significant impact on the overall appearance of the finished product. These cross pieces are typically 1 by 2’s or 2 by 2’s that are space according to the amount of shade desired – generally four to six inches apart. Unlike the lintels, these cross pieces do not need to be notched. Simply attach them using a galvanized casing nail or ceramic-coated construction screw. Pre drilling may be required to avoid splitting smaller material.
Stain it or paint it and grab your shovel and finish the project by planting a beautiful vine.
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