The right choices for your circumstances — your personal shade solution
— can make your life easier and more comfortable, and you'll be sure to find options that fit your budget.
New advances are constantly being made to outdoor shade structures, giving you more options than ever before. Materials are more beautiful and durable than ever before. Structures can tilt, roll up, roll down, roll out — manually or automatically, by sensor, by timer, or by remote control. Innovative construction gives you attractive options that resist being blown over or blown down. They can set up fast for an afternoon of refreshing shade or set up permanently for many years of dependable shade.
Outdoor shade structures are specially constructed to stand up to the harsh outdoors — sun, wind, rain, dust, and snow, heat and cold, so you don't have to think about them so much. Outdoor shades use special materials that are especially durable and resist fading. Support structures resist rust and corrosion and many are made of completely rust-proof materials. Mechanisms that control outdoor shade panels are extra durable, too, and made to safely work outdoors.
And outdoor shades can be cleaned by just hosing them off. It's hard to say that about indoor shades!
It's amazing how many kinds of shade structures have been devised. And different cultures may refer to the same structure with different words. Or the same structure will be used differently in different parts of the world. So there is some overlap with their descriptions. Keeping an open mind to terms and descriptions can help you discover new ideas and solutions.
Following is a general description of most outdoor shade structures. This is not meant to be a complete list, but a way to give you an idea of some of the many options available. We start with lightweight structures like outdoor umbrellas and shade canopies, go into more permanent structures, and work our way to awnings, patio and deck covers that are attached to buildings. We follow with a section on vertical shades that are enormously helpful in dealing with the hot afternoon or morning sun.
We're in the process of adding links to merchants so you'll be able to find your perfect shade structures quickly and easily.
Umbrellas protect us from more than just rain. What is a beach chair without an umbrella? A sidewalk cafe without umbrella-canopied tables? When used for the sun, umbrellas are literally "parasols", which loosely translates to "for the sun".
Unlike tents, canopies or sails that use three or more supports to hold the shade material, umbrellas typically use a single central support. This support can usually be tilted to work with the shifting sun, and most umbrellas can be collapsed or retracted to move aside when not in use. Some supports are even offset or "cantilevered", meaning they don't stick down the center of the shade like typical umbrellas (which are sometimes called "market" umbrellas), but are set off to the side. These work well in situations where you might need space to move around under the umbrella. Some umbrella styles use flaps around the edges to create just a bit more shade as the sun shifts.
Outdoor Shade Canopies are usually pre-built, though some companies do custom designs. Their shade is usually provided by fabric, which keeps the structure very light compared to solid shade structures. You will usually find these with open sides or optional sides, though some are totally enclosed for maximum shade or storage.
The most lightweight outdoor shade canopies can be collapsed and carried. These super-lightweight shades are fabulous to take to events where you'll have a little space to set them up so you'll always have shade with you. Learn more…
Awnings attach to a permanent support, such as the side of a building. This means their shade will often fall onto the building and cool the building's interior. They may be small enough to cover only one window, or they may be large enough to cover an entire patio. Their shade is usually provided by fabrics, which may be waterproof (a good choice over doorways and windows) or water resistant to allow good air flow (good for large areas). They may be adjustable, allowing them to collapse or tilt to work with the shifting sun — manually if they rarely need to be repositioned, or by motorized remote control (invaluable if they need to be retracted from a large area or are difficult to reach manually).
Tensioned Shade Structures or "Shade Sails" can be extremely dramatic with their curved sails that seem to fly even though they are solidly still. They are very much like canopies or pavilions, but instead of the supports holding up a framework, the supports hold up a shade cloth stretched tightly between them. The tension provides the support instead of a framework. The geometric shapes of the Shade Sail become more concave the tighter they are stretched. The height and angle of the sails can be adjusted to work with the changing angle of the sun.
Since the footings must be "rock solid", these are considered permanent shade structures. But the sails can usually be removed and it's possible to install a permanent footing with removable support posts. Companies who specialize in shade sails can help you determine the best configurations to provide shade when and where YOU need it most.
Gazebos and Pagodas are permanent freestanding shade structures. From elaborate multi-story Chinese pagodas, to Victorian era bandstands, these have historically been places of beauty, comfort and rest. A typical gazebo is eight-sided with a solid peaked roof, but there are many, many variations. The number of sides may vary -- they may even be round, and the roof needn't be peaked, or even solid. Their sides may be completely open, allowing for every possible breeze. But more often the sides are used as an opportunity for ornamentation or beautiful windows.
Cabanas, Beach Huts, Pool Houses originated with bath houses or water-side changing rooms. They might be solid structures or simply a screened area or tent. They typically have at least one side open to any water feature, such as a pool, lake or beach, perhaps made private with a curtain or door. They might be only large enough for one person to stand up in, or they might have changing rooms and a separate lounge area. More extravagant styles may include some kind of plumbing (ranging from a garden hose to a tiled shower) for an after-swim shower. As with most outdoor shades, the range of uses and designs are limited only by the imagination and budget.
Pavilions and Ramadas use a minimal structure to support the materials that provide the shade. They may be no more than four or more slender legs with a lightweight overhead framework supporting equally light weight fabric, or they may be eight-sided wood or concrete structures that support a solid shingled or concrete roof. Pavilions and ramadas can be purchased pre-fabricated, or in a kit, or may even be custom designed. Most, even the portable ones, can be fitted with misting systems and / or outdoor fans for the coolest and most comfortable shade.
There are not clear-cut definitions separating pavilions and ramadas. One way to look at them might be that pavilions are generally considered permanent shade structures that are supported along the outside edges of the shade. Ramadas tend extend out from the side of a building or from a narrow support, similar to a porch or breezeway. Pavilions typically imply a sense of size or grandeur. Ramadas imply a sense of welcome.
Pergolas are simply defined as frameworks, often used to support climbing plants. Their roofs are typically open-framed, allowing sun to shine through on any plants that might climb them. They provide little shade by themselves, but plants can climb over them and fill in the open framework with a lush and natural green, semi-solid shade. They can be as simple as their spare architecture, or as spectacular as the plants that cover them. If tending plants isn't for you, other shade materials can be just as effective.
Patio covers, Deck covers, and Porches are distinguished by being attached to a building an will likely require a building permit. Since the shade from these structures will fall right on the building, their shade will also cool the building's interior — a major plus, and can really increase your home's value.
If you decide on a lattice roof, consider adding some kind of material (slats or shade cloth, or even growing plants) to shade the open areas. Some of these can be adjustable or removable, depending on your shade needs. Ideally, do this in the planning stages of your patio cover to allow for a more attractive, practical and affordable final result.
Most outdoor shade structures can protect beautifully from the scorching overhead sun. But when you need protection from hot morning or afternoon sun, vertical shades come to the rescue.
Vertical Screens may use cloth to provide shade, or they might be made of carved wood, wrought iron, bamboo, wicker or rattan, or other decorative plastics or metals that allow varying amounts of sun to shine through. They are usually free standing or attached on only one side or at the top to a permanent support. This allows their multiple panels to be repositioned, allowing you to adjust the amount of shade they provide. These are especially good for providing morning or afternoon shade -- times when the sun is low enough to shine through their panels that filter the light.
Shutters are a kind of vertical screen. The difference between shutters and vertical screens is that shutters have slats that adjust the amount of shade in addition to their multiple panels. These are usually seen attached to the side of a window to shade the interior of a building. But they are being made in more and more sizes and styles. Shutters may be freestanding or attached to the wall of a building or the post of a patio cover. Like other vertical screens, these are especially good for providing morning or afternoon shade -- times when the sun is low enough to shine through their panels and slats that filter the light.
Fences and Walls might be considered permanent vertical screens. Like other vertical screens, these are especially good for providing morning or afternoon shade -- times when the sun is low enough to shine through their panels and slats that filter the light, or to be blocked by them completely. We often take them for granted -- existing fences and walls are often overlooked in shade audits. But they can provide tremendous shade when overhead shade simply cannot.
Curtains and Roll-up / Roller Shades use permanently mounted hardware, but the curtains themselves would best be considered temporary since one of their strongest features is that they can be drawn up or aside when not needed. The curtains themselves can be made of most any shade material. These curtains and roller shades can add a tremendous amount of ambiance, especially if very decorative fabrics are used. All curtains will blow around in the wind, especially those using tighter weave fabrics. This can be minimized by placing small weights in the curtain hems or by securing them to sturdy supports.
Vertical or Horizontal Blinds are similar to outdoor shade curtains. The main difference is that they usually use semi-rigid materials or panels instead of fabrics. Their extra rigidity, weight, and air flow means they will flutter less in the breeze than most curtains would. The most common material used in outdoor blinds is bamboo, but they can be found in a variety of other beautiful natural and synthetic materials.
Learn about the many options available in shade materials here.
Remember that with all outdoor shades the shade shifts with the changing angle of the sun. The more permanent the shade structure and the less adjustable it is, the more you need to be aware of where its shade will fall -- ideally, even before it's set up. You can learn where shade will fall in your area by visiting our page on Understanding the Shifting Shade