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Choosing the Right Shade

See how an awning, canopy, or patio umbrella can provide just the right amount of shade for your backyard or outdoor space.

By Kendall Green

Patio Table UmbrellaSpending time outdoors under a clear blue sky can be the epitome of a perfect day. As the sun beats down, however, you may need some relief from the heat, especially while barbecuing, dining, and entertaining. There are a number of products especially made for shade, including awnings,  patio umbrellas, canopies, and tents.


If your backyard patio or deck is without a roof, an awning may be the perfect investment. Most awnings are retractable and made from woven, acrylic fabric that protects against the sun. Retractable awnings come in two types: mounted and freestanding.

By mounting an awning to the back wall of your home, you can easily provide shade over the space where most people tend to congregate. Some awnings require vertical poles for support, which makes them sturdier, but less convenient to retract. Other awnings require no support poles at all—they simply extend out from the back wall of the house providing instant relief from the sun or rain. These are convenient for daily use, but should be retracted during the threat of a storm.

Manual retractable awnings can be installed yourself, while motorized awnings may require an electrician if hard wiring is needed from inside to outside outlets. At least one manufacturer provides a pre-wired control switch so that you won’t need an electrician. In most cases, the company you order from can do the installation for you. Awnings cost $1,500 – $5,000, depending on width and projection (the length that the awning extends).

Freestanding retractable awnings are another option. You can place them anywhere in your backyard and move them around as needed. They are opened and closed using a hand crank, and some are designed to tilt in either direction for optimal shade any time of day. Freestanding awnings start at $250 and can go as high as $2,800.

Non-retractable awnings are less common, but serve a good purpose, especially for larger spaces. Functioning more like a canopy, these heavy-duty awnings are installed professionally, can withstand wind and rain, and are meant to stay up for the entire warm season. Since these require custom sizing and service fees, they are priced higher than retractable awnings, and can vary considerably.


When dining al fresco or lounging poolside on sunny days, an umbrella can be a great way to keep cool. The fabric is usually acrylic and designed to resist fading and staining. Many colors and patterns are available—from square styles with neutral tones and clean lines to floral patterns with ruffles around the edges. 

Side umbrellas are used to cover a lounge chair or love seat. Their poles are curved so that the base is on the side, and the umbrella hangs over the chair. 

Some patio umbrellas can serve dual purposes when the sun goes down; a number of manufacturers sell umbrellas with lights, and one even offers one with a built-in stereo that is iPod/MP3 compatible. 

Remember to close and take down all patio umbrellas when the weather gets windy or when the umbrella is not in use. When setting it up, be sure that it’s secured into a strong, heavy base or stand. Plastic umbrella bases must be filled with sand, while cast iron and steel bases come weighted. If your outdoor table is located on a second-story deck or balcony (where breezes are stronger), even heavy bases are often unable to prevent umbrellas from getting carried, which can be dangerous. Therefore, a mounted retractable awning with vertical support posts may be a safer option on balconies—but be sure to check with the manufacturer before installing.

Canopies & Tents

Canopies, pop-up tents, and other portable shade structures have become increasingly popular as more styles have become available. These are ideal for uncovered patios, or to place anywhere in the yard. 

Basic canopy shelters are open on all sides and consist of a steel or aluminum frame with four poles and a piece of polyester or vinyl stretched across the top. Others have fabric curtains or mesh screens on all four sides. Many homeowners place their dining table and chairs inside so they aren’t bothered by insects while sharing a meal. Even with mesh screens, which allow more airflow than curtained canopies, these structures tend to hold the heat so you may need an oscillating fan to keep cool. Canopies range from $130 – $800 depending on size and quality. 

Photo courtesy of Just Umbrellas

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