7 Tips for Planning Permanent Outdoor Shade Structures

Adding permanent outdoor shade structures to your backyard isn’t just a home improvement project. It’s also good for your health.

While sunscreen might help matters a little, a recent report found that 80% of sunscreens don’t really work–and have worrisome ingredients to boot.

Getting backyard shade options, on the other hand, is a surefire way to keep yourself safe from the damaging effects of the sun. Here, we’re breaking down the seven things you need to know when planning for backyard shade structures.

1. Shade Plan for the Short-Term

The first step? Break out a compass.

You need to know, approximately, where north, south, east, and west are. That’s because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If your shade structure is oriented to the south, it isn’t going to be nearly as effective.

If you’re constantly confused by a compass, here’s an easy way to tell.

Step out into your backyard, preferably in the early morning or evening. If it’s in the morning and the sun is on your right, you’re facing north. If it’s the afternoon and the sun is on your right, you’re facing south.

If you know when you’ll be outside the most, this will help you decide:

  • where to place your structure, or
  • where to conduct your activities so that you can be where the shade is

This will also help you figure out how to orient your shade structure relative to your house or backyard.

2. Shade Plan for the Long-Term

Now, if you want to have shade all summer long, you’re dealing with a certain problem: shade is harder to find in the summer.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. But the summer sun is a fickle friend.

If you want to make the most of your shade structure year-round, you’ll need to orient it differently–the sun’s position relative to the earth is different in summer versus winter.

As a rule, if you’re facing west on a winter versus a summer afternoon, the shadows will be longer in winter. If you live north of the equator, the summer shadows will always be toward the north. If you live south of the equator, summer shadows will always be toward the south.

If you want to get precise, you can use a sun path calculator. Keep in mind, though, that the more calculation you do, the more complicated it gets.

3. Know What You Want from Coverage

With this in mind, you should know what you want from your shade structure.

Do you plan on using it as soon as it’s warm enough to sit outside without freezing? Do you only plan to use it in the dog days of summer?

Function is your first priority. This means you should know why and where you want shade.

For example, if you want a shade structure for your patio, you probably want something that can offer coverage for about six people. This means you need a minimum of eight feet, but 10 to 12 feet is preferred.

If, on the other hand, you’re just providing shade to a window system, a two to three-foot shade projection from your house will serve you quite well.

4. Know What You’re Willing to Spend

Now, we should talk about cost.

You might love a sail structure from a style perspective, but these are also expensive structures unless they’re small and anchored to an existing building.

Some of the choices will be decided for you based on your building codes. A sail will require a permit and a contractor, which is where the price comes from.

Retractable awnings are also among the most expensive options, as they require the most troubleshooting.

If cost is a limiting factor, a simple timber trellis or pergola can meet your needs quite nicely. And if you’re handy, you can even build it yourself.

It helps to take a look at the popular shade options out there and see what you like. This will help you narrow in on what will work for your design style and your wallet.

5. Know Your Design Preferences

While we’re on the subject of design, another important factor is what you like in shade structures.

A pergola might be cost-effective, but if you think pergolas are ugly, you’re going to hate it every time you step outside. It’s not a good use of your money.

As such, it helps to know what you think is aesthetically appealing. A fabric canopy anchored to deck railings is a good option for something light and airy.

If you already have a pergola that you want to make sun-proof, you can take a similar route and use a cotton canvas tarp over your slatted roof.

The backyard is your oyster. Take a broad look at what options are out there, even if you don’t think you’ll like them. You never know what will speak to you.

6. Material Preferences

Part of knowing your design preferences is knowing what materials you want to use.

In general, a metal and fabric structure can be cost-effective depending on what form you want them to take (remember our discussion of sails?).

On the other hand, maybe you’d prefer a wooden pergola that you can eventually have wisteria or ivy growing on.

It’s all up to you. But you should know before you bring in a contractor.

7. Environmental Factors

Finally, you can’t neglect the environmental factors of your area. These can dramatically shift the options available to you, especially if you live in areas with extreme conditions.

For example, if you live in an area prone to fires, it’s a bad idea to use light timber structures. These can create a combustible element that puts your home at risk.

If, on the other hand, you live in an area prone to tropical storms (like Florida) you’ll want a structure you can take down easily so that your house isn’t at risk.

Find Your Permanent Outdoor Shade Structures

Think you know what permanent outdoor shade structures your house needs?

We’re here to help you make that dream a reality.

Click here to take a closer look at our services. If you’re ready to talk about a project, use our contact page to get in touch.


Are you searching for “Pergola companies near me?” We’ve got you covered. Our experts can help you find the perfect permanent shade option so you can enjoy your outdoor space like never before! 

Call Edgewater Design Company at (480) 397-0224 or schedule a free design consultation.


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