Designing Backyard Shade Structures

In the midst of summer’s sweltering heat, nothing provides relief like having a shady spot for relaxing. Backyard shade structures also help keep your outdoor furniture from fading.

If you want to add a shade structure to your yard, explore the variety of options available and customize the design based on your needs.

Design Considerations

How do you envision your backyard retreat? Here are some factors to consider:

Location: If you wish to erect a shade structure that relies on flat ground, select an area that needs little leveling to reduce labor. Look at your backyard and consider the amount of work necessary to prepare the ground. Also consider the height of the structure and any obstructions. Nearby trees or fences may limit your options. Never build or plant anything that may interfere with underground structures and utilities, such as a septic tank, plumbing lines and buried cables. (Call 811 to request assistance.)

Shade Level – Spend some time in your backyard, observing the amount of sun and shade available at various times of the day. In areas of intense sunlight you may want a more solid structure, and in hot climates you may desire greater yard coverage or shade attached to the house. In other areas you may want limited shade and materials that provide partial sunlight.

Climate – Consider the weather when designing your backyard shade structure. In northern areas that receive a lot of snow, a flat roof won’t hold up well. In areas of high winds, other choices may not be sturdy. Think of how your selection will resist the sun, rain, snow and wind in your area.

Intended Use – Choose a shade structure that best fits all the uses you envision. Pool areas don’t require much shade, for instance, so umbrellas, shrubs and vine-covered structures may fit best, while a covered patio where you wish to barbecue needs to allow smoke and odors to rapidly dissipate. Also consider young children, pets, and elderly users when selecting and designing your shade structure.

Your Budget – One of the most important steps when planning any home project is drawing up a budget. Without a budget, it’s easy to spend more than you want to. Use your budget to help guide your shade structure selection. Factor in the cost of labor if this is not a DIY project.

Choosing a Shade Structure

You might be amazed at the variety of shade structures available. Depending on your personal style, you can choose:

Shrubs and Trees – The original shade structure, they also help purify the air. Keep in mind that as they grow the shade will increase.

Awnings and Screens – Choose between retractable awnings that connect to the house or removable ones attached to a permanent frame. Retractable models may also be electric and employ sun or wind sensors. Screens work well around patios and enclosures.

Shade Sails – Like large, colorful sails on a sailboat, shade sails anchor to the house and other support structures. Make your own version with canvas and grommets if preferred. These are easily customizable.

Trellises and Pergolas – Choose ladder-like trellises or even pergolas – monkey bar-like structures made of beams – to marry a structure with vines and other greenery.

Gazebos and Ramadas – A stand-alone structure, a covered gazebo may feature seating and other options. Ramadas are typically square or rectangular with open sides.

No matter what you decide on, try sketching your design first. If this is a DIY project, make a list of materials needed based on your plans. Research the project and check to see how to anchor it properly. Always determine what, if any, building codes apply to your installation and if building permits are required. Visit your local building authority for further information.

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