As the Gershwin tune goes, “it’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” Only it’s not so easy when you’re trying to relax in the backyard and the sun’s rays beat down mercilessly on your skin, refreshments and patio or deck surfaces. That’s when you need to take cover in the cool shadows — if you have a means of making shade, that is.
“Whether your outdoor living space is used to host barbecues, throw pool parties or relax with a good book, adding a shade structure can contribute to the comfort and design of your outdoor retreat and keep you protected from wind, rain and harmful ultraviolet rays,” said Kate Campbell, a Toronto-based carpenter featured on HGTV’s “Decked Out.”
Sara Bendrick, a landscape contractor and designer and host of DIY Network’s “I Hate My Yard” and “Lawn & Order,” said excessive sun exposure not only increases your risk of skin cancer — it can damage your outdoor furniture, too.
“An overdose of sun can bleach your furniture and fade colors,” said Bendrick.
Instant shade can come from many forms — most simply nearby trees or your home itself if the sun’s on the other side. But if you want a more permanent and flexible fix, it’s time to invest in a surefire shade solution. One low-cost strategy is to plant a shade tree.
“There are some fast-growing shade trees that come in 15-gallon containers for anywhere from $45 to $125 that can give you all the shade you need, but you have to wait for it to grow,” said Bendrick, citing weeping willows, red maples and American sycamores as examples.
A pop up canopy tent can get the job done faster — and protect you from rain, too. These square- or rectangular-roofed temporary structures typically have four legs and open sides, but some feature screen walls to keep out insects. Prices range from roughly $50 to $400.
“One of the best options is a large cantilever umbrella, which is a patio umbrella designed to be moved in different ways to adapt to your outdoor living area,” said Edward McDonald, CEO of Sun Garden USA, a patio umbrella manufacturer. These products range from around $200 to more than $1,000.
A sturdier alternative is a retractable or fixed awning, which attaches permanently to the side of your home, using canvas or another fabric stretched across a sloped frame to shield you from the elements. Expect to pay up to $3,500 for the awning and around $2,400 for installation, according to HomeAdvisor.
A variation on the umbrella approach is a shade sail, which employs a flexible overhead knitted fabric membrane tethered between three or more anchor points. LandscapingNetwork.com reports that shade sails cost around $6,000 to $8,000 each.
An architecturally appealing but more expensive answer is a pergola, similar to a canopy but permanently installed and made of aluminum, vinyl, wood or composite materials.
“A slat roof pergola provides a cooling mix of sun and shade, or the pergola can be paired with a shade sail or climbing vines planted at the posts to create fragrant protection from the sun,” said Roberto Nicolia, Jr., with Nicolock Paving Stones.
“Pergolas are perfect for designating an outdoor room, making entertaining easier and helping to maximize the function and flow of an outdoor space,” said Nicolia, adding that prices can vary from $5,000 to $20,000 or more.
The most deluxe option of them all is to build an enclosed or screened-in patio/porch, “especially if you live in an area with large temperature variations or a lot of bugs,” said Bendrick, who cautions that basic models can easily start out at $15,000 and go up from there.
Before you commit to any product or project, however, do your homework.
“Evaluate how the sun moves throughout your yard. Track which areas receive full or partial sun by taking photos every hour on a sunny day. This will help you decide on the best solution,” Baldwin said.