When my neighbor would complain that an abundance of trees made her backyard too cool and shady, I’d want to stamp my feet in frustration. You see, thanks to the overzealous tree-chopper who once owned my house, I had the opposite problem—no trees and way too much sun. Stepping onto my deck in July was like setting foot into a broiler set to high: the light would scorch eyes, the heat would sear lungs, and, as for bare feet—well, even hot beach sand couldn’t burn soles the way those wood slats could! My family had no choice but to bid goodbye to backyard living in early June, not to return until late September.
But last summer I set out to reclaim my deck. That’s when I learned that, while you can’t control the sun, you can manage it—and with options that are downright, if you’ll pardon the expression, cool.
One simple option is an offset or cantilevered umbrella. This is similar to a patio umbrella that fits within a table—but the umbrella’s canopy is generally larger, and the pole is situated outside the canopy, rather than underneath it. The result is a nice block of shade. As a bonus, the pole has an adjustable hinge mechanism that lets you substantially change the angle and position of the canopy as the sun moves throughout the day.
The drawback of umbrellas, however, is that, generally, they need to be closed and well secured when not in use, so they don’t go flying if the weather gets windy. Offset umbrellas also are better suited to patios than decks, where they may collide with any low-hanging areas of the roof.
A more permanent solution is an awning, whether stationary or retractable. Stationary awnings have a fixed frame, while retractable ones have folding frames that extend or retract by means of a crank or a motor connected to an electrical switch. “A retractable awning gives you the flexibility to have shade when you want it and sun when you want it,” says Greg Sahagian, owner of Greg Sahagian & Son, a Hartsdale-based awning retailer (18 N Central Ave, 914-949-9877, gssawn ing.com). If you opt for the motorized version, you can take advantage of some pretty clever features. For example, some retractable awnings automatically close if the wind kicks up. It’s also possible to install a sensor that will signal the awning to unfurl as soon as the sun rises.
But, because awnings are attached to the house and extend in one direction only, they may not do the trick if you have sun exposure from multiple directions. This was the problem I confronted, as my deck faced south, but the sun would pack its most powerful punch in the late afternoon, coming sideways from the west. For this reason, I decided on outdoor sun shades.
Sun shades work like indoor roller shades, but they typically are made of woven polyester mesh that is coated with resin to make them durable and weather resistant. They are very effective in reducing heat and glare, particularly if you opt for a tight weave. To hold the shades up, we hired a carpenter to build a pergola, a simple wood structure with columns and crossbeams, which we positioned above the deck. We attached a few UV-resistant screens over the top of the pergola to block overhead sun, hung two sun shades on the west-facing side, and—voila!—finally, our deck was a summertime haven.
Now when my neighbor complains about her too-shady yard, I smile in sympathy. As with a lot of things in life, it’s not the sun, but what you do with it that counts.
Ways to Cool Down Your Summer Spaces
|What it is
A patio umbrella whose pole is positioned to the side of the canopy. Offset umbrellas come in a range of shapes and sizes
A cover made of canvas or other fabric draped on a frame that is attached to the house. Retractable frames require a straight wall; stationary frames can go around curves.
A woven polyester mesh fabric that is treated with a resin to be durable and weather resistant.
|How it cools you down
|The design allows the canopy to be adjusted in many ways, providing continual coverage as the sun moves during the day.
|An awning can shade your entire deck or patio—and, motorized retractable awnings are convenient and easy to use.
|Sun shades deflect the sun, which lowers the air temperature of your patio or deck and reduces glare.
|Why it may steam you up
|An umbrella needs to be secured in place; otherwise, a gusty wind could send it flying through your patio door or window. Also, unless you go for a large model, the shaded area may be smaller than you’d like.
|Watch out for the angles! To avoid frustration, don’t buy until you’re certain that the awning will sufficiently block the sun at whatever hour you may need it.
|Sun shades generally are custom-order products, so you’ll need to carefully calculate measurements, the way you would with an indoor window treatment. Also, the weave and color of a shade can affect its performance, so make sure to test samples at home before you buy.
|Offset umbrellas are reasonably priced, starting at less than $100.
|From several hundred dollars to well over $1,000, depending on size and features.
|A high-quality shade to fit within a 5’ x 5’ space would run around $200. You can buy a 10’ x 12’ ready-made wood pergola starting at about $1,800. But if you’re thinking of building a pergola or other structure to hold the shades, the cost of the project will rise substantially.
|SDF (Sun deflection factor)
|Pretty effective, especially if you’re looking for modest shade for a relatively small area. If your patio or deck gets really hot or you want to shade a large space, you might want to choose another option.
|Provided they are positioned at the correct angle to block the sun, awnings are effective in cooling your patio or deck—and may even cool down the inside of your house.
|Sun shades are highly effective in cooling down your deck or patio. To maximize their effect, opt for a tight weave, as opposed to an open one.
Barbara Solomon Josselsohn is a freelance writer, based in Scarsdale, specializing in home-furnishings and family topics.