Shading Options for Your Patio or Deck

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An article discussing shading structures and systems, pros and cons, and installtion considerations for canopies, pergolas, awnings, sunshades, and other portable shading options.

This article will discuss various options for shading your deck and patio. While some options can be installed by the homeowner, others are best installed by contractors familiar with specialized components found in some canopies and awning systems. Some shading systems are as simple as putting up an umbrella; others involve major construction.

Types of Shading Structures

Shading structures can be broken down into two groups; operable and fixed.

Operable shading structures consist of awnings that can be opened and closed depending on the weather conditions.

Fixed structures consist of canopies, pergolas, and roofing, although roofing will not be discussed in this article.

Canopy Awnings

Canopy awnings have a permanently installed structure covered with a removable fabric. Canopy awnings are supported by a freestanding, rigid frame that's bolted to your deck. The frame becomes a permanent part of your deck, and you can either leave the fabric up year-round or remove it seasonally. Typically the fabric covering lasts about 15 years. Canopy awnings can be purchased as a kit and installed by the homeowner in several hours depending on the size.

Most canopy awnings have two standard roof styles; hip and pyramid. Since the structure is permanent, many homeowners also install outdoor lighting on the frame to allow for night time use.

Pros and Cons

Canopy awnings are a good option for completely shading smaller decks or for created a shaded area on large decks. The fabric covering is resistant to tears and stretching. The fabric and structure can withstand rain, hail and strong winds, however most manufacturers recommend removing the fabric during extreme weather conditions such as coastal storms and hurricanes. The frame has no moving parts to wear out, jam, or break.

One downside to canopy awnings is that there is no easy way to let the sun into the space below without removing a section of fabric. Another problem with canopy awnings is that the structure may not go with the style of the deck or home and the layout of the frame may not integrate well with the existing deck and railing.


A pergola is a structure, such as an arbor, with a roof of trelliswork along the top that provides partial shade. Pergolas can be built in place from material similar to your deck, or be bought as a kit and installed over a patio or deck. The lumber used is primarily cedar or redwood, but some manufacturers utilize synthetic material that is dimensionally stable and maintenance free.


Trex Pergola and Deck

Pergolas can also incorporate 2 or more materials such as masonry piers and a wood trellis roof or painted wood post and a stained trellis. To increase the amount of shading provided vines can be planted alongside the structure to create a living structure or operable shades can be installed below the trellis to fully shade the deck or patio.


Pros and Cons

The structure of a pergola can become a seamless part of the deck or patio and can be made to accentuate the look of the home. Typically the structure will last for 15 to 20 years depending on the material used. Additional shades and lighting can be added to the structure. Pergolas add the most value to the home.

Pergolas can be massive structures requiring concrete piers to anchor the base securely in place. Due to the top heavy form, larger framing members are required to support the roof section. Unless you are installing a kit, moderately advanced carpentry skills are required before attempting a project like this. Due to the nature of the structure, permits are often required so consult your local building department before considering this option.

Retractable Awnings

Retractable awnings are what is most often thought of when people think about shading a deck or patio. Retractable awnings consist of a metal framework covered with shade fabric. The framework mounts directly on the side of your house. Some models have diagonal support arms. Some models utilize a hidden arm that swings into place as the awning is opened. You can open and retract the awning either manually with a hand crank or with a motorized system.


Pros and Cons

Retractable awnings provide an efficient option for instant shade when needed. They do not have to be taken down and stored. There is no permanent structure required to be installed on your deck or patio. Some awnings also incorporate vertical screens to provide additional shade.

Retractable awnings can be up to 20 feet wide, but there are limitations to how far out they can extend, usually no more than 10 feet. Some larger decks will not be able to be completely shading with an awning. Strong winds can damage the awning fabric and framework if they are left open during a storm. Some homeowners are concerned with attaching a structure to the side of the home as it creates an entry point for water.

Awning retracted

Installing a Retractable Awning

Two people with basic carpentry skills can install a retractable awning. The awnings are too heavy to be installed by yourself. The awning can be installed on any type of siding. The brackets must be mounted to framing members to support the weight of the awning. You'll need the appropriate clearance between the decking and eave of the awning or overhang which is usually no less than 7 feet. Be sure to maintain a safe distance from light fixtures.

Temporary Shading

Temporary shading options are useful for a lost-cost solution or for when additional shading is needed for large gatherings.

Portable Shade Canopy

Portable shade canopies can be set up in 10 to 20 minutes and they can be placed where ever necessary. These canopies are basically a canvas roof with four legs, but some have fabric on all four sides to keep insects out. They can be purchased at home centers and sporting goods stores.


Umbrellas, Sunshades, and Sunsails

Sunshades fasten directly to the deck railing. They can be positioned to block the rising or setting sun. They are also called offset or cantilevered umbrellas. They can be mounted to the base of the deck or a railing post. Some shades use a weighted base filled with water or sand.


Sunsails are a newer option that use an extended post attached to the railing and an attachment point on the side of the home.

Offset Umbrella


Pros and Cons

Sunshades, umbrellas, and sunsails offer an inexpensive option for shading small areas on a patio or deck. They can be set up in minutes and taken down and stored at the end of the season. These shading options do not take up much space on the deck or patio, especially sunsails which are completely elevated.

Sunshades, umbrellas and sunsails are not structural elements but more like furniture. Their lightweight construction makes them susceptible to wind damage, so they must be taken down or closed prior to severe weather. These shading devices may not match the existing furniture or decking material.

Retractable Canopies

Retractable canopies are versatile systems that can be partially or completely closed or open.

Retractable canopy on pergola

Canopy systems can be installed on wooden framing to blend in with an existing deck.

Retractable canopies are large shading structures built over the deck and mounted to the house and decking. The shading fabric slides open and closed along overhead tracks. You can retract each canopy independently of the others. The best time to choose these systems is when you're planning a new deck, so you can incorporate the support posts into the design.

Motorized retractable canopy

Pros and Cons

Retractable canopies can be up to 21 feet long and about 26 feet wide, so these systems can cover almost any size deck. Each section of canopy is retractable, and it's the only shading option that allows the canopies to be partially retracted, giving you more control over your shade. More than 40 fabric colors are available to match your home's decor. Blinds can be installed to the overhead structure to provide additional shading and privacy.

You can install the canopies on existing decks, but the support posts may not look consistent with your current decking materials and could become obstructions. The overhead structure and posts stay in place even when the canopy is retracted.


Although retractable canopies are sold in kits and are preassembled, it is not an easy do-it-yourself project. Brackets are mounted to your siding and the posts to your deck railing. Accurate measurements are required before ordering a retractable canopy system.

Aluminum or vinyl systems are available and there are also canopy systems that can be installed on a wooden structure that you can build yourself.


Roberta Baxter
Posted on Oct 7, 2011
Jerry Walch
Posted on Oct 6, 2011
Sandy James
Posted on Oct 5, 2011
Francina Marie Parks
Posted on Oct 5, 2011