The Tarpaulin Sun Shade Project: DIY Project for Relief from the Summer Sun

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Reduce the summer heat wave: create shade on a western-facing balcony using a mesh-screened poly-vinyl tarpaulin and some bungy tie-down straps...


Escape the Summer Heat Wave, Reduce Cooling Costs

To escape the blazing summer sun, I constructed a makeshift sun shade for our balcony. It was born of necessity for our balcony has a western exposure and gets full sun all afternoon. So hot, the balcony is unusable in the afternoons.

This summer has been cooler than usual here in Toronto, Canada. Still, we have had some hot days already. Our summers can get into the mid 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit) and higher. Our apartment has a western exposure so we get direct sun from about noon until sunset. We roast. My balcony tomato and green pepper plants suffer.

Making matters worse, we’re over a blacktop parking-lot so we get that heat too. The sun makes our balcony unbearable in the late afternoon and heats our apartment by shining through the windows. Wooden Venetian slat blinds and thick curtains are not enough protection from the onslaught. And these do nothing to provide relief for our patio plants. The flower pots are often dry and leaf tips are shriveled and almost burnt crisp from excessive heat and sun exposure. Giving them plenty of water usually only results in yellowed leaves and soggy planters. Mostly it is the heat that we endure during the day that is the problem. I needed a solution.

A Sun-shielding Plastic Garden Trellis

white plastic trellis, typically available at Garden and Home Center retailers

This is what I had wanted to use, a polypropylene plastic trellis. I have seen these in garden shops and lawn supplier dealers recently but do you think i could find one when I wanted it? No, -and nobody seemed to know what I was asking for. I was shown simple wire trellises that were more suited for climbing vines and creeping flowers. I found nothing even remotely like this one depicted above. A different solution was needed.

Maybe a tight-weave ‘net-like’ tarpaulin?

A tarpaulin, or “tarp” for short, is a sheet of water-proof or water-resistant material like cloth or canvas, or tight-weave netting. Often coated with plastics like urethane, they resist water and mold. Reinforced grommets form ‘eye-holes’ at regular distances around the periphery of the tarp to which ropes or other anchoring devices can be attached. These tarps are often used by movers to cover items on ships or over-the-road trucks to safeguard the items from wind and water damage.

I bought a 10-foot square tarpaulin and a 10-foot length of 2-inch diameter PVC water pipe. By folding the tarpaulin in half and ringing the grommets together with common chain hasps, I formed a double-layered tarp that was just 5-feet tall and 10-feet long. Shorts lengths (each approx. 12-inches long) of medium-duty chain were attached to these light-duty log chain hasps and would serve as the hangers for the tarp. The PVC water pipe forms the spine on the other side, which will be the bottom of the screen. Several rivets with a backstop washer would hold the PVC pipe in place during installation lest it slide out and fall dangerously to the parking-lot below. The plastic water-pipe hangs in the hammock-end of the sun screen.

Using a green tree branch that was about three feet long, I speared each chain several links short of the end of the length and lifted the protruding end link of each to mate with the eye-hooks of the balcony’s ceiling. These ceiling hooks were a pre-existing feature; I did not install there. I am merely taking advantage of their placement. While it looked complicated and slightly awkward to install this sun screen, it was surprisingly easy. I had the entire sheet hung in place in just minutes.

Chains are Hanging from the Ceiling Hooks

the nylon weave tarpaulin eye-hooks attached by short lengths of chain to the patio ceiling

(to the left) -A closer view of the chains that hold the tarpaulin up. Since these ceiling hooks were pre-existing fixtures on our balcony, I really have no idea what their weight capacity and torque ratings are. Therefore, the more ceiling hooks and chains employed to hold this up this screen, the better. Their spacing was less than perfect to match the regular spacing of the tarpaulin’s grommets. A simple lengthening or shorting of the point of attachment on the chain would compensate for this quite well. Some chains are hung on the last loop, while other are hung several loops in. -Length adjustment.

The tight weave quality of the tarpaulin that I used shields us from the sun’s rays quite well and yet allows the wind to blow through easily. We get the breeze, which is great.

So far this tarpaulin sail has survived several rather intense wind and rain storms, some of which felled tree branches around the neighborhood. Therefore I think we’re safe with this. I do not believe that the wind will tear this down very easily. The PVC water pipe is strapped to the balcony railing to complete the installation. This also stretches the tarpaulin fairly taut.

The Combined Strength of Many Supporting Eye-Hooks

mesh-weave tarpaulin hanging from eye-hooks creates an excellent sun-shade for the balcony patio

Above, A view of the top length of the sunscreen. The spacing of the ceiling eye-hooks does not exactly match the spacing of the tarpaulin’s regularly-spaced grommet holes, but this still works fine.

Relief from the Blazing Sun At Last

weave-mesh tarpaulin view as attached to PVC pipe in the bottom, tied to balcony rail with rubber bungy cords

From the far end of the balcony I show the bottom length of the sunscreen. Note the black 2-inch diameter PVC water conduit pipe that runs through the bottom fold. PVC water pipe is sold in most hardware and some ‘big box’ stores in the hardware section, and 10-ft. length is the common size.

Tensioning this plastic pipe downward with heavy duty rubber bungee straps will stretch the netting screen smooth and help to keep it from flagging and waving too much even in moderate breezes. This also has the unexpected effect of leveling the tarpaulin. It can be tensioned to compensate if the alignment runs upwards or downwards an inch or so. You want this to not only function but to look reasonable nice.

Grommet Close-up With PVC Pipe Attach Point

close-up view of how the tarpaulin and PVC pipe attach to the balcony rail with rubber bungy straps

Above is a close-up of how I attached the 2-inch dia. PVC pipe to the balcony railing. Several holes were pre-drilled through the pipe at cardinal directions so allow for several different attaching options. A carriage bolt was inserted through the PVC pipe with a short length of chain which could be used for securing or locking this device to the railing. This was a security feature that I probably did not really need. One would not want this to tear loose and fall to the parking-lot below. I intended to padlock this to the balcony railing. I ended up using common rubber bungee straps as used in automobiles for securing the trunk hood. This effectively ties-down this tarpaulin sunscreen. I am looking forward to a bountiful crop of patio tomatoes grown in the semi-shade of this tarpaulin sun-screen.

A Balcony Sunscreen

outside view of our balcony patio shade, the mesh-weave tarpaulin

Here is the finished result as seen from outside some distance away. -A sun shield that effectively cools our balcony and apartment from the late afternoon sun. While we may never see the cost saving of this over the use of the Air Conditioner, the effect is psychological at least for we are so far not using the A/C hardly at all this summer. In conditions of ‘brown-out’ or high-usage when A/C use is discouraged (it has happened in this city before) we do not have to add to the drain on hydro-electric resources, as least as far as our cooling needs are concerned.

I like our mesh tarpaulin sunshade

For Privacy from Prying Eyes, This Sun Screen Works at Night, Too

a stickmen comic by author, depicting me and my wife hiding behind a curtain looking outside, watching our neighbors watching us

Tarp/Tarpaulin Trivia

Oh here is a bit of trivia regarding tarps. The word “tarpaulin” comes from two words meaning “tar” and “palling” (canvas covering material,) the combined meaning is roughly ‘tarred canvas.’

A vernacular expressions exists that sailors whom handled these “tarred pallings” became known as “tarpaulins” which was shortened to just “tar” over time. I have wondered what was meant by ‘A British tar’ in the Savoy opera “H.M.S. Pinafore.” I guess now I know.

(All Images by author, “thestickman”)


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