Making Shade

The outdoor space around a home can be the source of many simple pleasures—from reading a book on the patio and watching the kids play in the grass, to grilling burgers and dining al fresco. There’s only one problem with these idyllic scenes in Texas: the soaring heat and blinding glare of direct sunlight. If you want to be outside but tend to wilt in the heat, consider adding more shade to your outdoor environment. There are multiple ways to make shade, depending on the chosen space, your appetite for home-improvement projects and budget. Here are a few of the basics.

Umbrellas: Whether freestanding or attached to a table, umbrellas add a pop of color and can be especially useful for shading an outdoor dining area. Some umbrellas come with extra features like UV protection or embedded LED lights for nighttime use, while adjustable models let you change angles to block the sun all day. Basic umbrellas and stands can be found for under $100 but prices can go up to $1,000 for larger and swankier models. 

Shade Sails: Shade sails are triangular or rectangular pieces of fabric that can be hung at different angles to create a visually appealing shade source. DIY types can try creating their own shade sail by taking a triangular piece of outdoor fabric, cutting holes at the corners and using rope or twine to attach the shade to nearby trees, poles or the side of the house. Simple ready-made shades start at $25 (not including any accessories). These lighter-duty options, while cheap and relatively easy to set up, won’t withstand wind or rain.

For a more secure, weather-resistant option, choose commercial-grade material and hire a professional installer. Commercial-grade fabric is more durable and blocks UV rays so you can protect your skin while outdoors. Greg Petersen from the Austin shade sail company Mueller Highlife says shade sails have been rising in popularity recently, partly because they are considered a semi-permanent structure and therefore don’t require a building permit from the City of Austin. Prices start at $399 for a typical 8-foot shade fully installed with hardware.

Pergolas and Plants: For a classic shade source that blends in with the landscape, consider a pergola—a structure usually made of wood with crossbeams or lattice at the top rather than a covered roof. Cedar is a popular wood for pergolas due to its weather resistance. Several big-box stores sell DIY pergola kits with prices starting around $500 for a small model and ranging from $1,500 to $4,000 for larger models.

While a pergola doesn’t provide full-sun protection, it creates a focal point for the yard and can be enhanced with hanging plants or vines to create more shade. Harvé Franks, a master gardener at The Great Outdoors, recommends several vines for pergolas: Rangoon creeper, star jasmine or passionflower vines. Be sure to note whether the pergola is in full sun, partial sun or shade before choosing vines. There’s also the DIY option of simply tying white sheets to the top of the pergola to create a pretty, breezy source of more shade.

Awnings: For a pricier shade option, consider a retractable awning that creates more usable outdoor space for less cost than extending the roof. Awnings typically come in a wide range of fabric and style choices, so customers can customize the look to blend in with their house and yard. Matt Pierce from Shading Texas says that awnings are a good choice for an uncovered patio, particularly when the yard has sun coming from directly overhead. Keep in mind that homeowners need to retract their awnings during wind and storms or they could get damaged. Prices for a typical 17-foot awning can range from $3,800 to $6,600, depending on the model and features.

The bottom line: Don’t hide indoors when the Texas sun starts to heat up. Think creatively, get outside and make some shade!

By Claire Canavan