Canopy awnings are fabric-roofed structures 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. The fabric should last about 15 years.
The awnings are available in two roof styles (a hip roof and a pyramid roof) and several colors. You can install outdoor lighting on the framework to illuminate your deck.
Pros: Canopy awnings are good for full shading of compact decks or partial shading of larger decks. The shade cloth is resistant to tears and won't sag. The fabric and structure can withstand rain, hail and strong winds (although the company recommends removing the shade cloth if a hurricane is imminent). Since it's a permanent structure that doesn't retract, the canopy has no moving parts that can jam or break.
Cons: Unlike retractable options, canopy awnings don't offer a convenient way to let in the sun (removing the fabric requires two people and takes a few minutes). Also, the columns may not blend well with the deck style and can become obstructions on some deck layouts.
If you want a shade structure that naturally blends both in size and style with your deck or patio, build your own pergola or awning structure. Cover the pergola with awning fabric, or plant vines to create a green, living shelter. Vines covering a trellis alongside the pergola will also block the rising or setting sun. A pergola made from inexpensive treated lumber and then stained can look great and still cost less than manufactured options.
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. Others eliminate that obstruction with hidden “lateral” arms. You can open and retract the awning either manually with a hand crank or with a motorized system.
Pros: Retractable awnings provide instant shade or quickly roll up when you don't need them. You don't have to take them down—no storage hassles. They don't require you to build a permanent structure on the deck. Attach vertical screens to the extended awning to block the sun when its low in the sky.
Cons: Retractable awnings are up to 20 ft. wide but only extend about 10 ft., so they won't completely shade most decks. Also, strong winds can damage the awning framework if you leave the awnings open in strong winds (manufacturers recommend closing them when not in use).
Installation: While we don't recommend this as a do-it-yourself project for novices, a homeowner with basic carpentry skills could complete the job with a helper (the awnings are too heavy to set in place 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 the eave, gutter or overhang (usually a minimum of about 7 ft.), and clearance from light fixtures and electrical outlets.
A wide variety of less expensive canopies, screened tents and shades are also available at home centers and online. The following photos show a few options.
A “Green” Option: Shade with Trees and Plants
Large planters with trees provide shade and bring greenery onto the deck. Evergreens are a good choice. They look and smell nice, and grow tall enough to provide shade (at least when the sun isn't directly overhead). When filled with soil, these planters tend to be heavy. Limit the size to what you can move around. Set planters along the edge of the deck to serve as a sun screen. In cold climates, trees may not survive winter in a planter—ask before you buy.
For even more shade, plant trees in the ground around the deck. Maple trees are one good choice because they have dense foliage for blocking the sun and are fast growing, so you won't have to wait 20 to 30 years to reap the benefits. Ask about other choices at a local nursery. In many ways, trees are the best shade system because they can shade large areas, provide privacy and beautify your yard. The downside is you have to wait several years for results.
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.
Pros: With structures up to 21 ft. long and nearly 27 ft. wide, the systems will cover almost any size deck. Each canopy is retractable, and it's the only system 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. Block sun (and increase privacy) along the sides by fastening vertical blinds to the overhead structure.
Cons: 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.
Installation: Although retractable canopies are preassembled (precut and predrilled), installation is not for a beginning do-it-yourselfer. Brackets are mounted to your siding and the posts to your decking, and you need to measure accurately before ordering the parts. But if you have some carpentry skills, you should be able to handle the job. Otherwise, hire a professional installer recommended by the manufacturer. Aluminum or vinyl systems are available. You can also buy only the canopy system and build your own wooden structure to support it.