How to Buy a Shade Sail

A shade sail is an easy (and affordable) way to shade your patio or deck and add a pop of color. Here's what you need to know before buying one.

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If you’re looking to add some shade to your outdoor space, a shade sail might be the perfect solution. Shade sails not only block the sun (and UV rays!) but also add a beautiful, modern design element to your yard.

What Is a Shade Sail?

A shade sail is a patio or deck covering made from durable outdoor fabric that provides protection from the sun. Shade sails are installed by stretching the fabric and using tension to affix the corners of the shade to mounting points (like a pergola, post, tree or wall). Shade sails are considered a more affordable and versatile alternative to a hard-structure roof. Shade sails come in various shapes, sizes and colors to fit any style backyard.

Of course the main benefit of shade sails is sun protection. Most shade sails block between 90 to 95 percent of UV rays. There are some variations in UV absorption depending on the shade material’s weight color and the tightness of the weave, but the differences are typically less than five percent. But if you want maximum sun protection, know that heavier fabric, a tighter weave and darker colors generally block the most UV rays.

You also might want your shade sail to block rain. Shade sails are water resistant but not waterproof. A light sprinkle will roll off the shade, so it’s important to install it at an angle. In a heavy downpour, water will drip through the shade because it’s made from breathable woven fabric, which allows air to pass through and keep the shaded area cool. If you want full rain protection, look for a shade specifically categorized as waterproof.

Types of Shade Sails

If you can dream it, you can have it when it comes to shade sails. Typically, they’re available in three shapes: triangle, square and rectangle. But the combinations of style, installation technique and color are endless. Triangle shade sails offer the least amount of coverage, but are easy to squeeze into awkward or small spaces. You can also layer multiple shades for more coverage, or simply to increase the wow factor.

If you have a big budget, companies such as Backyard City, Shazeebo, and Patio Products USA will custom make a shade sail just for your patio or deck.

Pros and Cons of Shade Sails

Before purchasing a shade sail, consider their benefits and weaknesses.

Pros:

  • Versatility. Shade sails can work almost anywhere, thanks to numerous mounting options and shapes.
  • The breathable fabric allows cool breezes to flow through the shade, helping lower the temperature beneath, sometimes by as much as 15 to 20 degrees F.
  • UV and some rain protection (full rain protection if you purchase a waterproof variety).
  • More affordable than a shade structure.

Cons:

  • Installation can be tricky for the average DIYer.
  • The shade sail itself may be affordable, but if you need to install mounting posts and hire a pro to it, the price can go up substantially.
  • A shade sail will probably last about eight to 10 years. However, that can increase or decrease dramatically depending on the weather in your area. If the shade is often subject to high winds, it might deteriorate faster. Some shade sails can handle snow loads, but the snow might make the fabric stretch and deteriorate over time. In snowy climates, most manufacturers recommend taking your shade sail down for the winter months.
  • Shade sails cannot be installed over an outdoor cooking area. Heat and chemicals in the fumes can damage the fabric.

Cost of Shade Sails

The cost of a shade sail varies greatly, depending on the size you need and whether you choose a DIY or professional installation. If you decide to do it yourself, it’s probably going to be a two-person job, and one of you needs to be an experienced DIYer.

You can purchase a shade sail from Amazon or Home Depot for as little as $30 and up to $400 or more, depending on size and quality. You’ll also need the mounting hardware, usually sold separately.

Expect to pay quite a bit for professional installation from a licensed contractor. Factoring in any customization, mounting posts in concrete, plus labor, your shade sail could cost as much as $20 per square foot. According to Arizona Shade Sails, a 20 ft. x 20 ft. four-column shade (which is huge) could cost you $8,000 to $10,000 installed.