How to Design Shade Structures

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Shade is vital in hot, sunny climates. There can be a temperature difference of 10 degrees or more between a shaded area and a sunny spot. In Arizona particularly, the blazing late spring, summer and early fall sun, coupled with extremely low humidity, can steal the moisture from a person or animal's body. Heat exhaustion quickly ensues and can easily be followed by heat stroke and death. Shade structures, if properly placed, can provide shade throughout the day, even in the absence of large trees or tall buildings. Shade structures can be canopies, tents, covered picnic shelters, gazebos, arbors, umbrellas, or a combination of any of these with vines, creepers, trees and shrubs.

Things You'll Need

  • Clipboard
  • Drawing pad
  • Drawing pencils, charcoal sticks
  • Chalk line
  • Measuring tape
  • Compass
  • 2 outdoor thermometers
  • Make observations of the location where shade is needed, throughout the day, on at least three different days. Note the amount of full sun the location receives. Note any nearby buildings, trees or shrubs. Document the shape and size of the shaded area, if any, created by existing plants and structures.

  • Decide how much larger you want your final shaded area to be than the existing shade. Decide what shape the shaded area should take and what materials you wish to use to create your shade structure. Choose a structure type that will best fit all the intended uses of your shaded area. Areas near pools, spas or saunas do not need all-day shade in all directions. A barbecue or outdoor kitchen needs a shade structure which will allow smoke and cooking odors to dissipate such as a covered picnic shelter or canopy. A park needs all-day shade over play areas, picnic tables, park benches and bleachers, as well as adjacent to splash pads and toddler play structures.

  • Sketch your desired shade structure. Decide what supports the structure will need, and where they will be placed. Compute the angles needed to create all-day shade in all directions. Price materials for each shade structure design. Choose the design that will be simplest to construct.

  • Decide how to anchor your shade structure. This is especially important in coastal areas and regions where high winds, microbursts or tornadoes might pull your shade structure apart.

  • Purchase all necessary materials. Apply for any building permits required in your area. Build your shade structure according to your sketches and plans. Anchor the structure to withstand the highest recorded wind speed and force for your region. All supports should be anchored in concrete, at least 2 feet deep for every 8 feet in height. Use UV-resistant materials when creating your shade structure to avoid breakdown from constant sun exposure.

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