Thaumas P. Ehr, Landscape Architect

Shade Structures and Options

If you’ve spent even one summer in Arizona, you know that you need to find a way to shade your back yard or you won’t be able to use it for three months.

Like the roof on your home, awnings, ramadas, canopies and other patio toppers can shelter your family from the scorching summer sun.

Don’t let the sun and heat keep you indoors all summer. Here are seven ways to beat the heat by adding shade to your space:

  1. Take cover. A steel-frame gazebo with a cover made from the same acrylic fabric as an awning. Placed next to the pool, a gazebo can extend the pool area and create a shady spot for outdoor seating where you’ll feel up to 20 degrees cooler than if you would out in the sun. A typical size is 10 feet by 10 feet, but you can get them as big as 14 feet by 20 feet. You’ll pay around $15 a square foot. A tip: Choose a light color, which will reflect heat instead of absorb it.
  2. Learn from your local school. You’ve seen shade canopies on school playgrounds. Why not borrow the idea for your own backyard? The dome-shaped, freestanding structure has a steel frame with a shade screen on top. The knitted screen blocks about 90 percent of the sun’s harmful rays, but you can see through it, so some homeowners place them right over top of the pool. A small is 18 feet by 18 feet, and largest is 30 feet by 30 feet. The cost: around $5.75 a square foot installed.
  3. Protect your patio. If yours is next to your house, you can cover it with an fabric awning or a see-through shade screen, either attached to the house or installed as a freestanding structure. Choose an acrylic awning if you want one that won’t let the rain through, and install it at a good pitch so water will flow off of it. If you’re not worried about the rain, or if your home is too low to create the necessary pitch, install a flat shade screen, and let water drip through it. Either way, you’ll spend around $13 to $14 a square foot.
  4. Go high-tech. A retractable patio awning will allow you to pull the cover in so it doesn’t get damaged when it’s windy. Some come with hand-cranks, but they’re also available with motors, wind sensors—that cause them to automatically close in high winds—and remote controls.
  5. Shade with drapes—outdoors. If your patio has a hard roof over it, consider creating “walls” around it with outdoor drapes made from awning fabric or with roll-down shade screens. Your installer will give you a price based on how tall the openings are and whether you need steel framing.
  6. Add aluminum. If your homeowner’s association allows it, consider aluminum as a permanent cover for a patio or free standing shade structure in your yard. Aluminum covers come with gutters and downspouts, and can be attached to the house or set atop steel posts cabana-style. I would guess that you’ll pay $15 to $30 a square foot, depending on whether the structure is freestanding or attached, and on whether you choose roll-formed aluminum or the sturdier extruded aluminum.
  7. Go All the Way. You can cover your outdoor kitchen or create a backyard gathering place with a permanent ramada, made from materials like stone, tile, wood, metal or masonry block with stucco painted to match your house. You can choose an open or closed roof, add electric lights and adorn your ramada with other custom touches. Southwest Ramadas in Scottsdale, for example, made one that features a waterfall. Prices vary greatly for the sturdy, architectural structures, which can cost $7,000 up to $20,000-plus, depending on the features and materials you choose.

An overall tip: Check the local building code and make sure you have the proper permits before adding a shady oasis to your yard this summer.