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  • Writer's pictureLily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag


Passive House Toronto

With the hot and sunny weather already here, and the pandemic stay-at-home order still in effect, the most convenient place to enjoy the outdoors is in your very own backyard. While soaking up the sun gives you a much-needed boost of Vitamin D, there are times you need a bit of shade to keep you cool. There are many ways to create shade, but depending on the size of your backyard, the direction of the sun, and buildings nearby, not all options are necessarily suitable for your space. But if you're looking for some ideas, here are five ways to create shade, starting with the quickest and most affordable option.

Cantilever Umbrella

Passive House Toronto

The easiest way to create shade is with an umbrella. The most commonplace umbrella is the one placed in a hole in the center of the patio table. While this can provide shade, you would find that you have to shuffle your chair around to be covered by the umbrella as the sun moves. Not to mention, you are tied to the table, which isn't ideal if you're hoping to lie down and read in a lounge chair. The same applies to a standard umbrella in a weighted stand with the pole going to the center of the umbrella cover.

The better option is a cantilever umbrella, which is supported by a freestanding pole on one side and held down by a weighted base. This provides flexibility in the placement of your patio furniture as you can move the umbrella anywhere you like. You are not tied to the patio table or any particular area. Most cantilever umbrellas can be titled and adjusted for height so you can easily adjust the canopy as the sun changes position throughout the day.

The cantilever umbrella is the simplest solution for backyard shade as it's ready to use out-of-the-box, without much setup required. It is also an affordable option that usually only costs a few hundred dollars. Of course, it can get more expensive if you want a larger canopy, integrated solar lights, or a cover to protect it when not in use.

Shade Sail

Passive House Toronto

As the name suggests, the shade sail resembles that of a ship's sail, usually in the shape of a triangle. But they can come in all shapes and sizes to suit your backyard. Or you can use multiple pieces of various colors, sizes, and shapes to create a unique look. Shade sail fabric can be fade-resistant and mold resistant for added durability.

The trickiest part is installing the shade sail in your backyard. The shade sail has holes punched in the corners of the fabric so that you can hook it to the side of the house, fence, or nearby trees. But getting the shade sail tight so it doesn't droop or positioned at an angle so that it doesn't collect rainwater can be rather difficult. It is an affordable option if you have time to tinker. If you love DIY projects, then this might be for you!

Retractable Awning

Passive House Toronto

If you're primarily looking for shade on your deck, then a retractable awning is a great option. You can choose between motorized or manual mechanisms. Of course, motorized is more convenient where you can effortlessly roll and unroll the awning with the push of a button, but this requires wiring. The manual option requires you to turn a crank, which is slightly less convenient, but fairly easy to do. Whether it's motorized or manual, being able to toggle back and forth with sun and shade gives you the flexibility to choose when you want to tan or when you want to stay cool.

A retractable awning is a great feature and adds resell value to your home, but it's definitely costlier upfront. Costs vary based on sizes and features, but it starts from several thousand dollars.


Passive House Toronto

If you have a large backyard, building a pergola may be an option. But keep in mind that it is definitely a more permanent option than the other shade ideas discussed earlier. It is an open structure consisting of slats on the top that allow partial light to shine through. This is great if you want some light but not a lot. Some pergola models also have adjustable slats that can open or close. It is ideal for placing a hot tub inside the pergola. For added privacy, you have the option to drape curtains or grow vines and plants. While a pergola is not for everyone, it is definitely a good idea if you want to extend the living space beyond the walls of your home.

Usually, a building permit is not required, if under a certain size and height, but it's always a good idea to check with the city before building a pergola. While it can be costly to build, it can add value to your home.


Passive House Toronto

A gazebo is very similar to a pergola, except that it usually has a closed roof, providing complete shade and shelter from the rain. It is usually possible to run an electricity line to the gazebo if you want to be able to install light fixtures or gadgets. Much like a pergola, you can use a gazebo to extend your living space in any way you like. You can also install bug screens to keep mosquitos out, which allows you to eat outdoors without worrying about being stung.

Gazebos tend to be more expensive to build than pergolas but are definitely a great option to entertain guests and add value to your home.

Many ways to stay cool...

There are many ways to create shade in your backyard, but ultimately, the choice is based on your preference and budget. For us, the cantilever umbrella is currently the best option because it allows us to be flexible with where we want to put it and allows us to move it around as we see fit.

But later as we settle into our new Passive House, we will explore other options to invest in. Currently, our favorite is an awning as it doesn't take up a lot of space and can be quickly opened on-demand and easily closed for storage. If you ask us, it's a cool feature, to stay cool.

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