Patio Cover Buying Guide
People enjoy entertaining or relaxing outdoors on their property. However, uncovered patios can present a problem because they are exposed to the elements. Patio covers provide a solution to this problem. They protect you from sun and rain. They also provide atmosphere and a gathering place for friends.
But what type of patio cover should you buy? Below we explore the features of the most popular types of patio covers, to help you make the right purchase for your space.
Canopies and Sail Shades
Canopies are the most adjustable and moveable of all patio cover types. For this reason, they’re incredibly popular with people who want temporary cover. They are often used by businesses that want to shade outdoor areas, including swim and tennis clubs. They include slightly more hardware than sail shades, which are another great option.
Sail shades are suspended via tension—customers must use rope to suspend the shade between fixed poles or structures. However, they also offer excellent coverage for smaller areas, along with good ventilation and a reduction in the ambient temperature beneath the shade.
What most canopies and sail shades have in common is their construction. Both types of patio covers are made of fabric—usually a vinyl or other weatherproof artificial fiber.
• Awnings and canopies must be weighted in windy climates, because they are subject to damage or falling in strong winds
• Sail shades, in contrast, rely on a more flexible support system. The give in their mooring ropes allows them to move with most wind. Semi-permeable fabric allows air to pass through with less resistance than a solid material.
• Both canopies and sail shades are easy to erect, relocate, and repair in the event of damage or breakage of a mooring.
• They are intentionally minimal in their construction, but both the canopy and the sail model are among the oldest ways humans have created artificial shade. They endure because they are highly effective.
Prospective customers should first ensure that they have space to erect a canopy or sufficient fixed points around which mooring ropes can be tied for a sail shade.
• Can be used virtually anywhere (e.g. a family reunion in a nearby park)
• Easy to erect and dissemble
Retractable Patio Awnings
These lightweight and compact awnings are ideal for individuals with limited outdoor space. They are also great for sun lovers. If shelter from the elements is needed, the awning can be extended. However, the housing (i.e. 'container') provides a neat method of unobtrusive storage when the awning is not in use. The awnings themselves are water resistant or waterproof, typically constructed of vinyl coated canvas or another durable material, so they can be used to provide shelter from mild precipitation. Very easily erected and stored.
Generally speaking, these types of awnings come with a standard dimension. For example they may be 12 feet wide with a maximum extension of 10 feet or more. Their best feature in this regard is that they are customizable to the individual need, and can be partially extended as far as desired. The framework is durable, except in cases of moderate to high wind, and it’s advised that customers retract the awning in rough weather. However, a bonus is that many models can be augmented with additional braces, if so desired.
There are many models of this particular type of patio covering available on the market. Some varieties are manual crank. Others are mechanized, in order to appeal to those without the necessary dexterity to manually extend and retract the shade. However, both types tend to be relatively easy to install and operate, depending on individual needs.
A word of caution: not all models are created with equal quality. Those considering purchasing an awning should consider the following:
• fabric type
• hardware complexity and durability
• manual vs. motorized
• reliability of the customer service in the event of damage to the shade.
If all these criteria meet with approval, shoppers may also want to investigate warranty information on the product, should wind damage or mechanical failure occur.
• Very easily extended and stored
• Excellent for those with limited storage space (condo dwellers for example)
• Manual crank or motorized
Fixed Patio Covers
Fixed patio covers are more durable and stable than their retractable cousins. They are permanent structures. They must be able to withstand whatever fierce weather the climate throws at them. As well, the designers of these structures give a great deal of thought to aesthetics, because the roof and supports of the cover are always in view.
These types of covers offer customers many of the same benefits of a more formal construction at a fraction of the cost. Plus, they are easy enough to install, so Weekend Warriors can easily change the mood of their patio in an afternoon.
These structures are often easy to assemble frameworks, constructed of durable aluminum or steel. You should anchor the frame securely in sand or concrete. Higher quality varieties of this model will offer panels crafted from durable polycarbonate to prevent excessive heat transfer to the space sheltered by the cover. These panels may be opaque or translucent to allow light to penetrate the shelter.
As well, UV protection of the panels ensures a longer effective lifespan for the structure without the need for panel replacement or repair. The dimensions of this type of patio cover are generally constant—covering an area of approximately 280 square feet with a maximum clearance of just under 11 feet.
Fixed type lean-to style covers are not going to win any design awards. Where they excel is in utility. Many models offer additional features, such as color matching, attached gutters, custom adjustment of support pole length, and other dimension cropping. This allows consumers to create an addition to their living space that remains in keeping with their home’s existing design and is sized appropriately for their space.
• Permanent shelter
• Within the ability of DIYers
• Typically anchored to concrete, deck, or other fixed base
• Options available
We're not talking about the wood octagons. Instead, we are talking about either i) fabric covered gazebo or ii) the rectangular steel or aluminum structures you see at Lowe's or Home Depot.
Gazebos are excellent for providing shade over a seating area, whether you want to cover a patio or a portion of your lawn. They offer shelter from both heat and the elements. The metal ones are certainly more durable than simple canopies.
While the metal ones are not large-scale permanent constructions, they are not quite temporary. If you are seeking a patio coverage solution, you can enjoy these structures for years. They boast a sturdy frame of steel, which makes them durable in high winds.
Metal gazebo structures are often fitted with a variety of additional features that make them more desirable for use in outdoor entertainment spaces. Options such as plant hangers or a central hook from which to suspend a light source allow customers to create a customized ambiance for their homes. For climates in which insect activity is an impediment to outdoor entertainment, several models include features such as mosquito netting that can be rolled up out of sight when it’s not in use.
Primary concerns that those in the market for a patio cover should keep in mind are space limitations. Metal gazebos are designed to a standard dimension, so measuring the patio or lawn to be shaded before purchasing a particular model is important.
For fabric gazebos, in the event that winter brings snow and ice, you should remove the fabric portion of the gazebo to help preserve its integrity. As well, it’s important to consider anchoring points for these designs. Do they have poles that need to be sunk into a secure footing? Are they bracket mounted? Or do they come with a weighted base support system?
• More stylish than a canopy
• Come in fabric or metal
• Metal is semi-permanent
• Good choice in climates where the sun can destroy fabric over time
• Less expensive than a patio cover or pergola
Pergolas conjure up images of long lunches on terraces overlooking the Mediterranean for good reason. Historically they have been built of wood (often cedar because of its durability and immunity to insects). They have been used as vine trellises in restricted spaces for many years.
The traditional design, with rafters and slats spaced every 12 inches or so, is not an excellent sunshade. However, over the past few decades they have become routinely available with two principal options to create heavy shade.
First, you can order additional purlins (top slats). This provides a very nice look and offers heavy shade depending on your spacing. Second, you can order a pergola shade made of marine fabric that is mildew and corrosion resistant. This comes in the form of outdoor fabric spanned between cross beams to provide a retractable canopy.
Especially for customers who would like the look and durability of this traditional outdoor structure, training flowers or grapevines over the structure can be a rewarding gardening project with beautiful results.
Pergolas are permanent, long-term structures. Having the space to accommodate one - as well as a place to anchor the supports - is important. Pergolas are available in prefabricated kits with the dimensions predetermined, or you can order one with custom dimensions suited to your unique needs.
• Can offer lots of shade or only a little
• Available in a variety of materials, including various woods and structural fiberglass
• Permanent structure
• An investment into the value of your property to last decades
Finding the right solution to provide shade for your outdoor space depends on a few things:
Take your time as you shop. Whether you erect a sail shade or build a pergola, your patio cover should speak to your design sensibilities and present a welcoming space that you, your family, and your guests can all enjoy.