Making Shade: Cool Ways to Keep Your Deck or Patio Comfortable

So many Austinites live at a constant 74 degrees. It’s 74 degrees in the office, 74 at home and, after a few minutes, probably about 74 in the vehicle.

It’s no wonder patios at bars, restaurants and backyards are so popular. They give people a little fresh air with the comfort of some shade and maybe a little man-made breeze or mist.

Whether you’re buying a house or remodeling your current home, a backyard deck and patio space is a prime spot to add value to your property and create an alternative area for family and friends to congregate. And the key to a great patio or deck is optimal shade.

But before you start pondering pergolas or plant any trees, take some time to chart where existing sunny and shady areas are now. Do you want shade from the morning sun, midday, afternoon or pretty much all the time?

Your answer will help define your solution. 

Abundant Options: Shade, Breeze and Mist

Here are some pros and cons of the most popular ways to keep cool in the summer sun.

Pergolas and arbors: These partial shade options are among the most popular in Austin. While the overhead structure won’t offer total shade when the sun is directly above, it provides opportunities to grow climbing vines or hang fabrics above to create extra shade and interesting design elements. They block the shifting sun well as its rays angle in the afternoon and evening hours. On the downside, they typically require cement footings and they may need to be replaced in 10-20 years if not properly maintained as the wood erodes.

Sun sails and canopies: Hanging sun sails or a canopy is a relatively inexpensive and easy option, and they provide opportunities to introduce vibrant colors, like these on Pinterest. While they may not last forever, these durable fabrics are easily adjustable. Just make sure you have sturdy places to tie them down.

Outdoor fans: While a standing fan can provide some relief, they can’t beat the convenience and aesthetic appeal of an overhead fan. It’s a flip of a switch versus hauling a fan out of the house. An outdoor ceiling fan helps repel mosquitos and other bugs while cooling the feel of the air by a few degrees. The downside is that outdoor fans may require professional installation, and they need a sturdy ceiling to hang from.

Misters: There’s a reason so many restaurant and bar patios have misters — they feel great on a hot day. The downside, of course, is that it adds a bit to your water bill and some of your more environmentally-conscious friends may question your use of resources — that is, until they’re standing beneath the misters.

Awnings: A retractable awning provides a lot of versatility to your patio or deck. Pull it out to create shade, draw it in during winter months to collect a little more sunlight. Like patio furniture umbrellas, however, they can be damaged fairly easily during strong storms.

Trees and vines: Nature provides some of the most attractive shade. For a few hundred dollars, homeowners can purchase a young tree that will provide a little shade now and a lot of shade in years to come. While live oaks are among the most popular and enduring of Central Texas trees, red oaks are one of the fastest growing species. Plus, there are few memories more satisfying to a homeowner than looking back to the time when that majestic tree you get so much enjoyment today from was first planted years ago as a small sapling.