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Factors to Consider When Designing a Shade Structure

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Are you an architect looking to create beautiful, functional and innovative shade structures for clients? While shade structures may seem straightforward, they actually offer a lot of opportunities for customization and creativity. We’ve gathered some key factors to consider for shade structures to help get started. Discover the possibilities of shade structure design below.

Choosing a Shade Structure Style

Before diving into the specific details of designing a shade structure, you first need to consider which shade structure style is best for your client. Some clients may prefer simple, sleek designs, while others want a bold, striking appearance. With a variety of shade structure design styles available, there’s something for every client.

Some shade structure styles to consider include cantilevers, single post, sails, waterproof and solar designs.

Cantilever Shade Structures

One of the most common shade structure designs is the cantilever shade structure. Cantilever shade structures are extremely versatile, which makes them a solid option for most businesses and organizations. Specifically, cantilever structures are perfect for areas that need to avoid obtrusive poles, such as sports venues, car dealerships and public pools.

A cantilever shade structure can provide fans of a sports game to relax and sit in a shaded area without large columns obstructing their view of the action. As for car dealerships, cantilever structures make it easier to drive cars around without posts getting in the way. They can also keep customers cool as they browse the vehicles. Another application may be a swimming pool area where cantilevers can protect swimmers from harmful UV rays while still giving them easy access to the pool area.

There are a variety of cantilever shade structure styles to choose from, including:

Angled cantilevers: Angled or slanted cantilever shade structures are available to give a sleek, clean look. The slanted design allows guests to enjoy the sunshine while staying protected from UV rays.

Arched cantilevers: Add dimension to the shade structure design by opting for an arched cantilever. Enjoy a modern curved roof design with one of the various arch cantilevers.

Disc cantilevers: Give clients a statement shade structure with a cantilever disc. This minimalistic shade structure uses one column to suspend a framed fabric shade disc.

Single post cantilevers: Another minimalistic shade structure option are single post cantilevers. These are available in a variety of shapes, including hexagons and pyramids. While these shade structures use only one column, they can still produce up to 400 square feet of shade.

Sculptural cantilevers: Add interest to an outdoor space with a sculptural cantilever like the Aquarius design. This design uses curved steel to create an eye-catching design. The Orion is another sculptural cantilever design that uses curved cantilever arms to add dimension and interest to the design.

Single Post Shade Structures

Help clients add shade to their property without taking up too much space with single post shade structures. Whether your client prefers a minimalist look or has limited space for installing new shade structures, single post shade structures can do the trick. While these shade structures can be simple, they don’t have to be. There are a variety of fun and creative shapes available, including octagons, hexagons, circles, triangles, pyramids, flowers, butterflies and more.

Since these structures only use one post, they leave plenty of room for chairs, tables, play areas and other furnishings. Consider using single post shade structures for clients with limited space, as this design can add shade without making the space feel cramped or crowded. This design is also fantastic for parks or other outdoor areas where it’s encouraged for visitors to freely play in or explore the space.

Shade Sails

Shade sails are a fun, innovative design that provides excellent shade coverage. Commercial shade sails are the ideal option for clients who are looking for a unique shade structure design. Shade sails come in a variety of styles, and they can be joined or overlapped to create bigger and more custom shapes.

Additionally, you can customize shade sails even more by adjusting each column’s height. Each column on a shade sail can be a different height which allows for a unique structure design. When it comes to functionality, shade sails can be made from many different fabrics. This allows you to design a shade structure that meets your client’s visual and functional needs.

Choose from the following shade sail types:

3-point sail: The 3-point sail features three columns that can reach up to 40 feet per side. Multiple color and fabric options are available, and the 3-point sail can be combined with other shade sails to create a unique shaded area.

4-point sail: The 4-point sail is equipped with four columns that can reach up to 60 feet per side. The custom sizing, color and fabric options make this shade structure a great addition to a variety of businesses.

5-point sail: With five columns, this shade structure can be adjusted to varying heights. The 5-point sail can easily provide shade to larger areas.

Cantilever hypar sail: Give clients the look of a cantilever with fewer columns with the cantilever hypar sail. This gives an unobstructed view while providing shade over seating or other amenities. Cantilever hypar sails also slightly twist the sail’s fabric for a creative and beautiful look.

All of the shade sail options provide opportunities for customization. If a client has a uniquely shaped space or wants something unique to their brand, shade sails can be the perfect solution. Shade sails can be connected to create custom shapes and shade designs. With shade sails, you can also choose the amount of UV protection to provide clients with shade without making the space too dark and shaded.

Waterproof Shade Structures

Some clients may be looking for more than just UV protection and cool shade from their shade structure. In this case, waterproof shade structures offer a solution. Waterproof shade structures provide additional protection from rain.

Of course, waterproof shade structures still provide shading and UV protection benefits. However, supplying clients with a waterproof shade structure design allows them to enjoy additional benefits, including:

Increased durability: Since waterproof materials are created to withstand moisture damage, waterproof shade structures can handle rough weather for years. With this added durability, waterproof shade structures will outlast other standard shade structure materials.

Improved experiences: Rain or shine, visitors can enjoy their time at a business when waterproof shade structures are in place. Without waterproof structures, rain can force visitors to leave and find a place where they can stay dry.

Greater asset protection: Waterproof shade structures don’t just keep visitors dry — they also protect valuable equipment. Give clients peace of mind that their expensive assets will be protected from unexpected storms or rain when waterproof shade structures are in place.

Waterproof shade structures still provide ample design choices and opportunities. In other words, these structures are not a one-size-fits-all product. There are opportunities for customization depending on your client’s aesthetic preferences, durability needs and budget.

Solar Shade Structures

Bring your clients innovative solar architecture with Haven solar canopies or other solar shade structures. Solar shade structures provide many benefits to a variety of businesses. Solar panels turn a typical shade structure into a multifunctional piece of equipment.

A solar shade structure will help clients generate energy while providing guests shade. This energy can be used to help run daily operations, or it can supply supplemental energy for guests to charge their phones or laptops. With solar panels in place, shade structures become so much more than a nice place to cool off. Guests can stay charged and connected, potentially increasing their experience satisfaction, and the business can lower its energy bill.

Additionally, solar shade structures have the potential to generate more energy than the business needs. In this case, the business can sell the extra energy back to the grid. This is known as net metering, and it can provide the business with some extra revenue.

Unlike other traditional shade structures, solar shade structures can qualify for a tax credit. With tax credits, lower energy bills, improved customer satisfaction and more, solar shade structures provide clients with a high return on investment.

Picking a Shade Structure Fabric

Choosing the right shade structure fabric is crucial for both aesthetic and functional purposes. Three popular and high-quality shade structure fabrics to consider include:

1.) High-density polyethylene (HDPE): HDPE is a durable fabric that can last up to 12 years. With 95% shade protection, 97% UV protection and up to 70% water runoff, this fabric offers protection for years. HDPE requires little maintenance, with only a quick and simple cleaning required every now and again.

2.) Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): PVC fabrics are great for both permanent and temporary structures. Certain PVC fabrics can come in flame-retardant or waterproof designs. With strength and durability, PVC is a classic fabric option.

3.) Waterproof fabrics: There are a variety of waterproof fabrics to choose from, including Novashield®, PVC and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE is recommended for the best waterproof protection, but the other fabric choices are great as well.

Each of these shade structure fabrics comes in varying levels of weather and UV protection, fire retardancy, and translucence. These fabrics are also available in many colors, so you can always find a design that meets your client’s aesthetic preferences.

How to Choose Shade Structure Fabric

With so many fabric options available, how do you know what the right choice is for your client? To help narrow down the fabric options, consider which fabric will best meet your client’s functionality needs. Specifically, when choosing a shade structure fabric, keep location, durability and installation requirements in mind.

Location is a key factor to consider when designing a shade structure. First, what type of business does your client run? The type of business and its target demographic help determine what type of coverage may be needed. A sports facility may need a waterproof structure to keep fans dry during inclement weather, while a park may prefer a breathable fabric that allows for airflow while still providing shade.

Take location one step further and consider where the shade structure will be placed. Are there other design elements nearby that the shade structure needs to coordinate with? What about the sun’s path? Will the location see a lot of sun during peak sun hours? If so, you may need to pick a fabric with the highest UV protection.

Next, consider your client’s durability needs. While every client wants a lasting product, some clients may need a fabric with extra durability. Clients that experience a lot of wind, rain or other unfavorable weather need a more durable fabric than clients who live in more mild climates.

Finally, remember to keep installation requirements in mind. Some clients may operate in an area with strict building codes or other legal requirements. Local codes and regulations can help narrow down the right fabric option for your client’s shade structure.

Considering Fabric Colors

Shade structure fabric colors are an easy way to personalize the structure for clients. There are a variety of shade structure fabric colors available to choose from, including:

Neutrals: Plenty of neutral colors are available for classic or simple shade structure designs. From white, black and gray to brown and tan, neutrals can fit any aesthetic or design.

Muted colors: If a client wants to add some color to the design, consider adding a muted color like terracotta, mulberry, olive or laguna blue.

Bright colors: Make a bold statement with striking colors like electric purple, atomic orange, zesty lime or sunflower yellow.

For some clients, choosing a fabric color may be easy. They may request that the shade structure match their branding colors or stay in line with a certain theme. Direct requests like these are easy to deliver. However, some clients may give you more freedom and ask for color ideas. In that case, there are a few ways to go about choosing a shade structure fabric color.

Think about the surrounding environment. Consider what colors would complement the natural surroundings. A subtle, complementary color is ideal for clients looking for natural ways to incorporate the shade structure into their exterior design. Also, consider colors that would contrast with the colors of the natural surroundings. This can create depth and visual interest. Contrasting colors can still be muted, or you can choose bright, eye-catching fabrics for brighter, bolder clients.

A client’s target audience can also help narrow down a fabric color. Kids playing in a park often prefer fun, colorful structures, while a middle-class adult couple at a restaurant may prefer a classy neutral design.

Also, keep in mind that every fabric color also comes with its own shade factor and UV blocking rate. For example, black fabric has a UV blocking rate of 96% and a shade factor of 95%, while white fabric has a UV blocking rate of 86% and a shade factor of 57%. So, while looks are important, remember to consider functionality as well.

Considering Custom Shade Structure Additions

Designing a multifunctional shade structure allows clients to get even more use out of the structure. While there are great standard shade structure options ready to go, some clients may want or need a few added features. Including custom additions in your design can help satisfy clients and set your designs apart from others. Some key features to consider are lighting, electrical outlets, fans and solar panels.


Help clients take their shade structure from day to night by including built-in lighting capabilities. With lighting included, shade structures can become even more valuable to clients — especially for clients with shade structures in wide, open spaces. The additional lighting can help illuminate a space that may become too dark during evening hours, like a park.

For amphitheater clients, lighting can be a crucial selling point. With a shade structure covering the stage, concerts can easily transition from day to night with fun lighting shining on stage and into the crowd. The shade structures over the seating areas can also include lighting to help guests see their surroundings and find the exit after the concert ends.

Electrical Outlets

Designing a shade structure with electrical outlets allows clients to use the structure in more ways than one. A restaurant can use the outlet to power the outdoor bar or string lights, an amphitheater can use the outlets to keep audio equipment charged and running, and outdoor classrooms benefit from students keeping their laptops charged while outdoors.

Since electrical outlets have so many uses, they can be an excellent addition to shade structures for any business or industry. Additionally, outlets can be an easy solution for clients who may want to add other custom aspects in the future but are unsure during the initial design and construction.


Shade structures can help keep visitors out of the direct sun, allowing them to cool off, but in some locations, shade may not be enough. Including fans in a shade structure can help keep guests more comfortable, as the airflow can cool them down even on intensely hot or humid days. This can help businesses like restaurants keep their outdoor dining area open on those warmer days since fans are available. Otherwise, guests may turn away from outdoor dining, limiting the amount of revenue for the business.

Solar Capabilities

Solar panels are an ideal addition for clients looking to demonstrate their environmental commitment while also benefiting financially. Solar panel additions directly show customers or guests that the business is dedicated to a green initiative. As consumers become more invested in a business’s values and ethics, showing a commitment to cleaner energy can be a selling point.


In addition to appealing to customers, solar panels can also help clients save money. Solar panels create energy that businesses can then go on to use to run daily operations. With lower energy bills and tax incentives, adding solar panels to a shade structure can be a financial benefit. Plus, in some instances, businesses can generate more energy than they need which allows them to sell the extra energy back to the grid, creating a new passive revenue stream.

Contact USA SHADE for Your Shade Structure Needs

Are you ready to provide clients with high-quality, stunning shade structures? The USA SHADE team is here to help you deliver great products to your clients. From design and engineering to project management, manufacturing and construction, our decades of experience ensure high-quality products both you and your clients will love.

Our in-house experts will work with you to create the perfect shade structure design. We’ve even developed our own Architectural Studio to provide resources, advice and extra support. Explore our Architectural Studio or request a free quote to discover how we can bring your shade structure vision to life.