What is a shade sail and how can it keep the sun off me in the garden?

If you’re looking for a bit of protection from the sun’s harmful rays this summer, you have quite a few options. For a start, there are parasols that you can prop up over your sun loungers or zero gravity chairs and these are great for one or two people.

However, when providing shade for a larger group of people you need to look elsewhere, like a pop-up gazebo or, the product that is the focus of this article- a sun shade sail.

Sun shade sails are incredibly popular at the moment, and when installed properly can provide any garden with a lovely, shaded, spot that still lets the breeze blow through and looks fantastic too.
So, read on while we tell you what a shade sail is, what the benefits of buying one are, and we will even give you an idea of how to install them in your very own garden, so you can enjoy them just like other people all over the world –

What is a sun shade sail?

Basically, a sun shade sail is a fabric canopy that resembles a ship’s sail and is fixed to anchor points to create some tension in the sail. They are primarily used for creating shaded spots in gardens, parks, and other public places, and have a nice, modern, look to them.

Sun shade sails are quite versatile when it comes to setting one up, and so you can choose to have yours hanging flat overhead like a ceiling and can act as a kind of carport, or sloped down at one or more sides, or even hanging vertically like a screen wall if you wish.

Modern shade sails are made from very durable materials that are usually treated to be UV and water-resistant, and fire retardant too, making them ideal additions to the garden or patio. They also tend to be easy to clean and maintain, you can choose from a selection of shapes, and they are available in a wide range of sizes.

Although the sail itself can be taken down fairly easily for cleaning or storage, the anchor points you set up will most likely be permanent features, so you should think about that before you decide to buy one.

This clip below shows you the difference between  a triangular sail and a rectangular one, and talks about height variants and angles, and is a good way to get to know shade sails-

How long have sun shade sails been around?

Actually, shade sails have been around since ancient times, and there is historical evidence of them being used by both the Romans and ancient Egyptians to provide protection from the sun.

It is in more recent times that sun shade sails have made a comeback though, and it all started in the 90s, in places like Australia and South Africa, as companies made use of new stretchable materials that would provide excellent UV protection at the same time. Later, the use of shade sails would spread to the USA, and then into Europe, where they are widely used today.

Generally being larger than cantilever parasols, and costing quite a bit less than them, shade sails are becoming more and more the choice of shade for homeowners in the UK, just like these people-

Is it difficult to install a sun shade sail in your garden?

To put it simply- no, it is not really difficult to install a sun shade sail in your garden, but you will need some basic tools like a power drill, and maybe a post hole digger or Auger, but it all depends on your particular home, garden, and where you intend to set the shade sail up.

At most, you’ll have to dig some post holes, pop in some poles or fence posts, and then set up the anchor points on them. If you have a wooden pergola, gazebo, shed, or even walls or trees near to where you’ll set up the sail, things will be easier as you can just attach your anchor points to them, and there’s no need to be digging holes.

If you are going to be digging holes, do yourself a favour and buy one of, or both of, these tools-

How to install a shade sail

Here we will give you a brief overview of what to expect when installing one of these products, but if you would like a more in-depth explanation, please check out our article on how to measure, hang, and attach shade sails.

Picking a spot and measuring

The first couple of steps are quite simple. You need to work out where you are going to situate your shade sail and then take measurements. The site you choose for your shade sail should be one that will provide shade for most of the sun’s passage across the sky and not just in the morning, afternoon, etc.
You also need to think about anchor points, and whether or not you’re going to have to install some posts. As already mentioned, solid and permanent fixtures like gazebos ( but not temporary pop-up gazebos), trees, walls, etc. can all be used as anchor points and will save you time and effort.

With your spot picked out, get a tape measure and note down how big the area is, as this will give you an idea of the size of shade sail to buy. An important thing to take into consideration when measuring the area is that you must allow extra space for the anchor points and tensioners, as well as the stretch of the fabric, so don’t measure a 3×3 metre area and then buy a 3×3 metre sail, as it just won’t work. If you have a large garden furniture set, you need to think about how big a sail you’ll need to cover it too.

Setting up poles as anchor points

If you’re setting up your shade sail in the middle of the garden, or you just don’t want to attach it to the walls of your house or any other, existing permanent structure, you’ll probably have to dig some holes and stick in some posts.

Once you’ve measured out where your posts need to go and marked the ground, you will need to whether use a post hole digger, or either a manual or power auger to create the necessary holes. You can dig the holes with a spade of you like, but it will take longer and be more labour intensive.

With the holes dug, you’ll need to get some posts cut, either made of wood or metal and then secure them into the holes. An easy way is to use cement, but there are other options. We have an article on replacing fence posts that is pretty much the same thing, so click on the link to find out how to do it.
It really isn’t that hard to do, as this video shows of someone doing it for the first time-

Set up the anchor points and attach the sail to them

Now you need to fix the anchors, tensioners, etc. that should have come with your shade sail to your chosen points, whether those are posts, poles, or walls. When you do this, double-check not only your measurements but also the positions and angles that you are setting the fixings up at, as these will all play a part in how well the shade sail will look and perform once attached and set up.

Finally, just use rope or wires to connect the sail to the anchor points, adjust the tension so that the material looks smooth and without wrinkles, but don’t overtighten it or you’ll end up with a damaged sail after not too long. The sail should be able to move a little and stretch, but not so much as that it flops or sags down onto the people relaxing in their swing chair below.

And that’s all there is to know really. Shade sails are fairly easy to set up, considering their large size, and are much easier to dismantle in winter than a more permanent structure. They are also fairly inexpensive these days, and so are in reach of people with even the tightest budgets.

About Terry Smith

I’m Terry Smith from gardentoolbox.co.uk, a professional landscape designer, hobbyist gardener, and barbecue fanatic with 20 years experience building and restoring. So as you go through my site you'll watch me document some of the professional garden installs I make as well as the major projects I take on at home. While sharing those experiences and guiding you, I'll be recommending some great tools I use to enable this along the way so you can really buy in confidence. Always feel free to pop me a message: info@gardentoolbox.co.uk

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