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Think About Shade Sails

Casandra Maier- March, 2021

11x17 eagleview stage area shade sail st

Image Credit: Property of ND Design Services Inc.  

Gently moving with the breeze, nothing compliments and creates serenity in an outdoor space like a shade sail.  Shade sail systems are composed of special outdoor fabric, typically in the shape of a triangle or rectangle, but also customizable.  The smooth flexible fabric is stretched and anchored to various points in the landscape to create a canopy, screen, or fence.  Shade sails provide structure and aesthetic value to any outdoor space, while adding shade, shelter, and privacy.  Sometimes called sun sails, these systems get their names due to their nautical resemblance.  A single panel, or arrangement of multiple sails, is cost-effective when pergolas, gazebos, and pavilions exceed the landscape budget.  They offer many benefits and uses for commercial and residential properties in need of protection from the elements.  When looking for efficient and budget-friendly landscape design solutions, think about shade sails.           


Shade Sail Benefits

Shade sails provide many benefits in the landscape.  They are a popular choice for their streamlined and aesthetic look.  They offer endless combinations and opportunities for color, design, and expression.  Shade sails create peaceful motion as a functional design element that interacts with light and wind.  Consider shade sail systems for the following benefits:

  • Shade sails are an alternative to permanent shade structures.

  • Provide shade, shelter, and privacy for a fraction of the cost of other outdoor structures.

  • These systems easily comply with local engineering, planning, and building codes.

  • Special UV-treated fabric creates shade that reduces harmful ultraviolet exposure by 94%.

  • Experience cooling shade during the summer months when the sun is strongest, from 11am to 3pm.

  • With a good design and proper installation, shade sails last approximately 5 to 10 years.

  • Compliment landscapes of all styles with multiple choices of color, shapes, patterns, and opportunities for personal expression and design.  

  • Shade sails are a low maintenance option, requiring occasional tightening for the sails to remain taught. 

  • Shade sails are easy to clean and refresh with a garden hose or mild detergent and soft scrub brush.  


Colorful sails.jpeg

Shade Sail Uses

In the landscape, shade sails have many uses.  Multi-panel systems provide covering and shelter for larger outdoor spaces.  In a smaller landscape setting, a single sail may be all that is needed for the desired effect.  Shade sails are installed as stand-alone structures, fixed to concrete-set posts of wood, metal, or fiberglass.  Other designs affix the sail to an existing building or structure to create a shade expansion, awning, or to extend an outdoor living area.  The sail material is useful in the landscape in the following ways:

  • To create an overhead shade canopy  

  • To provides shelter from rain when using waterproof sail material

  • To improve privacy and create a screen 

  • To provide a unique alternative to traditional lumber or metal fencing

Shade sails are an aesthetic design choice in the following landscape settings:

  • Backyards

  • Decks and Patios

  • Outdoor Living Areas

  • Outdoor Seating Areas

  • Pools

  • Public Parks

  • Recreation Areas

  • Restaurants/ Outdoor Dining

  • Courtyards

  • Gardens

  • Playgrounds 

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Shade Sail Design and Installation

Shade sails are sold by online vendors and home improvement stores.  They come ready to install, or offer options for customization.  They are typically made from high-density polyethylene.  The outdoor mesh material is porous and breathable, allowing the passage of air and water, but blocking harmful UV rays.  Some vendors offer thick commercial-grade and waterproof sail material.  These knitted fabrics are created to:

  • Resist wrinkling

  • Hold under tension

  • Move flexibly 

  • Withstand winds up to 85 mph

Shade sail panels come in range of colors and qualities.  A single 8x8 panel may range in price from $15 to $1,000 or more.  Custom sails offer complete design freedom but are more costly than ready-made fabrics.  The success of a shade sail installation largely depends on the following:

  • Accurate measurements

  • Sturdy concrete-set posts

  • Strong anchor points

  • Quality sail material with good stitching

  • Quality hardware- including chains and turnbuckles to reduce slack     

The quality and function of shade sails is improved with consultation from a landscape designer.  Designers help clients plan and visualize, ensure quality, and improve the overall function of shade sails and their relationship to the landscape.  They provide aesthetic concept designs for multi-panel systems.  In some cases, they assist in sourcing quality materials for the project and help connect clients to landscape contractors for installation.  Landscape designers also provide helpful insight and consultation to DIY enthusiasts who plan to install shade sails themselves.     

Sail design.jpeg

Shade Sail Precautions and Considerations

When choosing shade sails as a landscape design solution, there are a few precautions and things to avoid.  To improve the overall quality, function, and longevity of a shade sail system, consider the following:

  • Most shade sail problems occur due to improper installation.

  • Ensure that the shade sail's warranty protects against UV degradation.

  • Choose strong quality stitching for lasting panels that stand up to outdoor elements.

  • Galvanized and stainless steel are the best for long-lasting hardware.

  • Do not cut corners when choosing anchor points or installing concrete footers and posts, as these are the support for the entire system.

  • Ensure that the anchor points and posts can support the size of the panels chosen.

  • Shade sail canopies are not meant to bare or support heavy loads of snow and ice.

  • Shade panels should be taken down in extreme weather conditions where damage may occur.

  • Install panels at the proper angle to prevent rainwater from pooling.

  • Avoid long narrow panels as they pose difficulties in achieving the proper tension.

  • Do no attach shade sails to siding or fascia.

  • All attachment points must be strong and structurally sound.

  • Never use bleach or industrial cleaners on the panels, as they damage the UV protective properties of the material. 

  • If the sail begins to slack, check the turnbuckles, and increase the tension as part of routine maintenance.  

8.5x11 stage area shade sail structure c

Image Credit: Property of ND Design Services Inc.  

Consider shade sails when looking for landscape design solution that provides shade, shelter, and privacy.  These systems are easy to install and remove.  They create opportunities for DIY enthusiasts or clients looking for non-permanent and cost-effective shade solutions.  These flexible panels are used to create a canopy, screen or fence that blends and interacts with the landscape.  Shade sails offer numerous prospects for customization and design, making them a versatile landscape solution.     



Dodge, N. (March, 2021). Interviews with ND Design Services Inc. 

Michaela Parker, M. (2020). "How to Install a Shade Sail". Mississippi State University Extension. MSU Extension Service

Buller et al. (2017). "Shade Sails and Passive Recreation in Public Parks of Melbourne and Denver: A Randomized Intervention. US National Library of Medicine. NCBI.

Shade Sails. (2019). Frequently Asked Questions. Shade Sails LLC.

Trivantage. (2021). "Your Ultimate Guide to Shade Sails." Glen Raven Inc.

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