Outdoor living areas can have it made in the shade through the use of canopies or awnings. Outdoor areas can be up to 15 degrees cooler when protected from the direct rays of the sun, says Ross Lederer, spokesman for Craft-Bilt Manufacturing Company, based outside of Philadelphia, and maker of patio covers and enclosures.
"Covering a patio or deck with an awning or canopy can have a cocooning feel," he says. "Even though a patio or deck may not, technically, be a room outside your home, it can feel like one when it's covered."
Some may choose to cover an existing patio by building a permanent sunroom, which is a free-standing structure that often has glass walls and is attached to a home with a separate roofline. But for those who don't take a shine to extra building expenses, semi-permanent awnings, shade sails and canopies can be a way to throw some shade on construction costs.
A desire for shaded living areas outside a residence may have been around since there have been rock outcroppings over cave dwellings, but today's patio and pool coverings are both sleek and smart. "Today's patio cover options aren't your grandparents' canvas coverings," Lederer says. "Many times, patio coverings have retractable options with motorized screens that use fade-resistant fabrics."
During the mid-20th-century suburban boom, people began retreating from the front porch to the backyard. Entertaining on the patio and into the backyard became part of a lifestyle that is still popular today.
The patio is a concrete or paved area that is usually located in a home's backyard. While wooden decks tend to feel more like an extension of a house, a patio integrates more with the landscape, because it is built directly on the ground. Custom-built patios have evolved from mere concrete slabs into sophisticated outdoor rooms with retractable overhead options that allow a homeowner to choose when outdoor areas should have a shady or sunny disposition.
These shade structures have a framework -- covered with a specially designed outdoor fabric -- that attaches to the home and extends over a doorway, deck or patio.
While older, wall-mounted-only awnings can have a limited shading scope, manufacturers such as Craft-Bilt have devised hybrid awnings that have a room-sized framework, which includes front legs to stabilize the structure over a patio or deck.
"The top of the awning can be retractable, which will preserve the life of the fabric," Lederer says. "The shade is set on a roller tube, which unrolls at the touch of a button. When you're ready to go inside, the awning easily rolls back up into its housing, which is mounted on the house."
For stand-alone structures that seek shade, fabric canopies are a sunny selection. Pergolas are popular outdoor structures with columns that support an often open-roof grid of beams and are an ideal canopy companion.
"A canopy mounted under a pergola saves people from looking like a checkerboard, should they fall asleep with the sun shining through the upper latticework," Lederer says. "Canopies can also be installed to retract or have a Roman shade design that mounts under a structure."
Canopies can be fitted with built-in side curtains, which can add an element of privacy, as well as protection from the sun. A canopied structure can also offer more height clearance than a conventional awning.
Based on ancient ways of using ship sails to shade outdoor areas or sailors in encampments, today's shade sails are a contemporary red-hot way of providing sun protection. Using modern tensile fabrics, shade sails are stretched between several anchor points to create cool covers, says Matthew Dickerson, owner of decade-old Tenshon, based in Mesa, Arizona.
"The idea of using shade sails as a way to cover outdoor areas at home really began taking off when people started to see these in public areas," Dickerson says. "Not only do people recognize that it is cooler under a sail shaded area, they also enjoy its aesthetic."
Instead of having to erect a large structure to shade a pool or patio, Dickerson says shade can be geometrically achieved by using strategically placed poles or anchor points onto which the edge of each shade sail is fastened. When pulled taut, these membranes become hyperbolic arcs soaring above areas that cast shadows and comfort below.
With the installation of a pool or patio cover, it is essential to not only compute the space to be shaded, but to also take into account the time of year and time of day the area will be used most often, Dickerson says.
"The sun is always moving across the sky -- not only from sunrise to sunset -- but also across the horizon with the seasons," he says. "When erecting an outdoor cover, you have to take into account how shadows will change throughout the day, and also throughout the year, for the best results in terms of coverage."
No matter which type of patio or pool cover is used -- awning, canopy or shade sail -- each should be a shadowy segue from the inside to the outside of a house. But, before installation can begin, Lederer says homeowners need to do their homework and check local building codes within their municipality or homeowner's association guidelines, or both.
"Even though these covers aren't technically building a room onto a house, these structures still have to endure strong winds and snow loads in colder climates," he says. "Aluminum or wood frameworks can also be manufactured to be installed on the back of a home in a first phase of what might ultimately become an enclosed porch or sunroom."
For design inspiration in patio covers, go to: CraftBilt.com.
To view an entire video library of shade sail installations, go to: Tenshon.com.