Outdoor shades extend the pleasures of summer.
Story by Tracy Dickinson
Featured in July/August 2021
Summer has always meant grilling, outdoor dining, socializing, and relaxing in the sunshine. With Iowa’s temperature extremes, summer can also mean brisk winds one day and oppressive heat the next, which makes enjoying the backyard a bit more of a challenge.
Homeowners, builders, and product manufacturers have long been seeking ways to extend the options for outdoor living. Improvements in outdoor shades are one development that’s making that possible.
“Outdoor shades aren’t new,” says Mindy Seaman of Forget Me Not Design in Ankeny. “We’ve been measuring and installing outside projects for the last four years. But the options available these days are fantastic.”
Burgin Drapery Workroom’s Buzz Burgin agrees. “There are so many colors, fabrics, and installation options available that there are very few situations that aren’t suitable for outdoor shades.”
To help choose the right product and design, ask yourself a few questions first.
What are your needs?
If you’re simply looking for occasional shade while dining on the patio, outdoor shades may not be the best answer. But if you’re looking to create a more intimate sitting area offering both sun protection and privacy, outdoor shade products could be just what you need.
“Outdoor shades can be raised and lowered—either motorized or crank-style. And some even offer wind barriers with cables along the sides to keep them from blowing around,” says Burgin. “So many new homes are incorporating outdoor living areas, it’s important to consider the layout of the space as well as which side of the home you’re dealing with. That will help determine what type of protection you need.”
Many of these exterior products do as much to protect the home’s interior as the outdoor space. “We can install shades just outside the windows to help block harsh UV rays and keep energy costs down,” Seaman says. “They add one more barrier to the summer heat to keep you comfortable and save you energy.”
Because so many new homes are designed with extensive windows on the back to offer an unimpeded view, protecting the interior and finding window coverings to fit can be a challenge. “By blocking harsh UV rays, outdoor shades help protect your valuable furnishings,” Seaman explains. “And when they’re raised, you still have that clean, unimpeded view.”
What are your options?
Depending on where you want the shades installed and what you’re trying to accomplish, different products and materials will be better than others.
Burgin says, “We have zip shades for outdoor use that are made of a commercial sunscreen fabric. Depending on the fabric you choose, they allow varying degrees of light to pass through.” This type of shade is installed with vertical zipper-style channels along the sides that offer light-filtering protection without completely shading the space.
“These can really extend the outdoor season, not just for summer. You can incorporate heaters and use the space well into the fall, too,” says Burgin.
Zip shades require vertical mounts. These mounts demand different application parameters than traditional overhead shades, exterior blinds, and awnings. With these products, a single horizontal mounting system with a motorized or crank control can provide protection for the interior of the home or shade overhead rather than around the sides.
Shades can simply be mounted above the windows on the home’s exterior. Awnings are mounted to the home so that they can extend outward and shade the space below such as a deck or patio from above.
“Although larger models have to be motorized, there are a lot more options available now for larger applications,” Burgin says. “We’ve done installations up to 18×12 feet.”
He says that creating that perfect outdoor living area can also include outdoor draperies, which serve more-decorative purposes and are made of indoor-outdoor fabric and hung on metal rods that hold up to the weather.
How much work is involved?
No matter which application you choose, outdoor shades, blinds, and awnings are designed to withstand the outdoors. However, keep in mind, different products demand different levels of care and maintenance.
“I love the fabrics available today because they can be cleaned with just a spray from the garden hose” Seaman says. “They’re fade-resistant and available in so many colors and styles.”
Burgin says, “Some of the fabrics are nylon or fiberglass blends, too, so they hold their shape longer. And with basic cleaning once or twice a year and keeping them closed when not in use, these products will last for years and years.”
A newer option for fabrics includes blended colors, which appear solid but are actually a blend of different colors that are only apparent up close, Burgin says. One product line even includes material made of recycled plastic, which is GREENGAURD-certified by Underwriters Laboratory. The fabric has led to reclaiming over 30 tons of plastic washed ashore around the world.
Depending on the fabric, the installation, and even the direction the shades face, the maintenance needs will vary. Factors such as nearby trees and their resident animals may necessitate more-frequent cleaning.
Burgin says, “I haven’t had a client yet that I needed to discourage from an outdoor application. Once we have those conversations, there’s always an option available to fit their home and their goals.”
Whether you’re wanting to protect your home’s interior or create an outdoor space to enjoy more often, there’s an outdoor shade product to suit those needs. •
- Buzz Burgin Burgin Drapery Workroom
- Mindy Seaman Forget Me Not Design