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Had Enough Sun? Consider These Shady Escapes

June 27, 2013

By Bob Vila


Building a deck or patio is a great way to extend your family’s summertime living to the outdoors. In addition to providing a sound, level footing for grills, furniture, fireplaces and plant-filled containers, a deck can add significantly to your home’s visual appeal and, ultimately, its resale value. But choose your deck or patio location wisely, and make sure there’s enough shade and protection from the elements. An outdoor living space isn’t much good when it’s baking in the sun, blown by the wind, open to the rain or within full view of every neighbor’s second-floor window.


If an extended roofline — either existing or added — is not an option, a pergola may be. Pergolas come in a variety of styles and designs and, with their open, lattice-like framework, can provide varying degrees of shade throughout the day. Architecturally speaking, a pergola is equally suited to a patio or deck, and can be built either as an adjoining feature to the house or as a freestanding structure in any backyard location. If your vision of a pergola verges on the romantic, complete with climbing vines, know there will be work involved. Getting trailing vines to grow where you want and dealing with falling leaves when the vines die back takes some devotion. Maintaining the pergola itself is a chore, too. A pergola, whether vine-covered or vine-free, is a permanent structure.

Retractable awnings

If you are looking for a more versatile option — one that requires little to no maintenance and can be adjusted to accommodate changing weather conditions — consider a retractable awning. Just like pergolas, awnings can add curb appeal to a plain-Jane façade. They can also add color and pattern to your backyard landscape, making them a good option for many homeowners. The basic models are manually operated, but motorized units offer the convenience of operation by a wall switch or remote control. For a sophisticated installation, consider sun, wind or rain sensors, which close the awning when the sun goes down or when there is heavy rain and wind.

Attached & freestanding awnings

Awnings are typically attached to an exterior wall and extend over a patio or deck. A single unit can be up to 42-feet wide and can project more than 20 feet without the need for support posts. Multiple units may be combined for greater widths. Heights should be at least 7.5 feet. In cases where there is an obstruction or insufficient height, an awning may be mounted to the roof. Fixed freestanding awnings are also available; these can be installed anywhere shade is needed, like on a pool deck.

Awnings designed for year-round use have permanent steel frames and are extremely durable, able to withstand sun, rain and strong winds. Sidewalls or “curtains” that roll up can provide additional sun and wind protection. Zip-on screens or zip-on translucent curtains may also be an option.

Awnings are not only functional and aesthetically pleasing; they are energy-smart, too, by keeping excessive sunlight from entering your home. This is particularly important when there are no mature trees around to do the job. Less sunlight results in less heat gain and cooler interior temperatures. According to a newly released study funded by the Professional Awning Manufacturers Association (PAMA), fixed or retractable awnings can save an estimated $200 annually by reducing air conditioning usage. Keep in mind, however, that the energy performance of an awning is affected by its style, fabric color and orientation.


Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at BobVila.com. His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.