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How to choose the right patio umbrella for your space

Warmer weather calls us to relax, dine, and play outdoors.  While being outside is lovely, the direct sun beating down on you can be both harmful to your health and physically draining. An umbrella is a great way to provide the shade you need.

Types of Umbrellas

 

Patio umbrellas come in a wide range of qualities, sizes, colors, and options. In general, umbrella styles are broken down into four categories –

Residential

  • Sizes range from 6’ to 9’
  • Starting price points
  • Lighter weight materials and ‘residential’ use fabrics

Market

  • Sizes range from 7’ to 11’, plus large rectangles up to 10x13’
  • Usually octagonal in shape
  • Usually vented (for wind protection) because of their size

Commercial

  • Recommended style for restaurants, public venues (golf courses, pools etc)
  • Heavier duty design & material choices
  • Fewer options for opening & tilting

Cantilever

  • Well suited to cover larger areas as they hang over a table or an occasional group
  • No center pole obstruction
  • Not recommended for areas with really high winds

Opening Mechanisms

 

Opening Mechanisms also vary. There are two controls a good patio umbrella will have: opening mechanism and tilting mechanism. Because of the unpredictability of weather, you want to keep your patio umbrella closed when the space is not in use or in a high wind, so being able to open and close it easily is important. All good patio umbrellas are designed to tilt so that as the sun moves across the sky you can rotate your umbrella to continue to provide shade.

Opening Mechanisms include:

  • Push button tilt – least expensive but more difficult to use
  • Crank tilt – the work horse of the patio umbrella world
  • Collar tilt – most flexible and easy to use but not available on all sizes of umbrellas

Size

 

The size of an umbrella is important as you will want to make sure that everyone sitting at a table or occasional group gets the necessary coverage from the sun. Having the proper shade can reduce the temperature beneath it by up to 20 degrees compared to direct sun.

Size recommendations:

  • 7’ diameter – okay for small conversation areas and bistro tables under 42” in diameter
  • 9’ diameter – works well for a table up to 48” round
  • 11’ or larger  diameter – better for tables that are 60” round & up
  • Rectangular sizes up to 10’ x 13’ – for long dining or deep seating groups.

Stabilizing Your Umbrella

 

The biggest enemy of umbrellas is wind.  Just about all umbrella warranties are voided if the damage is wind related.

How to protect your umbrella from wind:

  • When not in active use, keep  your patio umbrellas closed.
  • When not in use for an extended period, remove the umbrella completely from the table and/or stand and lay it down or store it inside for safety.
  • Choose the right base with the right weight for your umbrella and environment.
    • Smaller/lighter umbrellas can at times be supported simply by being positioned in the table holes, but it is not recommended unless the table itself is REALLY sturdy.
    • A general and somewhat obvious rule of thumb is that the larger the umbrella the heavier the base required.  Many bases are designed so that additional weight can be added if needed.
    • A standard 9’ umbrella can often make do with a 50lb base.
    • Larger umbrellas – depending on the location and the propensity of wind may require bases up to 150 lbs
    • Cantilevered umbrellas can require bases that when filled with sand can weigh as much as 400lbs.

Choosing Fabric

 

Choosing the right fabric for your outdoor umbrella is about more than matching your furniture. A great pattern or color on your umbrella can transform an outdoor space into a real design statement. You want the color, shape, and texture to last throughout the season and beyond. This is where choosing the right fabric comes into play.

How to choose the right fabric:

  • Inexpensive umbrellas are invariably made from lesser quality (less expensive) fabrics. Most of these will not be fade resistant and will lose color in one season. If not color fast, you may not be able to effectively clean an inferior fabric. Also, if the fabric is not purposefully suited for use outdoors, rips, tears, punctures may occur.
  • Today’s outdoor fabrics are much more diverse in selection, color, and pattern. Look for ‘fade resistant’ (nothing is completely fade proof) and cleaning methods to find the best and longest lasting fabric option for your environment. These better fabrics will also come with warranties for the fabric, too!

Maintenance

 

Maintaining your patio umbrella helps ensure a better look and a longer lifespan.

How to maintain your umbrella:

  • In winter months or when not in use for a prolonged period we would recommend storing your umbrella indoors or in a protected space. An alternative is to cover the umbrella in the closed/locked position. There are suitable covers that fit over umbrellas for this purpose.
  • Before storing, it is important to clean the fabric portion so that dirt does not stay ingrained.
    • Open the umbrella and lay it down on a protected surface using towels or a tarp to protect the umbrella from direct contact with the ground.
    • Hose down the umbrella to remove the loose dirt or dust.
    • Follow that with warm, soapy water and a light scrubbing.
    • Hose off any remaining soapy residue and then put the umbrella back up and open to let it dry completely before storing.
    • There are also fabric protectants that can also be used to enhance and extend the life of your fabric.
  • Metal, fiberglass or plastic components of your umbrella can generally be taken care of with similar soap and warm water.
  • Moving parts can be treated with a non staining lubricant (silicone based) spray.
  • Better quality umbrellas also have the option of ordering replacement parts. Replacing a pole, rib, or canopy is much less expensive than replacing the entire umbrella every year.

Lighting

 

Add Lighting to make your umbrella the life of the party!

Adding lighting:

  • Some umbrellas have built in LED lighting along the ribs of the umbrella.
  • There are aftermarket LED light systems that mount at the top of the central pole. This unit can be mounted to point the light down or positioned to bounce off the canopy.

Synopsis

Adding an umbrella to your outdoor living areas will protect you from the sun, will keep you feeling much cooler and will add a wonderful splash of color. The better quality that you choose combined with basic maintenance will give you years of enjoyment.

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