Table of Contents
- 1 Things to Consider when Buying a Patio Umbrella
- 1.1 What style of outdoor umbrella is right?
- 1.2 What pole or frame material should I use?
- 1.3 What size umbrella canopy is right?
- 1.4 Suggested canopy sizes
- 1.5 Shape
- 1.6 What canopy fabric should I use?
- 1.7 Comparison of patio umbrella canopy fabrics
- 1.8 What kind of base or stand is appropriate?
- 1.9 How heavy does the base need to be?
- 1.10 Pole Diameter
- 1.11 Additional Features
- 1.12 Accessories
- 1.13 Patio Umbrella Alternatives
- 2 Frequently Asked Questions
- 2.1 What are the parts of a patio umbrella?
- 2.2 How do you care for and maintain a patio umbrella?
- 2.3 Who makes the best patio umbrellas?
- 2.4 Image Credits
Things to Consider when Buying a Patio Umbrella
Modern architectural design incorporates a seamless transition from indoor to outdoor spaces. Elaborate decks and lavish outdoor furniture allow you to enjoy nature, without sacrificing style or comfort. As spring and summer arrive, you’ll spend more and more time outside entertaining or lounging poolside. To keep you and your guests cool and protected from the hot sun, it’s important to have ample shade. Patio umbrellas are a prudent solution, in lieu of more permanent construction. However, choosing the right outdoor umbrella can be challenging. Based on your home, environment, budget and preference, there are many factors to take into consideration. This guide will help you gain a better understanding of patio umbrellas, their styles, materials and features. This knowledge will help take the uncertainty out of your buying decision and ensure that you can relax outdoors for years to come.
What style of outdoor umbrella is right?
The first decision you have to make, when buying a patio umbrella, is what style you want. Your outdoor space constraints, furniture layout and expected usage can all factor into which style is right for you. Even after considering all of these variables, your own personal taste is the final determinant. So what is out there? There’s a wide variety of umbrellas to choose from, but they all essentially fall into one of two categories: freestanding or offset.
Freestanding (a.k.a. Center Pole)
The defining characteristic of freestanding patio umbrellas is the presence of a straight center pole that extends from the top of the canopy to a securing base. It may be a single, solid piece or two separate pieces that are joined together. It’s important to note that freestanding umbrellas may be stabilized by either a mobile or fixed base. This is the most common style of outdoor umbrella and it has been around for a long time. Within the freestanding category, there are a number of variations.
- Market Umbrella – This is the most popular style of freestanding umbrella. It has a round or octagonal shape with a clean edge. Some canopies are vented to encourage airflow, which cools the area below and helps the umbrella withstand windy conditions.
- Beach Umbrella – This type of umbrella tends to have a minimalist style. The canopy usually has a round shape with hanging valences around the edge. Many beach umbrellas utilize a simple spiked base, which is inserted into the sand.
- Half Umbrella – This specialized umbrella is constructed with one flat side, which allows it to be placed flush against a wall. It’s perfect for shading balconies or small porches that have confined spaces. Think of it as portable awning. Canopies are rounded or straight with clean edges, drapes or valences.
Offset (a.k.a. Cantilever)
Offset outdoor umbrellas, also known as cantilevers, feature an arched or jointed pole positioned off to one side. The canopy is supported from the side and above, which allows it to hang freely over a variety of seating and table configurations. The main benefit of modern cantilever umbrellas is that they can shade a large area without the obstruction that a center pole causes. This is especially important if you are shading a dining table that does not have an umbrella hole, or a hot tub. Many cantilevers can also rotate to provide 360° coverage, which makes them even more versatile. Offset patio umbrellas require heavier bases than center poles and are typically more expensive.
What pole or frame material should I use?
Choosing the material for your umbrella frame is really about deciding what your priorities are. Are you trying to match the look of your outdoor furniture set? Are you most concerned about durability in a moist or windy environment? Or, do you really want to complement the landscape and architectural design of your home? Heck, you might simply want to help your favorite canopy fabric really “pop.” The three primary materials used to construct patio umbrella poles and frames are wood, aluminum and fiberglass. Each material has its own benefits and characteristics, so you’ll have to decide which one best suits your needs.
Wooden umbrellas have classic, timeless appeal. Their natural, sophisticated look works well in lush green environments, where nature is at the forefront. A well-maintained wooden umbrella is a beautiful accent to rich woodgrain furniture and a hardwood deck. The most common hardwoods used are teak, eucalyptus and bamboo. However, these costly raw materials make wood umbrellas very expensive. Wood is treated to resist insects, decay and weather damage, but it does tend to fade after extended exposure to the sun and rain. Additionally, wooden poles are less durable than their aluminum and fiberglass counterparts, and can even snap when faced with extremely strong winds. Many manufacturers offer faux wood finishes on their metallic or fiberglass models, if you decide that you absolutely must have the look of wood.
Aluminum patio umbrellas have a sleek modern vibe that complements minimalist decor and wide open spaces. This alloy is inexpensive, lightweight and durable, which make it a great choice for outdoor shades. Most aluminum frames are powder-coated or anodized to resist corrosion and other signs of wear. Aluminum is inherently malleable and strong, so it can be shaped into extremely dynamic and interesting shapes that wood cannot attain. It also comes in a wide variety of finishes, which helps it coordinate with other furniture pieces. Aluminum will not break in high winds, although it can warp after prolonged exposure over a long period of time. Aluminum frames and poles also tend to offer many features, such as crank lifts and tilting.
Outdoor umbrellas with fiberglass poles and frames are among the most durable on the market. Fiberglass is lightweight, strong and far more flexible than wood or aluminum. This flexibility allows it to bend without breaking, in even the most severe wind storms. Additionally, fiberglass does not rust or rot, so it even performs well in wet conditions. While it tends to be more expensive than the other material options, its ability to withstand extreme weather conditions for years make it a strong investment in the long run. Fiberglass umbrellas are available in a variety of colors, which helps them blend into any outdoor color palette. Many modern patio umbrellas pair fiberglass ribs with aluminum poles to reap the benefits of both materials. Tilt and crank lift features are also available on most fiberglass umbrellas.
What size umbrella canopy is right?
Once you’ve decided on the style of patio umbrella and frame material, it’s time to figure out what size canopy you need. If it’s too small, you won’t have enough shade to do the trick. But, a large patio umbrella may overpower your space and ruin the ambiance of your deck or pool area. Your environment may also have physical constraints, such as overhanging branches, eaves or walls, that limit your options.
However, a good guideline is to first measure the area or table that you want to shade. Be sure to take into consideration the room needed to comfortably situate chairs. Then, add 2 to 2 1/2 feet to each side to determine the canopy diameter that provides just the right amount of shade. Review the reference table below for examples.
Suggested canopy sizes
|Shade Area Diameter||Umbrella Canopy Diameter|
|up to 36 inches||7 to 8 feet|
|up to 48 inches||8 to 9 feet|
|up to 60 inches||9 to 10 feet|
|up to 72 inches||10 to 11 feet|
|up to 84 inches||11 to 12 feet|
|up to 96 inches||12 to 13 feet|
|up to 108 inches||13 to 14 feet|
Choosing the shape of your sun umbrella canopy comes down to three things: the shape of the table or space you want to cover; any physical constraints of your outdoor environment; and of course your personal aesthetic preference.
If the table or the lounging area you want to shade is symmetrical, a round (really it’s octagonal or even hexagonal) umbrella is a solid choice. Rounded canopies also complement traditional design styles, while providing an organic feel that helps to create a welcoming ambiance. If you have a lot of surrounding foliage, round canopies may reduce the need to prune additional branches.
Square canopies are another obvious choice for symmetrical spaces, and provide maximum shade. They tend to enhance contemporary decor styles and create a sleek elegant look. Squared canopies also provide a sense of visual balance when combined with parallel architectural features of your deck or patio.
Oval or longer tables are often best served by rectangular shaped umbrella canopies. A square or rounded umbrella that shades the entire length of a long table can overwhelm the space. Similarly, lanais and small balconies may require thinner options, because there just physically isn’t enough room for anything else.
What canopy fabric should I use?
Choosing your canopy material is one of the most important decisions you have when buying a patio umbrella. Not only is the color or pattern the most visible aspect of the umbrella, but ultimately it is what protects you from the heat and glare of the sun. Canopies are made from many different materials with their own physical characteristics, benefits, drawbacks and cost considerations. Here are a few of the more common canopy material options and brands.
Acrylic – Sunbrella®
Sunbrella acrylic fabric is generally regarded as the gold standard of residential and commercial grade outdoor textiles. It’s resistant to the elements and holds its color for years. Sunbrella is available in hundreds of solid colors and patterns, and is used for outdoor umbrellas, shades, awnings, upholstery and pillows.
Polyester – Pacifica®
Pacifica polyester fabric is rich in color and luxurious to the touch. Its proprietary fibers hold color up to four times longer than traditional polyester, while retaining other characteristics comparable to acrylic at a lower cost. Pacifica is available in 20 standard solid colors.
Olefin – Texsilk®
Texsilk olefin fabric is an environmentally responsible outdoor material that provides a high degree of UV protection. It’s stain resistant and durable enough to withstand bleach and chlorine cleaning. Texsilk is available in over one hundred solid, striped and checked patterns.
Polyethylene – Coolaroo®
Coolaroo polyethylene fabric was created to withstand extreme Australian weather conditions. Its unique, patented yarn weave allows cooling breezes to pass through the fabric, while it repels the heat and harmful UV rays of the sun. Coolaroo is available in a limited variety of solid colors and woven patterns.
Comparison of patio umbrella canopy fabrics
|Material||100% solution dyed acrylic fabric||100% solution dyed polyester fabric||100% solution dyed synthetic polyolefin fabric||Dyed high density knitted polyethylene fabric|
|Fade Resistant||Yes||Yes, but fades more easily||Yes||Yes, but fabric is semi-translucent|
|Cleaning||Soap, water & even bleach||Soap & water||Soap, water & even bleach||Soap & water|
|Warranty||5 to 10 year limited warranty against fading (based on grade)||4 year limited warranty against fading||2 year limited warranty against fading||5 year warranty against UV damage (excluding fading)|
|Other||Greenguard & Skin Cancer Foundation certified||Soft to the touch||OEKO-TEX certified. Eco-friendly – 100% recyclable||Encourages cool airflow – great for hot climates|
What kind of base or stand is appropriate?
Once you’ve determined the style and size of your patio umbrella, you’ll need to figure out what kind of base you want or need. Choosing the right base or stand is critical to ensure that your umbrella is stable and upright under calm conditions and does not fly away when there’s a gentle breeze. Center pole and cantilever umbrellas can use either mobile or fixed bases, but the latter is more appropriate the larger the umbrella is and the windier the setting.
Mobile bases are what most people think of when they picture residential outdoor umbrella set ups. Even though they are heavy, these stands can be moved from one spot to another with minimal difficulty (some have wheels to make this easier). Most mobile bases are round, square or rectangular and are made from iron, concrete or stone. There are also hollow plastic ones that require you to add sand or water to create the weightiness. Most manufacturers provide a variety of finishes, so you can coordinate with your furniture. If you have an outdoor table with an umbrella hole, you’ll need to carefully measure your mobile base to ensure that it can safely fit below.
A fixed base is commonly used when a deck umbrella is very large, the environment is windy or it’s a commercial installation. As the name indicates, fixed bases are not portable. They are secured to a single location by means of an attachment kit that varies by surface type. In practice, fixed bases are the best choice to guarantee the stability of your umbrella. Commercial environments are extremely active and the decor takes a regular beating, so it makes sense to minimize the chance of an umbrella being tipped over by passers by. Nature and life is unpredictable, so eliminating any uncertainty about the safety of your shade lets you relax in peace. There are a few types of fixed bases:
- Floor Mount – This is the most popular fixed base structure. Floor mounting kits enable you to quickly secure a base plate and sleeve to a concrete patio, hardwood deck or cement poolside. They work great beneath all kinds of umbrella tables, since you don’t need clearance for a bulky stand.
- Wall Mount – This type of fixed base can only be employed for cantilever umbrellas that are designed to accommodate a vertical mounting. Consider a wall mount when you have a small area, where ground space is at a premium.
- In-Ground – These bases are inserted directly into the ground and can be secured by pouring concrete around them. Typically, these are only used for very small umbrellas. If you have soft dirt or loose gravel and want to establish a permanent setting, this type of base is probably not the best choice.
How heavy does the base need to be?
The required weight of your mobile base is dependent on three factors: the size of your umbrella canopy; the expected environmental conditions; and the presence or absence of an umbrella table. There are many schools of thought as to how much weight is needed, but we tend to err on the side of safety. To account for average wind conditions, our rule of thumb for free standing center pole umbrellas is 10 pounds per canopy foot. If the pole is running through an umbrella table, you can reduce it to 5 pounds per foot. The best cantilever patio umbrellas either include or identify the appropriate mobile base, or provide you with choices of fixed mount options, so there’s usually less confusion.
Whether you’re using a mobile or fixed base, make sure that it can accommodate the diameter of the umbrella pole. Most center pole umbrellas range from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. If you’re purchasing the umbrella and base from different sources, please be sure to double check with the manufacturers to ensure compatibility.
Standard patio umbrellas are relatively static, which can pose challenges as the sun travels across the sky or you move furniture. Some umbrellas, however, offer additional dynamic features that can resolve these shade problems.
Certain freestanding crank lift umbrellas include a tilting function that enables you to angle the canopy shade. This allows you to more effectively block the sun throughout the day, without having to reposition the umbrella. See the FAQ section (at the bottom of this article) to learn about the different tilt mechanisms. Tilting patio umbrellas are less stable that static ones, and are not recommended for high use or commercial installations.
Some cantilever umbrellas have 360° rotation capability. This allows you to cover a much larger area, without ever moving the base (not even a choice if you have a mounted base). This is extremely handy if you continually move about during the day and want to remain in the shade.
There are other items that you should consider when ordering a patio umbrella.
If your outdoor entertaining continues into the evening, you might think about adding some patio umbrella lights. LED lights generate far less heat than previous bulbs, so they can be built into the ribs or hubs of modern umbrellas. Or, you can purchase them separately and mount them on the underside or perimeter of the canopy. Many sizes, configurations and colors of lights are available, so you can customize the ambiance you want to create.
A weather-proof cover is a “must have” accessory for any outdoor umbrella. Your shade takes a beating during the heat of the day and in the summer months, so it deserves the protection of a cover during its down time. Most covers are made from durable canvas fabrics, but hard shell versions do exist, as well. See the maintenance and storage tips below to learn why a cover is critical to extending the life of your umbrella.
Patio Umbrella Alternatives
Sometimes, an umbrella is not the best shade solution for a particular outdoor circumstance. There are a number of stylish options available, each with its own specific application.
These contemporary personal shades have chic organic or geometric designs, and have been growing in popularity. They’re typically used to shield an individual chaise or sunlounger. Shade leafs consist of a small base with an artistic canopy that arches over the chair. Luxury resorts and hotels, in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and other balmy climates, will often have shade leafs poolside for their upscale clientele. Shade leafs usually have rotating canvased frames, which allow you to continually adjust the level of sun exposure, without disturbing your neighbor. They are lightweight, so they’re easy to move about if you change your furniture configuration.
These elegant contemporary shades are a variation on cantilever umbrellas. Their offset poles support flat geometric shades that can easily be rotated, angled, raised or lowered. They may not have the overall coverage of larger umbrellas, but they do provide many of the same benefits. Unlike traditional umbrellas, the canopies of sun shades don’t open and close. However, their lower profiles are more aerodynamic and capable of withstanding stronger winds, depending on the design. They’re used as an expression of aesthetic taste, as much as for a specific functional purpose. Alone, they are iconic visions. In a row or grouped, they create an artistic vista of order.
These eye-catching stretched canvas shades create a wondrous covering of geometric shapes, without destroying the natural beauty of the skyline. Consisting of triangles, squares and rectangles of varying sizes, these sails protect against the glare and pounding heat of the sun above, while still allowing cooling airflow below. Their design is quite simple, but effective and customizable. The corners of the pieces of canvas are secured to sliding tracks on walls or mounted poles and stretched until taut. They are used alone or in combinations that can be adjusted throughout the day. They’re a stylish option for large commercial dining areas.
These spacious structures are essentially portable rooms with shade options and varying levels of creature comfort. They’re often used to shelter sectional arrangements and dining sets, where entertaining may extend into the evening. There is a wide variety of structural compositions and price points. On the low end, a cabana may simply consist of four sturdy poles with cross bars and a canvas canopy. Most include curtains to provide additional protection and privacy. On the high end, you might see louvered wooden or aluminum walls, retractable canopies and built-in seating. Some luxury versions even offer lighting, ceiling fans, speakers and Bluetooth capability.
These simple structured shades are great for covering wide outdoor areas that are too large for a standard umbrella. Pavilions offer an expansive open area for large leisure seating or tables, without obstructing the view. They’re often used, in hospitality and residential settings, to provide cover for food and beverage service areas. There are a variety of pavilion designs, but they all essentially consist of dual side supports that provide a framework for a basic canopy covering. A few of the bells and whistles include: pull-down side shades for morning and early evening sun; retractable canopies; and easy set-up, break down and storage. If a cabana is a little too much to handle, a pavilion is a sensible choice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the parts of a patio umbrella?
When you’re researching outdoor umbrellas and comparing different brands and models, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the various components and options. Buyers should utilize the table below to identify common umbrella parts and learn their functions.
|For traditional market style umbrellas, the main support for the canopy is a vertical rod or pole. They’re available in a variety of widths and often come in two pieces for easier shipping and storage. Single pieces and thicker poles are more resilient to windy conditions. Cantilever style umbrellas utilize an offset angular structure to support the canopy. They are multi-jointed and often provide 360° rotational capabilities.|
Ribs or Struts
|The slender pieces that give patio umbrellas their shape and hold the shade cover in the open position are called ribs or struts. There are two types of ribs:
|The ringed apparatus that work in concert with the ribs are called hubs. There are two types of hubs:
|The object that sits at the apex of a patio umbrella is called the finial or ferrule. It is both functional and decorative, as it anchors the canopy to the pole and provides a bit of aesthetic flair.|
|The fabric part of a patio umbrella that blocks the sun is generally referred to as the canopy. In addition to the overall shade body, there are often two additional parts to a canopy:
|Outdoor umbrellas are opened when the runner hub and support ribs are raised via a lift mechanism. There are multiple types to choose from:
If you’re running your umbrella through a tall outdoor table, be sure to check the height of the lift mechanism to ensure that it clears the tabletop.
|Some high end umbrellas allow you to tilt the canopy to maintain directional shade, as the sun moves throughout the day. It can be especially helpful for residential installations with close quarters. There are a few types to choose from:
|Freestanding patio umbrellas are secured within a weighted base or stand to keep them upright, and prevent them from tipping over in windy conditions. Bases are made from or use a variety of heavy materials to provide stability.|
|In lieu of a base, patio umbrellas may be stabilized using a more permanent mounting apparatus. There are different configurations, based on the surface on which the umbrella is being attached.|
How do you care for and maintain a patio umbrella?
To ensure that your outdoor umbrella is looking great and working properly year after year, it’s important to keep it clean, maintained and protected at all times.
Cleaning your Outdoor Umbrella
You should frequently clean your patio umbrella to ensure that it retains its appearance and remains free from debris that could hinder performance. Open the canopy completely and, using a hose, spray everything down with water.
- Fabric cleaning – In general, mild soap and water is fine for most canopy fabrics, but be sure to read the instructions from the manufacturer for their recommendations. Use a sponge, dish rag or soft bristle brush to clean any problem areas. Let the cleaning solution soak in for a bit and then rinse, since soapy buildup can lead to mildew. Keep the canopy open to allow the fabric to air dry completely.
- Frame cleaning – The directions for washing your umbrella frame are the same, whether it is wood, metal or fiberglass. Using a clean damp cloth, wipe down the ribs, hubs, pole and finial. Be especially careful around the joints, lift and tilt mechanisms, since you don’t want any threads or debris getting caught up in the moving parts. In most instances, mild soapy water is okay to use for cleaning very dirty areas, but consult the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure. It’s very important that you avoid using an abrasive cloth or harsh cleaners, as they could damage the finish of your wood or metal frame. Keep the canopy open to allow the frame to completely air dry before closing.
Patio Umbrella Maintenance Tips
Throughout the warm and temperate seasons, a little common sense and care will go a long way toward keeping your outdoor umbrella in tip top shape.
- Open it gently – Most umbrellas are designed to rest comfortably in a fully closed position. To properly and safely open yours, push and extend the main canopy ribs away from the pole a bit before engaging the lift mechanism. If you notice that the umbrella is struggling to open, don’t force it – you may need to clear stray twigs or leaves that may be hindering proper functioning of the lift.
- Close it when not in use – Even if you have a substantial base or mounting fixture, it’s wise to keep your outdoor umbrella collapsed, in its locked position, when you are not using it. Inclement weather and high winds can play havoc with an open umbrella. Rather than risk damaging your umbrella’s ribs or launching it across the yard, take a few moments to close it. Many manufacturers exclude wind damage from their warrantees, so be smart.
- Keep it dry – Ideally, you should employ an umbrella cover whenever it’s not in use. In addition to protecting it from unnecessary exposure to the sun, a cover helps keep out mildew causing moisture. If you can’t always put the cover on, be sure that you completely dry the canopy before closing the umbrella. Most outdoor fabrics are treated to resist mold and mildew, but moisture can collect and remain protected within the folds of a closed umbrella.
- Review manufacturer recommendations – Each manufacturer has instructions and tips for using their umbrellas. Some woods require periodic oiling, while others can go without it completely. Different materials and structural designs have their own specific guidelines for upkeep, so brush up on what you need to do before you set up your umbrella.
Protection & Storage of Your Umbrella
During the off-season, or when there are extended periods of time during which your patio umbrella remains idle, you should carefully remove the pole and canopy from the base or mount and store it properly.
- Make sure it’s clean and dry – Follow the guidelines listed earlier, before storing your patio umbrella.
- Use a protective cover – The cover will prevent moisture build-up, block dust and debris, and minimize inadvertent damage from other items brushing up against it.
- Wrap the folds in one direction – To minimize wrinkling and preserve the aesthetic qualities of your canopy, wrap the folds in the same direction, before securing it within the cover.
- Cover the pole ends – To minimize damage to the ends of the pole, you should cover them with cardboard or heavy rags.
- Store it in an upright position – Laying umbrellas on their sides puts unneeded weight on the rib assembly, especially if other items are apt to be stacked on them or they are at risk of being stepped on.
- Keep it in an enclosed dry area – Be sure to store your umbrella in a dry covered space like a garage, basement or pool house in the off-season. Even if it has a protective cover, the cold and moisture have a way of creeping in and damaging items left outdoors and unattended for too long.
Who makes the best patio umbrellas?
There are countless manufacturers of outdoor patio umbrellas. They offer a wide range of products that appeal to a variety of budgets. Many of these brands provide value for a low cost, and are certainly good options in the short run. However, as a retailer of luxury outdoor furnishings, Decor Interiors focuses on products that perform and look great over the long run. The following brands may be more expensive, but their premium umbrellas have cutting edge designs and are made from the finest materials, using state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques. These collections are also backed by industry leading warranties and service agreements.
|Architectural grade shades with contemporary, precision-engineered designs for high end residential and commercial outdoor applications.|
|Unique and innovative shade solutions with thoughtful, refined designs that enhance the natural ambiance of the outdoors for years.|
|Eco-friendly bamboo umbrellas with sleek, modern designs that are extremely weather resistant – even in the most windy conditions.|
|Market and cantilevered umbrellas with patented auto-tilt technology and marine grade finishes.|
- Shade Leafs
- Sun Shades
- Shade Sails
- Canopy Fabric
- Mobile Base
- Fixed Base
- Protection & Storage