Those of you who live in the northern hemisphere spare a thought for us as you’re putting your patio umbrella up – ours will be coming down. Those drawn out days of summer, sitting on the patio and drinking cold beer have come to an end and the patio will once again become a sparse area of our garden.

Friends lent us their patio umbrella this year, as we will eventually be putting a roof over our patio – hopefully before next summer. It was a huge market umbrella that completely covered our outdoor table and chairs and sheltered us from the sun and made the patio area liveable during the warmer months.

One advantage of having a patio umbrella over permanently covering your patio is that they give shade in the summer but you can remove them in winter and allow the sun to filter through.

If you are looking to buy a patio umbrella here are Shade Australia’s 10 Tips for buying one.

  1. Our experience has been that we fit an umbrella for a customer and they will say, “That’s great, I love it but I wish I had gone for the next size up.” This isn’t a sales pitch to get you to buy a bigger umbrella, it is our genuine experience with umbrellas. Usually, the cost of a slightly bigger umbrellas is only incrementally more but people think that they will go with the smaller on and it will do the job. Often it will but think of it this way, the sun is moving across the sky and as it moves, so does the shade it casts. If you and your friends sit down for lunch at noon and everyone is in the shade, by 1.30pm you could end up with half the guests baking in the hot sun at one end of the table.
  2. If you intend to put the umbrella through a table, check the height of the table first and then check the height of the umbrella when it is closed BEFORE taking it home.
  3. Ensure that your umbrellas can be properly secured to the ground if you intend to use it in breezy conditions. An umbrella blowing down the street can be a very dangerous object.
  4. Umbrellas on rooftops are much more susceptible to wind than umbrellas on flat level ground. This in part is because of the uplift of the wind which can get under the umbrella and acting like a parachute in reverse causing strong lifting forces. Be careful in selecting the correct base option for your umbrella if you intend to use in a high area.
  5. Consider whether you are purchasing the umbrella primarily for shade or for rain protection. If it is a shade umbrella the canopy should have a UPF 50 rating. If you require a waterproof umbrella then you need to go to different fabrics such as PVC.
  6. Be wary about buying an umbrella if you want it to shade you in the early morning or late afternoon. Unless you can have it so that some form of curtains can be attached to it, or unless it has a rotation or tilt feature, it won’t work. You will be sitting directly beneath the umbrella and the shade will be out to one side.
  7. If the umbrella needs to be moved on a regular basis, consider its design in terms of portability. How heavy is it? Can it be disconnected easily from its base? How tall is it when collapsed?
  8. Consider the ease of opening the umbrella. Some units have a winch, some have a rope and pulley system. Larger umbrellas can be quite heavy to open especially if you need to do-so on a regular basis.
  9. The type of canopy you choose for your umbrella can make all the difference. Listed are some of the most popular canopy types with a note about their various pros and cons:
    1. PVC: Fully waterproof and also blocks 100% of UV which which could be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on what you want from your umbrella.
    2. Acrylic: Essentially a heavy, hardwearing canvas. Good quality acrylic holds it colour very well, lasts for years and gives good protection against all but the heaviest rain.
    3. Polyester: A much lighter weight fabric than acrylic, polyester usually offers only low protection from rain and depending on the thickness of the weave (6oz, 8oz) offers medium to high UV protection. Usually used on market umbrellas at the lower end of the price bracket.
    4. Shadecloth: Good quality shadecloth is a fantastic product on umbrellas that are required only for shade. A perfect example is an umbrella around a swimming pool. Good shadecloth should have a UV rating of at least 94% UV protection. Shadecloth also creates beautiful cool shade as it breathes allowing the hot air to rise. High quality shadecloths are do offer some protection against rain but should not be considered as waterproof.
  10. Understand how umbrellas are measured. Essentially umbrellas come in a few standards shapes, square, rectangular, hexagonal (6 sided) and octagonal (eight sided). Umbrellas are measured by their canopy size when fully opened. An octagonal umbrella is measured diagonally at its widest point. Octagonal umbrellas don’t give as much coverage as square umbrellas. For example a 3 metre square umbrella gives 9 square metres of coverage whereas a 3 metre octagonal umbrella gives only 5.95 square metres of coverage.

Once you’ve bought your umbrella there are some care and maintenance requirements you will need to adhere to if you want to keep it looking good year after year.

So what’s the difference between a patio umbrella and a market umbrella? Essentially, nothing. The only small difference is that patio umbrellas usually have a valance around the edge of the umbrella while market umbrellas don’t.

These days most patio umbrellas are constructed of light-weight aluminium and are designed to be free standing. You can buy umbrella stands (usually cast iron) that can weigh the patio umbrella down to stop it moving too much in light breezes.

Cantilever Patio Umbrella

Cantilevered umbrellas have their supporting post offset rather than directly in the middle of the shaded area. They allow the umbrella to be moved around as the sun moves throughout the day and provides more options for shade on your patio or outdoor area.

The only downside of this type of patio umbrella is that it’s even harder to control in windy conditions than a normal market umbrella.

Thatch Patio Umbrella

As many gardeners mimic tropical garden settings thatch umbrellas are becoming more and more common. This type of umbrella would be a permanent feature in your garden as they can not be pulled down and stored. The beauty of their thatching is that it allows wind to filter through the straw rather than try to suppress it and so they don’t succumb to much damage during windy conditions – certainly not unfixable, anyway.

Remote-Controlled Patio Umbrella

For the ultimate lazy summer days manufacturers have now produced remote-controlled patio umbrellas. At the flick of a switch you can open the umbrella’s canopy and close it just as easy.
The downside: Having another remote!

Skyline Umbrella

Here’s another interpretation on a common theme – a square or rectangular patio umbrella. The shape more resembles that of a house roof with the obvious benefit of providing more shade during the whole day.