How do I choose a shade structure?

If you’re looking into purchasing a commercial shade structure, you may eventually feel like you’ve entered a foreign land. Trying to find the right solution for your park, playground, or parking area can start to feel like learning a foreign language.

There is a lot to digest as you try to choose the right structure, and it becomes increasingly difficult as deadlines draw closer and you want to protect your kids or community from the hot summer sun. Investing in a shade structure is an expensive endeavor, so choosing the right one is important. We hope the article below can shed some light on the subject for you.

We have found following your typical who/what/where/when/why/how line of questioning is very helpful!

Who will be using it?

Whenever you’re thinking about outfitting your built space, you need to think about the people. Who will be enjoying the shade? How old are they? What do the foot traffic patterns look like there? Do you expect people to eat nearby and have picnic tables? Why do they need shade and will they also need drinking water too?

Knowing who will be using the structure is important because it'll help determine which way you go . For example, if the structure will have kids around, it is important to get a high entry height in order to prevent curious kids from jumping to grab hold. When covering a playground, we like to keep the shade height 7' above the tallest surface you can stand on.

Will you be covering a basketball court and have teenagers using it? You may want to think through the rules you set to protect the shade structure investment.

Also, who will be taking care of the structure? How regularly will they be inspecting the structure? Do they have access to electricity and water? Will they be taking the fabric down to wash it or during harsh weather? Do they have the proper equipment for that process?

What is my budget?

If you run a parks department or small business, budget is always going to be top of mind. We know, shade structures can be expensive. A good shade structure can last a lifetime, a big price tag should never hold you or your organization back. There are many nationwide and community grants available for these types of purchases, have you thought about funding options? It can be important to recognize this purchase as an investment in your business or community and the health of your constituents.

With a non-porous permanent structure that includes an aluminum or shingled roof, you can expect the structure to last for a very long time. That said, you will pay quite a bit more and find yourself spending a lot more money for replacing and servicing it. With a fabric structure, the steel will last just as long as any non-porous permanent structure, but you can pay a fraction of the cost and get replacement fabrics as needed for a small cost.

Your budget constraint May actually determine the shape, height, and size of the shade structure you can purchase. For example, sale shades with tension mounts require a heavier gauge steel, which quickly increases the cost.

When you get into varying fabric levels or complicated posts, you’ll see cost rise as well. For example, going with an hexagon shape will simply increase the number of posts you need, increasing the steel being used.

Another potential factor that your budget will guide is the installation costs. Installation in general can cost up to 100% of the shade price. That means that you could pay a total of $10,000 to install a $5,000 shade. Add in any access constraints for heavy machinery, and this cost could go even higher.

Depending upon the lengths and dimensions you choose, shipping may cost you upwards of $2,000, so you’ll want to take that into account as well.

We go into a lot more detail around a budget in this article.

Where am I going to use it?

Are you putting this shade at a playground? Are you covering a play system, a parking lot, a pool? Maybe a water slide? If you’re covering parking, it’s important to think through the coverage you’re interested in. If you’re shading a pool, that poses new questions and needs.

Think through the site constraints as well! Is the area flat? Will the posts all be able to be set at the same level? Does it have good access for augurs and other heavy machinery to set the posts? Have you taken careful measurements of the area for your product search?

How about the footers and anchors? Are you attaching it to a concrete slab? Installation is definitely a construction site, so is your surrounding area okay being torn up for installation or are there other considerations needed with hiring an installer?

When will the most people be using the shade structure?

This one can feel a little obvious. Of course your shade structure will be used during the summer and times of good weather. But, have you considered what time of day do you expect the most traffic? For instance, if you’re buying a shade structure for a school and recess is typically at 10 AM, your positioning and shape may differ greatly from and after school daycare that expects usage to be from 3-5 PM.

You didn’t realize that you had to be a part-time astronomer, did you? It can certainly be helpful to think through these issues before they arise.

Why do I need this shade structure?

Of course, you’re looking to provide someone with shade, that’s the easy answer. But it may be smart to think about it again. Are you hoping for UV protection or needing shelter from high winds? All of these are important for understanding what components and features you’ll need in your shade structure.

With fancy options to create conduits for electricity and water misters, you may find that knowing more about why you need a shade structure will help you determine which one you’d need.

How am I going to install it?

Have you discussed installation with a professional? Have you considered the amount of tools and equipment they will need on site? Can you shut down the park or shaded area for up to a week in order to complete the installation process?

Installation is a much larger consideration than you may expect. Depending upon the size of the shade you choose, you may need to dig holes that are up to 5 feet in diameter and 6’ deep. To drill those kinds of holes, you need access to the area for some serious equipment. Pouring concrete and setting posts can be difficult, so you’ll want to make sure an experienced professional is involved in the installation.

Given the answer to these questions, you will be better informed when choosing the best shade structure for your business.

Other Considerations

Now that you have answered the questions above, we wanted to go into a few more details that you should consider when surveying your options.


Depending upon which type of shade structure you choose, maintenance can look very different. A permanent non-porous structure can be much more difficult to clean on a regular basis. A fabric shade structure is much easier to pull down and power wash as needed.

We go into depth on how to maintain a shade structure here.

Think hard through the maintenance process, as it facts you’re operating budget and the quality of your shade structure investment for the long term.


This is a really fun part when shopping for a shade structure. The fabric shade structure allows for a lot of meat elements and sidelines for your structure compared to more rigid and non-porous options. With the ability to change the connection heights and number of posts, you can really get some interesting patterns and shapes going. You can do all of this at a relatively low cost.

Custom and interesting designs may pose some maintenance and budget challenges, but on the whole we have found customers to greatly appreciate the aesthetics.

Please take a deeper look at our article on your shape options.

Customizations and Options

Here’s another fun section, where you can add some neat stuff. Working with the right suppliers and manufacturers, you can ask for electricity to be run for audio speakers or channel water throughout two mist the shade area. We have seen some people include shelves and plugs for their poolside cell phone charging stations.

You may find your space constraint limited and want a tall entry height. Where does that leave you if you really need more shade? You could request a fabric valance dripping from one side of your shade structure in order to create more shade despite these limitations.

Other options at your fingertips are varying colors of posts and shades. We have found that you really can dream up new ideas and see what is possible.


Choosing a shade structure is no small task, but it can be done if you think through your needs and answer a few questions before you begin looking at your options. When looking for a shade structure it is important to define your needs. Once you’ve done so, check out what types of shade structures are available.

Shade structures