When the sun goes down, we loved to sit out on our back patio. Yet, we never used the patio on hot summer days, as the sun beating down made it unbearable.
Eileen and I had discussed how nice some kind of shade would be, and we were somewhat keen on the idea of a retractable awning.
With our son’s birthday party coming up, we had a lot of guests coming over, so our quest for shade on the patio became more of a priority.
However, as the party crept up, I began to veer from the retractable awning idea.
Our budget was under $300 for shade, and I could not find any decent awning within that price range.
I was looking for something that was around 16’ x 16’ and the prices went over $1000, far exceeding our budget.
Also with the party nearby, I wasn’t comfortable rushing a project like this by making a quick decision.
I started researching alternative ways of throwing some shade on the patio.
Something that really stood out were shade sails. These are large fabric canopies that are suspended in the air for shade.
I’ve actually seen shade sails at commercial establishments, but never knew they had an actual name. They are known for bright colors in fancy arrangements.
Planning the Shade Sail
I presented the shade sail idea to Eileen, and she was into it. The savings was huge, and it was the perfect, quick solution to blocking the hot summer sun.
For our DIY shade sail installation, I planned on attaching one side of the shade sail to the house, and the other side to two wooden posts.
Materials and Cost
The best part of my plan was the cost. I could get a 16’ x 16’ shade setup for under $150. Compared to an awning, this was a savings of over $800!
The bulk of the price was the actual 16′ by 16′ fabric sail. The rest of the cost would go towards two 6 x 6 x 10 pressure-treated wooden posts, 4 bags of concrete (80 lbs each), 1 bag of paver base, and some shade sail hanging hardware.
My only concern was transporting the wooden posts from Home Depot. I knew from past experience that 8’ was the max length lumber my car could carry with the rear door closed. These 6 x 6 posts were 10’ long.
After some logistical thinking (including looking at strapping them to my roof rack), the solution was very simple – just place them at an angle, with the excess hanging out the window.
Here’s a picture of car loaded up with the 6 x 6 posts, concrete and paver base:
Preparing the Materials
The first step in this project was figuring out where everything would go.
I spread out the shade sail on the backyard lawn to double check the measurements (the packaging said 16.5’ but I wanted to see what this equated to fully spread out).
The mounting fixtures for the sail needed to be larger than the 16.5’ square to allow the fabric to be tensioned properly.
Research online suggested a distance for the fixtures to be 10% larger than the sail itself. So this meant approximately 18’ for me.
Determining the Location
Now I had to locate an area on the porch where an 18’ square could fit.
The mounts on the house needed to be installed into wall studs for strength, so this meant every 16” (standard stud spacing) on the house could be a starting point for the 18’ square.
In addition to this, I had to contend with obstacles on the post side, like a wooden walkway I built last year.
I also wanted to leave an unsheltered part of the patio for the BBQ grill. It’s not safe to cook directly under shade sails because the heat could damage the fabric.
Taking all these issues into consideration, I eventually settled on an ideal location.
An Uphill Battle with a Rock
Unfortunately, my ideal location had a little snag. There was a giant landscaping rock right in the middle of where I wanted to install one of the wooden posts.
At first, I wasn’t worried, but when it actually came time to move it, I started scratching my head. I actually scratched my head for days, trying feebly to move this rock.
I estimated the rock to weigh around 500 lbs. Additionally, I tried all sorts of techniques, including tying a chain around the rock and pulling with my riding mower. That didn’t work as the mower’s engine struggled under the load.
Then I experimented with a hydraulic trolley floor car jack. The rock started moving! The movement was not enough to relocate the rock by itself, but it was a nudge (pun intended) in the right direction.
Unfortunately something in my jack wouldn’t let it operate unless it was fairly level to the ground (I guess some fluid was not able to enter the correct passageway if the jack wasn’t level). I needed to use the jacks sideways sometimes to push the rock out of position. So hence the need for an additional jack.
I decided to get a scissor type jack, as it was purely mechanical and could be used at any angle. Also, I wanted to get a long heavy duty crow bar. I realized I was having some success prying the rock using my shovel, but the rock would have soon broken the wooden shovel handle.
The crow bar was amazing. It’s what helped me the most with moving the rock. It was 20 lbs of solid steel, 5’ long providing all the leverage I needed. The tip was also shaped like a wedge, so it was easy to get it under the rock.
So using a combination of two car jacks (resting on pieces of scrap wood for support) and a crow bar, I was able to move the 500 lb rock far enough to continue my project.
Here’s a picture showing the results of my hard work:
Installing the Posts
With the location determined for our DIY shade sail, the rock moved, and the materials ready to go, I was finally able to start the process of installing the summer shade sail.
Digging the Post Holes
First, I started digging the post holes.
I had a post hole digger already, but it was a little small for digging holes for a 6 x 6 post. It was really meant for 4×4 posts. So I made it work by digging 4 holes adjacent to each other to make one larger hole.
For each post, I made a hole roughly 3’ deep by 1’ wide.
To help track my hole depth, I used a permanent marker and put depth measurements on the digger at 1 foot intervals (I don’t know why you would pay extra for a hole digger that came with depth measurements when you could just do it yourself).
It took a few hours and a lot of labor to dig both holes, but I got it done. The crow bar I used to move the rock helped out too. It was perfect for breaking any rocks or roots that I encountered.
Rain, Rain Go Away
With the holes dug, I thought it was time to start the concrete.
I actually had to wait a few days to start this task. Rain was predicted for the next couple days, and I wanted at least a few days of hot sun to allow the concrete to dry properly.
So when the weather finally cleared up, I went outside to continue the project. Unfortunately I forgot to cover one of the holes to keep rain water out, and so it was partially filled from a recent shower. It was not draining anywhere, so I had to pump it out.
I didn’t feel like wheeling out my large wet/dry shop vac for this. Then I went to the local habitat for humanity store to pick up something a gallon of paint Eileen saw earlier in the week, and I stumbled across a hand drill pump for $1.
I never knew about these pumps before. You hook it up to your cordless drill and it will suck liquids for you into one tube and out the other. So I hooked up my pump to my drill and in a few minutes, the hole was emptied of water.
Preparing for the Concrete
Next, I screwed in several galvanized lag bolts into the bottom of the posts to serve as anchors into the concrete. Then I poured some paver base into the bottom of each hole to give the concrete and posts a solid foundation to rest on.
I poured enough paver base for approximately 3” deep and packed it down tightly with a long scrap of 4 x 4 wood.
Here is one of the finished holes, with the gray paver base at the bottom:
Here’s a picture showing some of the lag bolts screwed in the posts for anchoring:
Afterwards, I dropped the posts into the holes. Then, I used several strips of scrap wood to serve as temporary supports for the posts.
I used a level during this process to make sure the posts stood perfectly straight. With the posts resting in the holes, stationary with the temporary supports, I could mix and pour the concrete.
Mixing the Concrete
I worked with concrete to erect our rebuilt mailbox last year, so I was confident in my concreting skills.
Instead of just 60 lbs of concrete used for that mailbox though, I’d be using 320 lbs (4 x 80 lb bags) for this.
I started with just 2 bags at a time in my wheelbarrow. I kept adding in more and more water with my hose, mixing each time with my square head shovel, until I got a slightly runny consistency that I liked.
Then, I made sure to give the concrete a thorough mixing. I didn’t want any unmixed powder pouring down the post holes and creating weak spots.
Here’s a picture of the concrete being mixed in the wheelbarrow (notice one of the wooden 6 x 6 posts in the background with the temporary support strips keeping it in place):
Pouring the Concrete
After the concrete was mixed thoroughly to my satisfaction, I poured it into the first post hole.
It was a little tight to get the wheelbarrow tilted into the hole, so I shoveled the mixture into the hole, which actually gave me a more even fill.
When all the concrete was emptied, I repeatedly stuck the shovel into the concrete to make sure it was packed down well and to remove any air bubbles.
I repeated the whole process for the other post, and now both posts were resting in concrete.
Then, I gave the concrete 48 hours of dry time and then packed down any remaining post hole with dirt.
The posts were in there very firmly, with 160 lbs of concrete holding each post in place.
I left the posts alone for another few days to work on some other projects. Even though 48 hours was the recommended dry time, a few extra days couldn’t hurt.
The posts were going to be subjected to large forces once the fabric was tensioned down, so I wanted to make sure the concrete was ready for that.
Here’s a picture of the two mounted poles:
We were having our deck restained for the party (it had deteriorated to the point that bare wood was showing). So I asked our deck contractor to stain the posts as well to match. Next up, it was was time to install the shade sail.
DIY Shade Sail Installation
Now came the exciting moment.
I could start installing the hanging hardware and secure the shade sail fabric. The hanging hardware kit consisted of several stainless steel eye hook pads, carabiners and adjustable turnbuckles.
The eye hook pads were bolted to the wall studs on the house. I had previously purchased some heavy duty eye hook bolts for the 6 x 6 posts.
Looking back, I could have just used some more of the eye hook pads that came with the hanging hardware kit instead.
For tensioning the fabric, I used the adjustable turnbuckles. These turnbuckles provide two hooks on either end.
As you turn the middle adjustment piece, the hooks extend or retract, depending on the direction you turn. They are perfect for shade sails to get the correct tension for your fabric.
Here’s a picture of the hanging hardware on the 6 x 6 post:
Here’s a picture of the hanging hardware on the house.
Notice that I had to use some carabiners to increase the length a little:
The turnbuckles were all tightened to roughly the same settings, and the fabric felt well tensioned.
Our shade sail was now completed at this point, and we were very happy with the results.
It took me little over a week to complete this project. Although most of the time was spent scratching my head over relocating the 500 lb rock, and waiting for the concrete to dry. The project was completed for $150, just as I had estimated.
Here are some pictures of the completed summer shade sail:
Using the DIY Shade Sail
The shade sail works great and has been keeping our patio nice and cool. It was perfect at our party too.
I will note though that the effectiveness of the shade sail changes during the day as the angle of the sun changes. It’s most effective when the sun is directly above.
Other times, the shade it casts is not always 100% over the covered area. Just something to be weary about when considering shade sails.
During winter or heavy storms, we can easily take the fabric off and store it until the warmer months. Snowfall would be too much weight for the structure. And, extreme gusts of wind could put unnecessary stress on the supports.
Rain is not a problem though. The fabric is made to allow rainwater to fall through and not pool at the top. This may be a problem for you if you were hoping to use the shade sail as a tent. However, that’s not its intended purpose.
Overall, we have been so pleased with our new shade, despite the rocks and rain I was thrown during the DIY shade sail installation. The shade sail provides much needed cover from the sun during the hot summer months, and we spent such a small amount of money compared to what an awning would cost.