See how to install a sun shade sail in your yard, including how to erect the shade sail posts with this easy tutorial.
When the sun goes down, we love to sit out on our back patio.
Yet, we could never use the patio on hot summer days because the sun beating down made it unbearable.
My wife was 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 patio 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 sun 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.
After a little research, DIY shade sail installation seemed completely doable.
Planning the Sun Shade Sail
I presented the shade sail idea to Eileen, and she was into it. The savings was huge, and a sun shade sail 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 sun shade sail to the house, and the other side of the shade sail to two wooden poles.
DIY Shade Sail Installation Materials and Cost
The best part of my sun shade sail plan was the cost. I could get a 16’ x 16’ shade setup for under $150. Compared to an awning, installing a shade sail was a savings of over $800!
The bulk of the price of the shade sail 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 poles for the sun shade sail 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 shade sail posts, concrete and paver base. I was ready to install the shade sail.
Preparing the Shade Sail Materials
The first step in this shade sail installation project was figuring out where everything would go.
I spread out the sun 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 shade 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 sun shade sail itself. So this meant approximately 18’ for me.
Determining the Location for the Shade Sail
Now I had to locate an area on the porch where this 18’ shade sail 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 for our shade sail.
An Uphill Battle with a Rock
Unfortunately, my ideal location for the shade sail 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 for the sun shade sail.
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 of getting back on track for the sun shade sail installation.
The additional car jack might have been unnecessary if I had a non-hydraulic jack.
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 out of the way of where I wanted the shade sail poles to go.
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 shade sail project.
Here’s a picture showing the results of my hard work. I now had the area clear for the sun shade sail post installation.
Installing the Sun Shade Sail Posts
With the location on the patio 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 Shade Sail Post Holes
First, I started digging the support 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 the sun shade sail posts.
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 for the shade sail support posts, 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 for the sun shade sail posts.
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 sun shade sail 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.
It was so cool!
Preparing for the Concrete for the Shade Sail Posts
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 the shade sail 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 shade sail 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 sun shade sail 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 for the Shade Sail Posts
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 shade sail 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 for the Shade Sail Posts
After the concrete was mixed thoroughly to my satisfaction, I poured it into the first shade sail 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 shade sail 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 shade sail posts were in there very firmly, with 160 lbs of concrete holding each support 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 shade sail 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. The shade sail installation was certainly moving along.
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 shade sail 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. It was time to install the sun shade sail.
I could start installing the hanging hardware and secure the shade sail fabric.
The hanging hardware shade sail installation 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 shade sail 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 sun shade sails to get the correct tension for your fabric.
Here’s a picture of the hanging hardware on the 6 x 6 support post during the shade sail installation:
Here’s a picture of the hanging hardware for the shade sail installation 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 shade sail fabric felt well tensioned.
Our DIY shade sail installation was now completed at this point, and we were very happy with the results.
It took me little over a week to complete the sun shade sails 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 shade sail installation project was completed for $150, just as I had estimated.
Here are some pictures of the completed summer shade sail on the patio:
Using the DIY Shade Sail
The shade sail works great and has been keeping our patio nice and cool. It was perfect for the party too.
It takes just a few minutes to set up or take down.
The posts are obviously permanent, but we have plans to turn them into solar powered lights. Stay tuned for the post 🙂
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. It still provides a lot less sun than if we had nothing at all, but it’s not complete coverage.
During winter or heavy storms, we can easily take the sun shade sail fabric off. Then, we just 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 shade sail fabric is made to allow rainwater to fall through and not pool at the top. They also make shade sails that are waterproof.
Overall, we have been so pleased with our new sun shade sail on the patio, 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. Additionally, we spent such a small amount of money compared to what an awning or screened porch would cost.
We highly recommend sun shade sails for the easy installation and great price.
If you are looking to get more shade on your patio for a budget or to cover a kids play area in a sunny yard location or even to give farm animals some shade, definitely check out sun shade sails.
I’m sure you’ll be impressed.
Shade Sail 3 Year Update
It’s been three years since we installed the shade sail and its posts. Everything has been holding up great.
The shade sail stays up all summer, and then we take it down and store it in the shed during the winter months.
Once in a while, we get a bad wind storm, and we usually take it down then too.
The shade sail posts have held up perfectly. They barely even look weathered.
One of our favorite things about the shade sail is how flexible of a space it gives us.
We get great shade from it on our patio. It’s perfect for parties and outdoor entertaining on warm days.
But, looking out our back windows from inside the house, the shade sail obstructs the view of the backyard – especially the gorgeous sunsets.
That’s what we love about being able to take the shade sail down.
If we turned our patio into a covered porch, we wouldn’t get that same flexibility.
So all in all, I highly recommend sun shade sails. We’ve even had a few readers who have installed the shade sails over kids’ sandboxes and over a chicken coop, too!