Backyard | Outdoor Projects

Installing a Shade Sail for the Patio

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.

How to install a sun shade sail instead of an awningI’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.

If you are wanting to learn more about shade sails, check out this post which will tell you everything you want to know about shade sails.

But if you are ready to learn how to install your shade sail, then keep reading. 

Planning the Sun Shade Sail

I talked to my wife about the shade sail idea, and she was thrilled about 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. If you are good with sewing, you can even make your own sail. 

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.

I 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.

Learn how to install a shade sail on your patio or deck - shade sail posts ideas!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.

DIY Shade Sail Installation - Learn how to install shade sail posts and canopy for some summer shadeDetermining 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.

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.

We were looking forward to the shade.

 

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.

Yet it was a nudge (pun intended) in the right direction of getting back on track for the sun shade sail installation.

To complete the task, I determined that I needed a scissor car jack, and also a long heavy duty crow bar.

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.

Getting Closer…

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.

I even got it far enough away 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 shade sail posts into the ground with concreteInstalling the Sun Shade Sail Posts

The location on the patio determined for our DIY shade sail, the rock moved, and the materials were 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.

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:

Digging Holes for DIY Shade Sail InstallationHere’s a picture showing some of the lag bolts screwed in the posts for anchoring:

Installing Posts for DIY Sun Shade SailAfterwards, 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:

Mixing Concrete for DIY Shade Sail Installation - Placing the DIY sun shade postsPouring the Concrete for the Shade Sail Posts

After the concrete was mixed thoroughly, 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 I emptied all the concrete, 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.

How to mount posts for DIY sun shade sail installationWe 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.

Attaching the Hardware

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:

See how to use hanging hardware to posts for DIY sun shade sailsHere’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:

How to install a DIY sun shade sail and postsThe turnbuckles were all tightened to roughly the same settings, and the shade sail fabric felt well tensioned.

Time and Cost

Our DIY shade sail installation was now completed at this point. We were very happy with the results.

I took a little over a week to complete the sun shade sail project. I have a day-time job and had to work around the rain, so I completed this when I could.

Although I spent most of the time scratching my head over relocating the 500 lb rock and waiting for the concrete to dry.

I completed the shade sail installation project for $150, just as I had estimated.

Here are some pictures of the completed summer shade sail on the patio:

Learn how to install a DIY sun shade sail on your deck or patioUsing 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. See below for the solar powered update!

How to Install a DIY Shade Sail instead of an AwningI 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. 

Rain and Storms

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. This eliminates any pooling the top. They also make shade sails that are waterproof.

Overall, I am 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!

Turning the Wooden Posts into Solar Power Lights

This summer, we took on the project we’ve been wanting to complete since installing this shade sail canopy.

We turned these wooden shade sail posts into outdoor lights. But not just any outdoor lights.

We turned them into solar power outdoor lights! I got the solar panel on Amazon and mounted it to the first of the 6×6 wooden posts.

I attached lights to the top of both wooden posts, and added a little birdhouse-like box to house the battery and controller.

Check out the full post on how to make solar power outdoor lights using your shade sail posts. 

More Projects You’ll Love

Now that you have shade in your backyard, make this easy DIY water and sand table for the kiddos with this easy tutorial!

Made entirely from 2x4s, this easy project is always a hit with the kids!

Looking for some creative ideas for outdoor spaces? These 6 creative DIY projects are perfect for any outdoor space

If you’re wondering how you can put your DIY skills to use on your curb appeal, here are 4 proven DIYs you can do to sharpen your home’s curb appeal

Similar Posts

99 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your ideas of how to plan and install best shade sail for the patio and so with materials to be used and the possible cost of it. It’s presented well done and interesting thoughts. It’s really informative and useful. Great!!

  2. I love this! What a creative idea. I love sitting in the sun, but in the middle of the summer, it`s too hot. ANd this is the perfect solution!

    1. Thanks Cristina! It worked out really well – it definitely made being outside bearable in the hot summer without the cost or permanency of an awning 🙂

  3. This looks so lovely! This is such a cost effective alternative, too! Thank you so much for sharing this idea here!

    God bless,
    Patty

  4. A great project. I too have been struggling with what to do for shade on the patio. I will certainly consider this idea. Thanks.

    1. Yes, we went through the same struggle. We didn’t want a screened in porch – but we weren’t ready to spend for an awning. It was the perfect solution 🙂

    1. You’re welcome Debra! I had never heard of shade sails prior to Ash’s research. So glad he stumbled upon them 🙂

    1. That’s so funny, Kate! I had never heard of them until Ash began his research 🙂 Maybe they’ll take off here 🙂

  5. Our one and only shade tree for our yard will be getting cut down soon (it’s dying and my husband has left it as long as he can because I want the shade). I never thought about a shade sail as a replacement. Thanks for the idea! #coffeeandconversation

    1. Hi Julie, That’s too bad about the tree but the shade sail works out really well! 🙂 Hope it can work for you!

  6. The umbrella for our patio set disintegrated a long time ago and this would be a great option. Thank you for sharing with us this week at Celebrate Your Story, and I hope your week is going great.

    1. Yes, those umbrellas never last too long before they become unsafe! The shade sail has been working so well 🙂 Have a wonderful week, Sandra 🙂

    1. That’s a great idea! I always try to get my toddler to play in the shade but he usually just runs everywhere 🙂

  7. Ouch Ash, we have some of those huge rocks aka boulders in our garden too that we haven’t been able to move. I’m so glad you shared how you did it. The hubby is going to be so impressed when I show him, wish us luck. Your shade solution works like a charm and I hope your son had a lovely birthday

    1. Aww thanks Michelle! You are too sweet! Ash was so proud of himself when he finally got that rock moved haha! I hope you guys are able to get yours relocated too 🙂 Have a wonderful week 🙂

  8. We need to add a shade cover to our yard. Especially with summer coming.
    Pinned & sharing Thanks for joining the Inspiration Spotlight party.

  9. Your shade sail looks great! I wanted to install one on our upper deck, but the structural issues were too much of a battle. If we ever want to install one again, I’ll definitely refer back to this post. Thanks so much for sharing at the #happynowlinkup!

  10. I was really curious about the post holes… my husband and I would love to put up a fence, and this seems like the way to go. Thanks for the ideas, the end result looks great!

    1. Thanks Denise! We wanted to do a fence too – but needed it too badly to wait – but I’m sure this would be the way to go 🙂

  11. This is such a great idea. I wish we could do something like this. Unfortunately, we have a deck that’s about 12 feet off the ground with no shade! I have patio umbrellas, but I’d love a simpler way to shade the space. You post has started my wheels turning. Thanks for that!

    1. Thanks! Hmmm I wonder if there is a way to do that – maybe a contractor could give you some ideas and then you could DIY it 🙂 Hope you get some shade soon! It’s nice to not have those umbrellas 🙂

  12. What a detailed and fun post abiut your sun shade. I totally laughed outloud on a few places. Can I suggest tha next time you go ahead with pouring yor concrete, for it loves water. When I pour concrete on a project I pray for rain to come so it waters and further strengthens the concrete as it sets 🙂 Thaks for sharing at the bloggers pit stop!

  13. Perfect timing with this post, we’re thinking up ways we can shade our back deck which faces due West. Phew talk about hot out there in summer. Can feel the heat as we approach deck and back door. Knob is so hit have to use something on it to open back door. Lowes has a small portable pergola which is 5x8ft. but would be good start then use something like your sail to extend it. Would have to be able to take sail down when not using deck as our wind out here is horrendous. Haven’t figured that part out yet, thought about using shade cloth to extend shade.
    Can get the portable pergola for $ !49.00 at Lowes and about $30 for roll of shade cloth.
    This was an excellent tutorial and timely, might use some of ideas to install shade cloth doubled.
    Happy Mother’s Day

    1. Wow – that sounds awfully hot, JaneEllen! I love the idea of a pergola and the shade sail. Pergolas are so pretty! We don’t get a crazy amount of wind, but the shade sail has held up fine with the wind we get. We do take it down before the winter though 🙂 Hope you get some shade soon! 🙂

  14. Thank you for the step-by-step directions. I wonder if we could use this to provide more shade for our goats in their pen. Their big ole shade tree fell down last year. I’m featuring this at the Simple Homestead blog hop this Thursday at Oak Hill Homestead.

  15. Such a great post, thank you! I would love one of these on my garden 🙂 Thanks for sharing at Creative Mondays last week, you are one of my features this week 🙂

  16. Isn’t it amazing the difference that shade makes?? Just being protected from the sun makes an outdoor space so much cooler. But awnings are so expensive! Thanks for sharing all the details of how to make your own sail shade.
    And thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I’m featuring you this week!

    1. Yes! Especially on a hot summer day 🙂 We are loving the patio now that we aren’t always in the hot sun. Thank you so much for feature! Have a lovely week 🙂

  17. We have big plans for our back yard, but they are a few years away. This is a great alternative so we can use our backyard better before we get to that point. Pinned! Thanks for sharing at #HomeMattersParty

    1. Thanks Emily! Yes, sometimes you need an interim plan before the big ones 🙂 The shade sail has been working out great.

  18. Your shade sail looks great. How clever to find a budget friendly alternative to an awning. I think it looks better than an awning would look, too. Thanks for sharing your how to with us at Snickerdoodle. This was the Most Clicked link from our last party and all of the party co-hosts will be featuring it at tomorrow’s party. Hope to see you there!

    1. Thanks Beverly! I agree – we’ve been really happy with it and definitely weren’t ready to commit to the price and changes of an awning. So excited we were your most clicked link!! Thanks SO much! 🙂

  19. Love it! It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about too for my yard, but I am just wondering how easy is it to take the sail down? We get crazy wind where we are so would probably have to take it down quite often

    1. Hi Andrea – It is actually very easy to take down! Maybe 5 min? You just loosen the tension on the four corners and it comes right out. Then you fold up the sail:)

  20. Hi, great directions!! I am planning on installing a shade sail also. This has helped a lot. You said yours was not water proof. The one I got said it was water proof…so hoping it will be ok! 🙂 Can’t wait to get mine in and start enjoying it.

  21. A simple yet great project! I like the classic look of it, even though i’d personally would have gotten waxed linen or something because i would indeed love to sit there in the rain 🙂 I think using concrete isn’t even strictly necessary – a friend of mine used a sunsail with his camper..good times 🙂

  22. Just curious how this has held up? Mainly the wooden posts? I live in the Chicagoland area And do not plan on leaving a shade sail up in winter and taking it down if we know heavy rain or wind is coming. Have your posts bent at all? This post is my inspiration and tutorial lol

    1. Hey Dani, So happy to hear you are inspired! We have had the posts up just shy of two years – and they are looking great. They haven’t bent at all. We take the sail down in the winters too but the posts have weathered just fine!

  23. Thanks for reminding me to not install a shade sail over where I barbecue. I live in a very hot area, and sometimes it just too miserable to go outside. That’s why I’ve really been considering getting a shade sail. However, I have shoulder problems, so I won’t be able to do all this work. Do you have any tips for finding a great, yet inexpensive company to install my shade sail?

  24. The post is great and lots of wonderful information. I was just planning a backyard remodel for the Spring and was looking more towards a water proof shade sail. This will definitely help.

  25. Really helpful instructions! I’ve read in other places that posts should be slightly angled away from the sail, but would prefer to have my posts vertical (like yours are) Have you had any issues with bending of your posts?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Carlyn, Thanks so much for your compliments. I prefer the posts vertical too, and we have not had any bending issues at all!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *