Deck Umbrella Buying Guide, What to Look For

For both sun and rain, a deck umbrella is a great solution. Improving the environment of the deck, your comfort and your enjoyment. Shade relief from the hot sun and shelter from the occasional raindrop.

But not just any old umbrella will do. There are some essential design elements in a deck umbrella. Features and material which make the difference between a cheap broken umbrella and one that will give years of enjoyment on your deck. Even in the burning sun.

A quality deck umbrella has a dual vented canopy made of high-quality material like acrylic. With a durable aluminum pole and a minimum of eight fibreglass ribs supporting the canopy. An offset umbrella design provides the maximum versatility on a deck, both in use and adjusting to changing conditions.

Now that is a tall order for a deck umbrella. Few umbrellas meet all of these qualities, the highest possible quality at an affordable price.

But before with throw up our hands in despair, Let’s go over the umbrella from top to bottom. Explain what each feature does. What are the advantages and reasons for each umbrella feature?

All that being said first things, first.

Required Deck Umbrella Size

Regardless of the quality of the umbrella, it is useless if it is the wrong size. A canopy covering your entire backyard blocking the sun, will never be used. An umbrella so small that you have to get up to adjust every minute won’t due either.

A general rule is you want an umbrella with a canopy four feet larger than the area you are trying to shade, roughly 2′ (0.6m) on both sides. Providing shade beyond the immediate area. With play around the edges.

For a 4′ (1.2m) round patio table, you will want an umbrella 8′ (2.4m) in diameter.

For most decks, a 9′ umbrella is a minimum, but an 11′ canopy is more common. The extra feet adding much to the shade experience at a limited additional cost. Providing plenty of shade for your deck. Both around the table sharing burgers with friends or reclining with a book on the loungers. 

The ability to adjust the canopy will increase the umbrella effectiveness, but we will get into that later.

Next material and features of the Umbrella

Deck Umbrella Canopy or Canvas Material

The most important part of the umbrella, the canopy.  We are looking for waterproof material for the canvas that will not fade in the sun or tear in the wind.  The best umbrella canvas material is one solution-dyed Acrylic. Followed by Olefin, a water-resistant and durable polyester canvas material. The more economical option is Polyester, a thinner material often needing to be treated for UV protection.

Acrylic is used more often with more expensive umbrellas, polyester for lower costing ones.  Both work if precautionary steps are taken. Lower the umbrella when not in use. Don’t use the umbrella during high windsOpens in a new tab.. Covering the umbrella when not in use will protect the canvas. The cover can be easily replaced if it tears or fades, saving the umbrella for sheltering the deck.

Deck Umbrella Venting

The size of deck umbrella canvas demand venting. Venting on an umbrella serves two purposes. It allows air to move through the umbrella, reducing the sail effect and damage from the wind.

Venting also allows air to circulate, minimizing trapping hot air under the umbrella. Lessen the greenhouse effect in the shaded area. Letting hot air to escape through the umbrella and cool air replacing it. This is why single vents are almost standard with patio umbrellas.

What is better than One vent? Two

A better deck umbrella is design has two vents at the top and midway up the canvas.  Doubling the air movement while making the umbrella even more durable by reducing wind damage.

Ideal for windy locations with more air escape.

Giving the umbrella its shape is the skeletal.            

Skeletal material (pole and ribs)

Our bodies are only as strong as our skeleton. The same goes for umbrellas. They are only as strong as their skeletal material. The pole and ribs of the umbrella stretch out the canvas.

A patio umbrella needs a minimum of eight ribs to support the size of the canopy fully. But not all rib material is equally robust.  Here are some common rib materials ordered by strength.

  1. Fibreglass (Best)
  2. Aluminum
  3. Steel
  4. Wood
  5. Plastic (worst)

Aluminum is lightweight and will not rust in the rain but is a softer material that can bend. Fibreglass is durable with the added advantage of returning to its shape even as it flexes in the wind. Making it the ideal material for umbrella’s ribs. Unfortunately, fibreglass is also the most expensive rib material.

The large size of a deck umbrella compounded by their brittleness makes both wood and plastic a poor choice for ribs.

Deck Umbrella Pole Design

A unique design for a deck umbrella is offset or cantilever.  I love this design because the stand and pole are off to the deck’s side, keeping the deck space open. As a bonus, the deck table does not have to have a pole in the centre for the umbrella.

I really saw the value of an offset umbrella at one of my client’s place this summer. She had a beautifully set up, sitting area with a low table in the centre for drinks and decorations. The umbrella extended over the sitting room without overpowering it or being an eyesore. Obstructing the view between her friends and her.

Umbrella Pole 360° Rotation

Some of the better offset umbrellas also have 360° rotation of the pole at the base. This feature dramatically increases the value and versatility of the umbrella.

First in for the obvious. The umbrella can then be easily moved. From the table area on the deck or swing over to the chairs on the patio by the deck. Or with a larger deck between alternative areas.

But this also has value for shade control. As the sun moves throughout the day, shifting the shadow, so can the umbrella. With a simple push of a button unlocking the pole, you can move the umbrella along with the sun. Ensuring the sitting area remains shaded. Not having to wait for the right time of the day or a complicated moving of the umbrella as the sun moves.

Set up makes this feature even more valuable. Your friends are all gathered around the table, with plates full of food. No need to awkwardly reach over them to set up the umbrella. Knocking over drinks and stepping on toes. You can swing the umbrella off the deck, extend the canopy and swing it over your guest. A wonderful feature.

Umbrella Tilt Improving Shade

Another feature, like rotation that increases the value of the umbrella.

Just the other day, my son and I were playing shadow tag. Or more preciously, he was trying to hide his shadow in my shadow. Which then changed into trying to make his small 3′ (0.9m) frame cast a larger shadow than mine. He quickly realized that his shadow increased in size by standing in the correct position to the sun.

Tilting umbrellas are the same. Not all shadows are created equally. A slight tilt of the canopy can increase or move the shade as required. Increasing the comfort on the deck. All with the same umbrella but adjusting the umbrella and shade as the day requires. 

Just like a hang glider can sail across the blue sky by adjusting his sail. The same with a deck umbrella. On days with a stronger breeze, a slight tilt of the canopy can limit the wind’s effect. Allowing you to enjoy your umbrella even on windy or days. Especially with a wind wall on one side sheltering you, the umbrella raised above the wall allows movement on the deck. Tilting the umbrella redirects the wind, directing you to enjoy your deck an extra day.

Raising Umbrella Options

There are three standard methods of erecting the canopy, push up, pully or crank. The easiest to use of the three is crank. This is especially true for a larger deck umbrella, with its large canopy. The simple turning of the crank raising or lower the umbrella as needed. A precious feature.

The best cranks are smooth turning counterbalance gears. That turn and lock without a struggle. Often a mark of a quality umbrella. Like the 4×4 deco on my F150, no, I rarely need the extra torque of 4×4, but it’s a mark that it is a powerful truck able to do what I need. A well-designed crank on the umbrella pole is the same.  A mark of quality.

Umbrella Base Options

Umbrella and bases are generally sold separately, allowing you to select the design you like. But even more important is the weight. Not only does the base need to keep the umbrella upright, but it also holds it down. The larger the canopy, the more important this is. A gust of wind can quickly pick up the umbrella and throw it across the yard or through a window. Not good for you, the umbrella or window. A heavy base prevents this.

For an offset umbrella, the wight is even more important. It needs to hold the large canopy down and counterbalance the weight of the umbrellaOpens in a new tab.. Manufacture instructions will specify the exact weight requirements, but it should be at least a hundred pounds or more.

This can be done by anchoring the umbrella to the deck. Requiring the correct blocks built into the frame, securing the base to the deck’s joists. This needs to be more than screws into the decking. Decking does not have sufficient strength by itself, especially composite.

A more common option is weights attached to the frame. Either water or sand. Water being the easiest to fill the reservoirs, but sand is heavier. Surprisingly almost twice as much. Providing the necessary weight for the base.

The biggest complaint with the weight is the size of the hole when filling. Using a large car oil funnel can make pouring the sand into the hole easier. Simplify the task.

One advantage of weights is adjustability. It is no easy task to move them around but easier than repairing the deck after bolting down the anchor only to realize that it would work better from the other side of the deck. Bases with multiple weights make this easier. Light enough that individually they can be carried but together holding the umbrella in place.

If you don’t want to buy a weighted umbrella, a solution is sandbags. Piling a few sandbags over the umbrella base will increase the weight for a minimal cost. But it will not be the most beautiful site on the deck.  

Built-in LED Lights on the Umbrella Ribs

Lights on the underside of the umbrella is not a must but a fantastic feature. Again my visit to my client and the deck we had built for her earlier. At first, I was impressed by the umbrella and the shade it provided on top of the dry space it created in the light rain. But as the night sky darken and the umbrella lights turned on. Wow!

The soft light hovering over the deck. Was like a star lite night sky, with just enough light to see around the deck but still enough darkness to enjoy the evening. Not a must but a beautiful touch, another wonderful ambience deck light option.

Another thing I liked about the umbrella lights is a small solar panel powered it on the stand. Making installation a piece of cake. No lines or fishing wires under the deck. But even better, no messy tripping hazard cords running on the deck. The power source and the lights were all built into the umbrella. Simple, raise and enjoy. Now that’s what decks are about, relaxing without extra hassle.

Conclusion for Deck Umbrella

Durable and useable are the two most important things when selecting an umbrella. You want an umbrella that will improve the area by providing the maximum shade and ambience while weathering the weather. The design of the umbrella will dictate the enjoyment of the umbrella, the material the durability.

An extra tip, deck umbrellas are often shipped in a large box, eight feet or more in length. Ordering online and shipped to your house may save much hassle with pick up and loading. Especially if you do not have a truck.

Enjoy your umbrella, enjoy your deck.

Ryan Nickel

A Red Seal carpenter, passionate about building decks to be enjoyed.

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