Made in the Shade: The ABCs of Patio Umbrellas

Pop singer Rihanna may tempt you to get under her umbrella, ella, ella, (you get the picture), but tell her no thanks, because all you need to keep shaded and dry can be found right in your own backyard. Patio umbrellas are sometimes overlooked as a boring piece of furniture. On the contrary, there are a plethora of combinations that mix materials, mobility, shape, etc. catered toward your specific desires. A rose is a rose is a rose, but patio umbrellas offer a level of customization beyond what you’d normally think possible. Here, now, a few basics about these shady ladies.


Size: Open umbrellas range between 6 to 11 feet wide depending on the amount of space available, table width, etc.

Price: On average, patio umbrellas will run between $50 to $200. Remember that a high price does not always dictate a higher quality. Shop around before taking the plunge.

Colors: Endless! Patio umbrellas are some of the most flamboyantly hued outdoor accessories out there. Patterns are also common, and stripes are an especially popular choice, possibly because it evokes thoughts of summertime and swimming pools.

Material: The fabric of umbrellas is usually made from a vinyl, nylon or polyester blend that is resistant to stains, mold, tearing, and fading. They are flexible and foldable but long-lasting and easy to wipe down.

The Heart of the Matter:

Lift: Patio Umbrellas come with three different types of lifting mechanisms. Only one of these, the manual style, is similar to what you’d find on a personal handheld umbrella. Manual simply means the user must push up the gathered spokes of the umbrella at the base of the pole, and there is normally some sort of locking mechanism to keep the umbrella open. Next, the pulley style is often seen at pools, on beaches and in commercial settings. With this type, a rope running from the top is pulled downward, allowing the umbrella to open. To stay open, the rope must either be tied off or there needs to be a peg that fits into the pole once the umbrella is at the desired height. Finally, the most modern and easy mechanism is the crank style. Users simply turn a crank on the umbrella pole one way to open it, the other way to close it. Note that the first two types of mechanism are found pretty much found only on wooden patio umbrellas, while the crank is unique to metal (typically aluminum) umbrella poles.

Mobility: Besides the basic up and down motion, many of the metal (crank style) patio umbrellas are also able to tilt for focused shade or even rotate. The tilting operation is either carried out through a push-button on the pole, by cranking the lever itself farther past the open position, or by adjusting a collar which fits snugly above the crank.

Base: Patio umbrellas stand up in a number of ways. They can first of all be freestanding, on fixed or rolling bases which can be moved around. Second, they can come as part of a patio table set, and in this scenario there is usually a pre-made hole in the middle of such tables, wherein the umbrella passes through the hole and is stabilized beneath by a floor base. Next, there are deck-mounted patio umbrellas which are just as the name implies, affixed to deck and patio floors. While this type cannot be moved, they are the sturdiest against wind and can also afford to be larger in size. Finally, there are offset patio umbrellas whose bases are not straight but rather bend at slightly obtuse angles. In this respect, they can be placed out of the way and shade areas like picnic tables from the side. They have a greater level of cantilever designs and can be adjusted for more easily concentrated shade to specific areas.

Extras: Most patio umbrellas come with a separate overlapping top bit of fabric, the same kind you see on golf umbrellas, that allows wind to pass through and prevent flipping over or inversion of the umbrella. The overlapping fabric allows rainwater to drip down onto the lower fabric of the umbrella, instead of through the opening.

Accessories: Once you’ve got the meat and bones of your patio umbrella, consider adding on a few additional treats like lights or mosquito netting for added comfort and ambiance.



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