Jul07

Patio Umbrellas: 5 Things to Know Before You Buy

The lack of shade on your back patio has you pondering the purchase of an outdoor umbrella. And while this may seem like a simple task (it’s only an umbrella, after all), there are a few must-knows facts you’ll want to take into consideration before you make your final choice.

1. Umbrellas Come in Different Sizes and Shapes

Variety is the spice of life, even when it comes to patio umbrellas. Nab a traditionally round umbrella or break the mold with a rectangular or square version. 

Circular umbrellas are measured in diameter, with the average pick running about 9′ in diameter. Rectangular and square versions are measured by length and width, the most common sizes being 6′ by 6′, 8′ by 11′ and 10′ by 10′.

Which one is right for you? Well, it depends on the size and shape of the area you’re looking to cover, so measure how much coverage you want. Obviously, the larger the canopy the bigger the space it can shade. 

2. Umbrellas Come in Two Common Styles

Technically there are more than two styles of patio umbrellas (wall-mounted, shade sails), but for your shopping purposes, let’s stick to the two most common: the upright and the off-set (also known as the cantilevered umbrella).

The difference between the two? The upright umbrella has its post located in the center of the canopy. The off-set umbrella has its post located off to the side. Uprights are often purchased to shade outdoor dining tables, while off-sets can be a sly way to shade patio furniture without obstructing the view.

3. Not All Canopies and Posts Are the Same

Peruse the aisles and you’ll find umbrellas with canopies made of synthetic fabrics like acrylic, Olefin (a durable fabric created for outdoor use) and polyester. Posts are most commonly crafted from wood, aluminum and even steel. 

Half the battle is finding an umbrella that will complement your patio furniture in color and material. The other half is finding one that can withstand a little weather. While it’s not a good idea to leave your new patio addition out in an epic thunderstorm, it’s still smart to pick an umbrella that’s marked as having a canopy crafted from weather resistant fabric and a frame that can withstand the elements (or in other words, it won’t blow over because of a little wind).

4. Vents Provide Cooler Shade and Are Less Likely to Blow Over

Check the top of your umbrella to make sure it has a flap of fabric around the top of the canopy near where it connects to the post. This is a wind vent. Why is it important? This simple addition allows hot air to escape (so you’re cooler in the shade) and gives that sudden gust of wind a place to go (so your umbrella doesn’t up end and blow halfway across the patio).

The average umbrella features a single vent. However, over-sized versions may be dual vented, with the second vent around the middle of the umbrella’s canopy.

5. Not All Patio Umbrellas Tilt

While almost every umbrella lets you adjust the height of the canopy, not all come with the option to adjust tilt. This nifty little extra means you can switch up where your umbrella throws its shade without having to move the entire unit. 

There are two different modes of tilt adjustment: manual and auto. Manual features a mechanism that unlocks the canopy and allows you to tilt it into position by hand. Auto typically lets you adjust the canopy tilt via a crank located on the umbrella post.

Megan Mostyn-Brown

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Megan Mostyn-Brown

is a writer for Bed Bath & Beyond. She's obsessed with mid-century modern furniture, wallpaper, and any item that will get her organized. Someday she'd like to own a claw foot tub and more than one pan.

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