Shop Talk: Choosing Patio Umbrellas

May 28, 2013 2

Shop Talk: Choosing Patio Umbrellas

If the lack of shade on your back patio has you pondering the purchase of an outdoor umbrella, we’re here to help. While this may seem like a simple task (it’s only an umbrella, after all), there are a few key considerations to take into account before picking your place out of the sun.


Variety is the spice of life, even when it comes to patio umbrellas. You can nab a traditional round/hexagonal umbrella, or break the mold with a rectangular, or even a square version.


Pictured: 9-Foot Round Wood Market Umbrella, Rio Brands 9 1/2-Foot Rectangular Wood Umbrella, Rio Brands 8-Foot Square Offset Umbrella


Consider the area you need to cover: Circular umbrellas are measured in diameter, with the average size 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′. Smaller umbrellas provide less shade but are easier to maneuver if you want portability.


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

umbrellas 2


Pictured: 9-Foot Round Collar-Tilt Market Umbrella, 11-Foot Round Cantilever Solar Umbrella

The difference between the two: The upright umbrella (left) has its post in the center of the canopy, while the off-set umbrella (right)  has a its post located outside the umbrella’s canopied area. Uprights are often purchased to shade outdoor dining tables, while off-sets can be a sly way to maximize usable shady space and avoid obstructing the view.


For most shoppers, the fun part is finding an umbrella with a canopy that will complement their patio furniture. But it’s equally important to find one that can withstand a little weather and won’t blow over in a little wind, or fade after a few days in the sun. Umbrellas made with canopies made of synthetic fabrics like acrylic, Olefin (a durable fabric created for outdoor use) and polyester have good fade resistance. Posts made from any common materials–wood, aluminum, or steel–can be sturdy options.


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, and it allows hot air to escape the canopy (so you’re cooler in the shade), and gives breezes and gusts a place to go (so your umbrella doesn’t 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.


prettyumbrellaPictured: 9-Foot Outdoor Round Market Umbrella with Aluminum Frame

While almost every umbrella lets you adjust the height of the canopy, not all come with the option to adjust tilt. This nifty 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 tilt typically lets you adjust the canopy tilt via a crank located on the umbrella post.

Tell us: What time of day do you most often get to spend time in your backyard?

Megan Mostyn-Brown

Comments (2)

  1. I haven’t seen too many good reviews on the cantilever umbrella, that’s what I want. Reviews say even with the base they blow over. Can you suggest one that won’t blow over?

    - Carol Talbot
  2. In sunny Florida. Wind is a factor. Is an rustproof aluminum frame better than a hardwood pole and frame? Also need something light weight so an old person can remove from table, there are no weights in the ads. I see one I like but don’t know if it’s the best for me. Which is more cost effective order on line or go to store?

    - Marianne yost

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