It’s summer’s backyard balancing act— how to enjoy a sunny day…without getting too much sun. Home centers offer a range of products and structures designed to provide backyard shade— but these often are shoddily constructed. Here’s how to choose the best shade-casting products without getting burned…

Patio umbrellas often are so cheaply constructed that they rip, bend or break during the first strong wind. Most also are small, forcing users to reposition themselves or the umbrella as the sun moves across the sky.

Better: A large, cantilevered umbrella is more attractive and functional—the post is to one side, not directly in the center where you want to position deck furniture. Pay a bit more for an umbrella made in North America or Europe. Look for a well-constructed unit designed for heavy commercial use. It will look nice and last many years.

Example: Poggesi’s “Summer” 10-x-10- foot to 13-x-13-foot Italian designedand- built cantilevered umbrellas. $3,920. PoggesiUSA.com

What to avoid: Umbrellas made in China by companies that sell primarily to the residential market.

Shade sails are large triangular or rectangular pieces of canvas attached at their corners to posts or other fixed points to shade the area below. They’re a stylish, summery shade solution—picture a ship’s sail in your choice of colors moving gently in the backyard breeze. But like ships’ sails, shade sails can catch a tremendous amount of wind, so they can be difficult to take down when the wind picks up. To prevent wind from causing problems, attach the corners of these sails to strong pipes or posts set in hefty cement footings—at least onethird of the length of each pipe or post should be in the footing underground. If you want to attach a sail to your house, hire a contractor or engineer experienced with shade sails—otherwise, a strong wind could cause damage to your home.

For maximum durability, purchase a commercial-grade sail—one made of heavy Dacron for use on sailboats. Ask the company whether it offers an upgrade to this type of fabric.

Even better: Consider buying multiple sails in different colors, so that you can change things up and havereplacements that fit your mounting posts when your first sail eventually rips or fades. Well-constructed sails can last up to 15 years…cheaper ones may last three to five years.

Example: Shade Sail’s Skyclipse 370 is better constructed than many other sails on the residential market. $980 for an 18-foot triangular sail. The cost of having the mounting posts professionally installed could add $2,000 to $5,000 to your bill. ShadeSails.com

Awnings typically are mounted on the side of a home to shade adjacent outdoor areas under canvas and/or reduce the amount of sunlight that enters the home through windows. To prevent wind damage, most awnings can be easily retracted either manually or with a motor. Some even include sensors so they retract automatically in strong winds, a feature worth having.

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Contact local companies that custommake awnings. Work with one that has been in business for at least a decade and uses Somfy motors and systems, the most reliable in the sector. Awning makers that use quality components usually do quality work. Also: Ask for an extended warranty. Expect to spend $2,000 to $6,000 for the awning and the installation, depending on awning size.

What to avoid: The poorly made awning kits sold at home centers.

Back Yard Pergola Covering Blue Cushion Patio Furniture

Pergolas are outdoor rooms without walls or complete roofs—vertical posts support overhead cross beams that block some but not all the sun. For additional sun protection, tinted polycarbonate panels can be added over the roof and drop-down shades to the sides. Vines such as bougainvillea, bower vine, clematis, grapes and trumpet creeper can be grown up and over pergolas for attractive natural overhead sun protection, though it takes several years for vines to grow sufficiently to provide shade. Ask a local garden store to recommend vines that will thrive in your area.

Alternative: Some pergolas have motorized louvered canopies on or under their roofs so that the amount of sun entering can be adjusted at the push of a button or pull of a draw cord.

Pergola kits sold through home centers and warehouse clubs tend to be made from lumber that quickly degrades or discolors. Skyrocketing lumber costs have pushed up the cost of better-made pergolas—a simple 10-x-10-foot pergola installed by a contractor specializing in outdoor structures may have cost as little as $3,000 a few years ago but now will cost $5,000. Larger and more elaborate pergolas can cost $10,000 or more.

Examples: Companies that sell wellmade pergolas and pergola kits include Walpole Outdoors (WalpoleOutdoors. com) and Western Timber Frame (WesternTimberFrame.com). StruXure (Struxure.com) is the leading maker of pergolas with automated louvres.

Gazebo in landscaped garden with interlocking stone patio

Gazebos and pavilions are similar to pergolas except that they have full, finished roofs. As with pergolas, the kits sold in home centers generally are not as durable. Expect to pay a local contractor $7,000 to $20,000 for a well-made structure, depending on materials and size.

Example: Western Timber Frame offers gazebos and pavilions. Western TimberFrame.com