I installed shade sails in my backyard—here's how I did it
Calling all DIYers!
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
There’s no relief like a break from the heat during the dog days of summer, but not all properties are created equal when it comes to natural shade. Depending on where you live, your patio might be downright intolerable during certain months of the year, but a shade sail can help you stay cool.
You may have seen them at restaurants or in a neighbor’s backyard, but a shade sail is an easy and relatively affordable coverage solution that you can install on your own over the course of a weekend—and it’s a total game-changer when it comes to maximizing your outdoor space.
What is a shade sail?
A shade sail is a large piece of breathable fabric that is stretched to cover an outdoor space and secured to a pole or another stable structure at each corner.
Shade sails come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on the amount of coverage needed, and the physical composition of a given shade sail will vary by product. However, most offer UV protection in addition to providing a physical barrier between you, your guests, and the sun’s harmful rays.
How to install a shade sail in 8 easy steps
There are several different methods you can follow to properly hang a shade sail, but any of them will also require a few standard tools, including a good cordless drill. We also recommend investing in a good pair of work gloves—your hands will thank you.
What you need
- 6 inch x 6 inch x 12 foot pressure-treated posts
- Portable ladder
- Post hole digger
- Garden hose
- Ready-to-use concrete mix
- A patio umbrella or pop-up canopy (for shade for you while you make new shade)
- Bagged pea gravel
- Tie-down straps
- Stainless steel eye hooks
- Stainless steel spring snaps or galvanized mooring chain
Step 1: Determine the size of the area to cover
Whether you have an existing patio or are looking to cover an area that’s less defined, you’ll need to determine how much coverage you will need in advance.
Shade sails come in different shapes and sizes, and you’ll ultimately need to add an extra foot or so of give at each corner to account for the stretching of the sail itself. I purchased a shade sail from Wayfair that is just the right size for my patio.
Step 2: Dig holes at each corner
Once you’ve marked the locations for your poles, it’s time to dig the holes, leaving a few inches of clearance on each side of the post for cement. If you have an auger or some other extension for your power drill, you may find it useful here, particularly if the ground is clay or some other firm material.
I found the easiest method for manual excavation was to use post-hole diggers over a shovel. I buried the 12-foot poles approximately 4 feet deep to ensure security and taped off one foot increments on the handles of the post hole diggers to approximate how far I’d already dug.
Due to the sandy composition of my soil, I also found it helped to soak the dirt (not unlike the instant cement; more on that later) to make the final few scoops easier to remove from the ground.
Step 3: Insert posts in holes
After the hole is ready for a post, you’ll want to do a little front-end prep to ensure stability later on.
First, I lined the bottom of each hole with a layer of pea gravel and used a tamper to pack the base tight. I also drilled a pair of lag bolts into the base of each pole—if they look like a couple of Frankenstein neck bolts you’re doing it right—to give the cement a non-wood surface to latch onto once it’s in the ground.
Next, stand each pole up in its hole. The posts are heavy and a bit unwieldy, so a second set of hands is advised for this step.
In the event this is a true one-man project, you may find it helpful to strap the post to something sturdy to ensure it stands straight while you prep the rest of the supplies; in my case I used a sturdy, telescoping ladder as a base and used tie-downs to attach the post to the ladder to prevent any tipovers.
Step 4: Fill holes with cement
Use a wheelbarrow and a shovel to mix the cement you’ll be using for the job. A smaller bucket and handheld tool is fine, but you’ll need a couple of bags of cement per post, and it’ll be more efficient in the long run to mix more material at once.
Once the cement is mixed according to the instructions on the bag, use a shovel or pour the cement directly from the wheelbarrow around the base of the posts in the ground.
As the cement solidifies, use a level to ensure each post is even on all sides. Depending on the type of cement you use, it may take up to 24 hours to set.
Step 5: Install eye hooks on posts
While the cement sets, you can install eye hooks at the top of each post to connect to the shade itself. Be sure to use a galvanized metal hook or some other material meant to last outdoors.
Drill a pilot hole first, then screw the eye hook securely into place.
One other factor to consider is the angle at which you want your shade to sit. In my case, I wanted it slightly lower at the north end of the shade than the end closest to my house, and I wanted the northeast corner slightly lower than the northwest to help direct any rain runoff toward the drain in that corner of the patio.
To accomplish this, I attached a line of string between each set of eye hooks and hung a small line level on the string to be sure there was a slight grade away from the house.
Step 6: Prepare shade sail for installation
Before hanging the sail, spread it out flat on the ground to ensure there are no rips, tears or other damage to the material.
I also used a ground stake in each corner to pull the sail taut and measured the sides to verify it came in the correct size. The distance between posts should be about 6 to 12 inches longer than the side of the shade.
Step 7: Secure shade sail to posts
There are multiple ways to go at this, but I started by loosely securing the shade to each post using a bungee cord, simply to get things in place.
Once the sail was aloft, I wrapped tie-down straps around each post and attached the hooks to the grommet in each corner of the shade. Then I removed the bungee cords and used the ratcheting functionality on the tie-down straps to tighten the sail until the sail was taut in each corner.
From there, use a galvanized chain or quick links to secure the shade’s grommets to the eye hook in each corner.
Step 8: Enjoy your new shade
It took a little trial and error to get it just right, but in the end, a proper shade sail transformed our patio and has made our backyard a much more pleasant place to hang with family and friends, even when it’s too hot to think.
The temperature difference is notable under the sail, and the material provides a decent barrier from light rain, doesn’t hold water, and bounces back quickly from heavier downpours without much sagging.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.