Feature Article - October 2018
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Gimme Shelter

Keys for Creating Great Covered Spaces

By Brian Summerfield


Are you planning a decorative, aesthetically pleasing spot where people can sit in relaxation and contemplation? A large covered area for sizeable gatherings and parties? Perhaps a venue for intimate performances? The type of shelter you're trying to build will determine what kinds of materials you use and how much.

Here too, experts from shelter design and construction firms will help. They can provide insight into the different options available to you, and the pros and cons of each.

According to Chumah, here's a list of some of the questions that will drive decisions around which materials to use:

  • What kind of structure do you want? Generally speaking, your choices here are permanent structures made out of metal, wood, asphalt, polycarbonate and the like, or one or more fabric shade covers supported by steel posts that can be easily rearranged. The latter is typically made of high-density polyethylene mesh, or HDPE, which can block out more than 90 percent of the sun's harmful UV-A and UV-B rays. However, if you intend to provide cover from more than just sunlight, you might consider the first option.
  • How detailed do you want the design to be? You might just want a simple, functional design. Nothing wrong with that. But it's getting easier—and less expensive—to add stylistic flourishes like laser-cut ornamentation and railings. Usually, the more of these details you add, the more materials you'll need to make your vision a reality.
  • Do you want your structure to do anything else? If you want it to perform any functions besides providing shade and shelter from all kinds of weather, you'll have to take that into account. Do you want it to be a model of alternative energy? You might consider incorporating solar panels or a small windmill. Do you want it to have an illuminated interior? You'll have to add a lighting system and set up wiring (concealed, ideally) for that.


Even after a shelter is planned, funded and built, the job's not done. These structures still need to be maintained over time. The good news is that modern materials and design techniques mean that it should be a while before you have to think about it—and even then, it shouldn't be that often (barring acts of God or major vandalism).

The more permanent shelters can vary in the frequency of maintenance. Wood, for instance, can see significant damage from sunlight and termites. Also, if any structures are painted, they might have to be repainted after just a few years. For newer fabric-and-steel designs, the first maintenance tasks required might not come for 10 years.

"Higher-quality shade products should not require much maintenance and should be designed for long-term durability in public environments," Bayman said. "For example, our fabric canopies carry a 10-year non-prorated warranty, and do not require any maintenance such as cable tensioning or cleaning for their durability. We have seen the vast majority of our fabrics last well past the warranty term."

Most fabric covers are good for a decade, and the steel posts that hold them aloft can last more than 30 years, Chumah said. However, Graves explained that fabric does require some basic upkeep. It may have to be cleaned from time to time, and must be taken down during times of excessively powerful winds and heavy snowfall.

On both permanent and fabric-based shelters, metal components endure thanks to finish. Galvanizing and powder coating help protect the metal, Graves said, and added that there are a variety of options here depending on local climates.

Additionally, there are certain techniques that can help shield your structure from other kinds of damage. For example, Graves mentioned "same plane design," which essentially removes those nooks and crannies where birds can nest. Also, gutters and downspouts can help detour drainage away from your shelter.

Go ahead and start planning that shade shelter. Your patrons will be glad you did—especially around summertime.


When you thoughtfully factor all of these elements into your design, you end up with a useful, appealing, cost-effective and lasting solution. It's not that difficult or expensive, and again, if you're working with providers who know what they're doing. It will be that much easier. So go ahead and start planning that shade shelter. Your patrons will be glad you did—especially around summertime.