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Top Tips for Shading Outdoor Areas

By Donna Jones

Spring is a great time for planning and planting outdoor areas and, with many Kiwis understanding the importance of keeping sun smart, it’s worthwhile considering how you might go about shading these outdoor areas — both to protect skin and eyes and also to protect your property from the high levels of UV light experienced in NZ. The Cancer Society of New Zealand have produced excellent ‘Guidelines for shade planning and design’, a document that really is worth taking a look at to help you with your planning. Here are our top tips:

Natural Shade

Using vegetation to provide shade provides numerous other benefits besides shade, including:

  • Environmental — creates habitats for wildlife, absorbs carbon dioxide and enriches surrounding soil.
  • Aesthetical — an outlook on colourful trees and shrubs can be more pleasing to the eye than a hard-built structure and,
  • Privacy — you can screen unwanted views and block sticky-beaks’ prying eyes.

The choice of vegetation is key to producing the right amount of shade for your outdoor area so it’s important to consider if the type of plant is fit for purpose. Suitability criteria includes the density of the foliage, the height/width of the canopy when fully mature, being sure to match plants with local conditions, considering how long it will take for the plant to grow to provide enough shade, plus any ongoing maintenance required. It’s also important to consider if receiving winter sun is important and, if so, deciduous rather than evergreen plants may be more desirable.

Depending on the space that you have and how quickly you want the plant to provide shade, here are some ideas for trees that will provide a place to escape the summer sun: Maple (acer), Camellia, Dogwood (cornus), Pseudopanax or Vibernum.

Built Shade

There are various types of ‘built’ shade systems available which are either stand-alone or can be attached to existing structures. Built shade systems tend to fall into one of three categories:

  • Permanent — such as pergolas, louvred rooves, walls and rooms (fixed or retractable), fixed frame awnings and canopies, retractable/adjustable awnings, wave shades, and large tensile membrane structures.
  • Demountable — such as shade sails, large tents or marquees and lightweight tensile membrane structures.
  • Portable — such as small tents, lightweight marquees, beach cabanas and umbrellas.

In comparison to natural shade, built shade structures have some immediate benefits including cover from not just the sun but also the rain and wind, a more predictable shade cast and they can be erected relatively quickly. It must be considered though that the larger and more permanent the structure, the more the expense involved in materials, build costs, certification and even council consent. However, if done right permanent structures can add value to a property that might not be achievable with a temporary solution.

As with natural shade, the solution must be fit-for-purpose and consideration must be given to obtaining quality shade that ensures comfort regardless of the season, while ensuring that the solution also matches the local environment. People living in wind prone areas, for example, may consider a permanent structure more sensible than a demountable system and those living by the ocean will need to think about the corrosive action of salt spray on fixed structure materials. The choice of fabric for retractable awnings, wave shades and demountable systems is critical to block the sun’s UV radiation while allowing warmth and light to penetrate.

Offering a shaded outdoor area is another great way to attract and retain long term tenants and is also an excellent device to add value to your property, when done right.

Snowball Blooming’ by Zuzanna Musial
‘Patio Retractable Awning’ by European Rolling Shutters under CC BY 2.0

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