DEAR TIM: The sun punishes me and my family when we try to relax on our patio and deck. An awning does not appeal to me because I do want some filtered sunlight to pass through, but not too much.
I am very interested in a elegant wood arbor/shelter of some type but do not want a forest of support posts. Furthermore, I do not want to feel closed in by the shelter. Do you have any ideas or am I asking for too much? Sally P., Aurora, IN
DEAR SALLY: Rest assured that I have worked for many people who were far more demanding. If only many of my past customers had your great sense of vision and proportion. Your requests are very reasonable and the good news is that they are achievable.
Patio and deck shade shelters are very effective at blocking harsh summer sun rays. Depending upon the design of the structure and the spacing of the wood members, you can block a great deal of sunlight. The amount of shade that is created is also a function of the angle of the sun in the sky. When the sun is at a lower angle during the mid morning and mid afternoon time frames, a great deal of shade can be created by these functional and gorgeous shelters.
Shade Shelter vs Rain Shelter
The first step is to plan where the edges of the shelter need to be to offer shade to the most important parts of your deck and patio. A shade shelter is much different than a rain shelter. If you want to stay dry in a light to moderate rain shower, a typical shelter does not require much of an overhang. But a shade shelter is much different. Direct sunlight can pour into the patio and deck seating areas if the overhang of the shade shelter is not large enough.
Create a quick schedule of the times you use your deck and patio. You should focus on the mid and late-afternoon times as these can be the hottest part of the day. On a sunny day, hold a regular straw broom upside down such that the end of the broom is nine to ten feet off the level of the deck or patio. Proceed to stand at different locations around the outer edges of your deck and patio to see where a shadow is cast. Make chalk marks on the deck and patio surfaces noting the time of day. As the sun moves, so will your chalk marks.
You can eliminate support posts that will hold up the shade shelter by switching to steel beams or possibly laminated wood beams made from rot-resistant redwood and exterior rated glue. I actually prefer redwood for shade shelters. Redwood comes in many different economical grades that work very well for this purpose. If you decide to use steel beams that can span 20 or more feet between support posts, you will undoubtedly have to consult with a structural engineer. This person will size the beams and columns as well as specify how all structural elements will be connected together. The money invested in engineering pays dividends for many years.
How Tall Should an Arbor Be?
To prevent a closed-in feeling while relaxing under the shelter, be sure the main body of the wood slats is at least nine feet off the surface of the deck and patio. Ten feet might be an even better height. To get a feel for the correct height, you might have a local outdoor restaurant or garden supply business that has a similar shade shelter. If you find one that feels right, measure its height off the ground.
Be sure to coat all of the lumber with an epoxy-fortified synthetic resin water repellent before the shelter is built. This trick will save you hours of labor since it is so difficult to apply wood water repellent overhead. Applying the product before hand also insures that all the wood is treated. If you wait until the shelter is built, it becomes impossible to coat wood where one piece of lumber sits on top of another piece. If at all possible, try to use stainless steel nails and bolts. These will not rust. If you can't find these, then use only hot-dipped galvanized fasteners.