Improve Your Backyard: Install a Shade Sail

We love to have shade on our back deck, but have gone through more umbrellas than we can count. Whether they disintegrated, fell over in strong wind or were casualties of other outdoor activities, we never kept an umbrella longer than a year. We were traveling in Oregon and saw shade sails used in outdoor spaces, and thought “why not try to install a shade sail at home?” Well, it’s easier than you’d think, and quite affordable. At $140 for the materials, it’s far cheaper than buying a new umbrella!

Planning a Location for Your Shade Sail

There are a lot of guides online for how to attach your shade sail, and most suggested we strongly anchor the corners using metal posts cemented in the ground. I had something less invasive in mind, so planned to attach two corners to our house, and attach the other two corners to trees in our yard that were in the right locations. I’d use stainless steel uncoated wire rope to provide proper tension across this expanse. Using twine, I “prototyped” how this would look in my backyard. This helped me to know exactly the locations on the trees for the anchors, and also how much material I’d need to buy for the wire rope.

Parts List for Shade Sail

I got all of the materials I needed for this job from Home Depot, including a really nice, heavy-duty shade sail. Add in some decorative lights from, and I would have a really nice outdoor space that would be good in daylight and as dusk approached.

Installing the Shade Sail

The shade sail came with hardware for me to be able to make the connections to the house pretty easily, including thimbles for the included nylon rope (which I used for the house connections) and turnbuckles to tighten the rope after installation. Here’s how the house connection looks once in place. I used the springs to provide relief during periods of high wind (we’ve had a few bad storms while this sail was in place, and it handled them with aplomb!)


IMG_4998From the opposite corners, I assembled the proper length of wire rope (I borrowed some heavy-duty bolt cutters to make the proper cuts) with the thimble and clamp for the end, and attached to eye bolts in the trees with a turnbuckle to tighten the span. Once I had these four anchor points established and installed, the shade sail was in the proper position and I could tighten all four anchor points to get the desired tension.

The Finished Product!

All-told, installation took just a few hours. The result is so nice, instead of constantly having to move an umbrella, the shade provides nice cover for outdoor dining at lunch and dinnertime. My wife and I also think the shelter makes us feel more comfortable while dining outside, as it feels more like an outdoor room.

The shade sail, all installed!

The shade sail, all installed!

Lighting the Shade Sail

We like to entertain outside, and thought some globe string lights would be a nice enhancement. We ran an extension cord up to one of the house anchor points and used the included clips on the lights to attach them to the sail corners, and then along the span leading to one of the trees. This 25-foot string lights up the night quite nicely, providing a nice ambiance for outdoor entertaining.

Our shade sail illuminates the deck at night.

Our shade sail illuminates the deck at night.

2018 May: Update

Well, after a few seasons of shade sail use, I have a lesson to share. Don’t use the nylon rope! It just doesn’t hold up. Despite not having it outside in the winter, it frayed and snapped this spring. I also had a turnbuckle fail on me, mostly because I think it was too small and the screw threads just plain failed. So … I’ve updated the connections to the house to a) remove the spring (there’s enough slack in the sail given the distance to the far posts and b) replacing all connections with metal (substantial turnbuckles and S-hooks). With these improvements, the sail is looking better than ever!

22 responses

  1. Hi, Scottpdawson,

    Excellent! Thank you for the step by step guidelines that you have written in installing shade sail. I’ve been planning this for so long. I can now start it for the coming family event.

  2. This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that you can install a shade sail by attaching it to your house and two trees. My husband and I built a deck on the back of our house, but it’s in direct sunlight a lot of the time, so it’s not always comfortable to be there. We have a couple of trees not too far from the deck, so we’ll definitely look into fixing a shade sail between the house and the trees. Thanks for the great post!

  3. Hi Scottpdawson,
    Thank you for psoting your article.
    Shade sails also come in waterproof fabrics which can be used to provide protection from the elements. It is quite interesting and helpful.
    Keep posting !

  4. When you purchase something like this, is it possible to have the company install it as well? I am not the best when it comes to these types of things, and I am not sure that I can find the time either. That being said, I love the pictures that you provided, and I think one of these would be great for my deck. Thank you!

    • Thank you for your comment! I think depending on the location where you buy your sail, they may offer installation services. I bought mine online, so no option for that. Also, I’m sure any local resources you have for handiwork would be happy to give you an estimate on installation; my neighbors have people do things like this for them all of the time, in addition to yard work.

  5. By installing shade sails, it will not only give sun protection but also give art and style to your backyard. Thank you for posting Scott.

  6. The new area that my fiance and I moved into has a big problem with heat from the sun. We are considering getting shade sails for our backyard to make it more habitable. I like your idea to add lighting and string lights for effect.

    • It works great! The sail can fly up and down, and the springs are there to provide a certain amount of tension. The sail is not directly attached to the house, in other words. In extremely high wind, I’ve had to replace a spring since it was stretched out too much. I’ve never had to replace the sail.

  7. Thanks for that. I’ll try that. So in extremely high wind the spring stretches to breaking point or doesn’t return to closed position, hence needing replacement?

  8. Hi Scott, thanks for posting this.

    My husband and I are thinking of doing the same set up (two corners anchored to the house and two to trees in the yard) but, it seems that everything I’ve read says the anchor points have to be no more than a couple feet from the corners of the shade sails.

    How far away are the trees from the end of the shade sail, on your set up?

  9. Thanks for the great post! You mentioned that you upgraded your turnbuckles after one stripped, what diameter or weight rating did you purchase on the upgrade?

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