Keep Your Cool: Shade Structures Offer Respite From Sun’s Rays

Virginia certainly enjoys each of its four seasons—with bright sun playing a major role in at least three of the four. Whether you use the opportunity of a warm sunny day to garden, sip lemonade, or simply float on Smith Mountain Lake, one thing is certain: the allure of some cooling shade can be just as appealing as a sunny day.

Nature sometimes provides shade in the way of large, leafy trees, but aside from that, homeowners often seek smaller, more instantly gratifying ways to create shade on their properties. Many local companies help homeowners craft such structures that create shade, for what can be a minimal investment. Here, take a look at a few options that can add a cool spot to a sunny day.

Pergolas and Arbors

KeepCool3If the words “pergola” or even “arbor” sound especially elevated over your everyday vernacular, that’s because the structures themselves are meant to be decorative ornamentation. “The main purpose for arbors and pergolas are character, shade and ambiance,” says Jason Nuckols, owner of The Vinyl Porch Rail Company.

An arbor is an ornamental archway that can be attached to fencing for an exquisite entrance, or installed as a standalone feature to complement a garden. Although it provides some shade, an arbor is more for outdoor aesthetics than a picnic zone. Nuckols suggests that a well-placed arbor “generally puts the final touch on any project.”

A more substantial structure, a pergola can be used for aesthetic purposes as well as increasing shade space. Reminiscent of a gazebo, a pergola stands on four large columns and boasts a much more open design. The open rafters of the roof design allow for a pleasing breakup of sun and shade.

KeepCool2Pergolas are generally larger than arbors and therefore give you more options for customizing the outdoor space. They can be used for entryways or walkways, or even as a small picnic area.

Although pergolas and arbors can be constructed from wood, Nuckols’ company adheres to its name by using vinyl as the preferred building material for these structures. Nuckols cites vinyl’s easy maintenance and durability as benefits. “Our products are extremely easy to maintain. This assures they look new and welcoming,” Nuckols says. “The overall benefits of any of these structures are giving our client the look they have visualized and the comfort they can enjoy for a lifetime.”


Although a sunny day is universally loved, it can sometimes prove too much for even the most prepared outdoorsman. It may be more comfortable to eat in rather than grill out and dine al fresco with the sun beating down.

Kim Feivor, owner of Southwest Sunroom and Window Company, explains how adding an awning to your outdoor space can take the outdoor experience from sweltering to satisfying. “[An awning] gives people the ability to be outside and enjoy the outdoors without being baked by the heat,” he says. Noting that an awning can make your deck or porch roughly 20 degrees cooler.

KeepCool5His company installs SunSetter awnings which have the ability to retract, in order to let variable amounts of sun back into your area, allowing for comfort adjustment.

The SunSetter awning’s retraction system can be automated or manual, operated by either a small remote or a hand crank, respectively. The options for either acrylic woven fabric or laminated fabric can help the awning to withstand more extreme weather. Fortunately, Feivor says that this sort of shade structure is “very affordable.”

“Aside from aesthetics, [an awning] gives people space to use what they previously couldn’t use,” he says.


If the heat of a bright, sunny day is becoming too much, despite your shade-seeking efforts, you may find yourself wanting to venture indoors. However, you do not have to sacrifice your love of the outdoors if you consider adding a sunroom. The addition of a sunroom is good middle ground, and can provide the feel of being in nature and in the sun with the comfort of a climate-controlled experience. It is, however, an investment, but it’s also an addition that can add value to your home, F & S Building Innovations Residential Division Manager Jeremy Smith suggests.

KeepCool9The key word here is investment. A sunroom is the most expensive option in this pool of ideas, but is perhaps the most versatile and lasting. And the value may go further than resale. “The benefits are proven that happiness is a direct result of sunlight, and being able to enjoy it 365 days a year adds to its value,” Smith says.

Southwest Sunroom and Window Company also designs and builds sunrooms and conservatories. A typical sunroom will feature nearly all walls made of windows; a conservatory is similar to a sunroom, but also features glass roofing—allowing you to enjoy the sun’s rays from every angle.

“Most people don’t want it to look like just something slapped on as an addition; they want it to look like it’s a part of the house,” says Feivor. An artful addition of a sunroom or conservatory can add value and enjoyment for years to come.

As you venture outside and hope to enjoy sunny days, lakes, cookouts, and friends, you don’t have to compromise to take a break from the sun’s rays. Choose a structure that works best for you and your needs. Experts agree that spring is a busy time for such projects, though companies that specialize in this type of work are busy year-round. With that in mind, establish your comfort needs and desires and add some shade to your home
this season.