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Outdoor Umbrella Australian Buyers’ Guide

Those of you who live in the northern hemisphere spare a thought for us as you’re putting your outdoor umbrella up – ours will be coming down. Those drawn out days of summer, sitting on the patio and drinking cold beer have come to an end and the patio will once again become a sparse area of our garden.

Friends lent us their patio umbrella this year, as we will eventually be putting a roof over our patio – hopefully before next summer. It was a huge market umbrella that completely covered our outdoor table and chairs and sheltered us from the sun and made the patio area liveable during the warmer months.

One advantage of having a patio umbrella over permanently covering your patio is that they give shade in the summer but you can remove them in winter and allow the sun to filter through.


How to Choose an Outdoor Umbrella

How to Choose an Outdoor Umbrella

If you are looking to buy an outdoor umbrella here are 10 Tips for buying one.

  1. Our experience has been that we fit an umbrella for a customer and they will say, “That’s great, I love it but I wish I had gone for the next size up.” This isn’t a sales pitch to get you to buy a bigger umbrella, it is our genuine experience with umbrellas.

    Usually, the cost of slightly bigger umbrellas are only incrementally more but people think that they will go with the smaller ones and it will do the job. Often it will but think of it this way, the sun is moving across the sky and as it moves, so does the shade it casts.

    If you and your friends sit down for lunch at noon and everyone is in the shade, by 1.30pm you could end up with half the guests baking in the hot sun at one end of the table.

  2. If you intend to put the umbrella through a table, check the height of the table first and then check the height of the umbrella when it is closed BEFORE taking it home.

  3. Ensure that your umbrellas can be properly secured to the ground if you intend to use it in breezy conditions. An umbrella blowing down the street can be a very dangerous object.

  4. Umbrellas on rooftops are much more susceptible to wind than umbrellas on flat level ground. This in part is because of the uplift of the wind which can get under the umbrella and act like a parachute in reverse causing strong lifting forces.

    Be careful in selecting the correct base option for your umbrella if you intend to use it in a high area.

  5. Consider whether you are purchasing the umbrella primarily for shade or for rain protection. If it is a shade umbrella, the canopy should have a UPF 50 rating. If you require a waterproof umbrella then you need to go to different fabrics such as PVC.

  6. Be wary about buying an umbrella if you want it to shade you in the early morning or late afternoon. Unless you can have it so that some form of curtains can be attached to it, or unless it has a rotation or tilt feature, it won’t work. You will be sitting directly beneath the umbrella and the shade will be out to one side.

  7. If the umbrella needs to be moved on a regular basis, consider its design in terms of portability. How heavy is it? Can it be disconnected easily from its base? How tall is it when collapsed?

  8. Consider the ease of opening the umbrella. Some units have a winch, some have a rope and pulley system. Larger umbrellas can be quite heavy to open especially if you need to do so on a regular basis.

  9. The type of canopy you choose for your umbrella can make all the difference. Listed are some of the most popular canopy types with a note about their various pros and cons: 
    • PVC: Fully waterproof and also blocks 100% of UV which could be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on what you want from your umbrella.

    • Acrylic: Essentially a heavy, hard wearing canvas. Good quality acrylic holds its colour very well, lasts for years and gives good protection against all but the heaviest rain.

    • Polyester: A much lighter weight fabric than acrylic, polyester usually offers only low protection from rain and depending on the thickness of the weave (6oz, 8oz) offers medium to high UV protection. Usually used on market umbrellas at the lower end of the price bracket.

    • Shade cloth: Good quality shade cloth is a fantastic product on umbrellas that are required only for shade. A perfect example is an umbrella around a swimming pool. Good shade cloth should have a UV rating of at least 94% UV protection.

      Shade cloth also creates beautiful cool shade as it breathes allowing the hot air to rise. High quality shade cloths do offer some protection against rain but should not be considered as waterproof.

  10. Understand how umbrellas are measured. Essentially umbrellas come in a few standard shapes, square, rectangular, hexagonal (6 sided) and octagonal (eight sided). Umbrellas are measured by their canopy size when fully opened.

    An octagonal umbrella is measured diagonally at its widest point. Octagonal umbrellas don’t give as much coverage as square umbrellas. For example a 3 metre square umbrella gives 9 square metres of coverage whereas a 3 metre octagonal umbrella gives only 5.95 square metres of coverage.

Once you’ve bought your umbrella there are some care and maintenance requirements you will need to adhere to if you want to keep it looking good year after year.

Types of Patio Umbrellas

Types of Patio Umbrella

So what’s the difference between a patio umbrella and a market umbrella? Essentially, nothing. The only small difference is that patio umbrellas usually have a valance around the edge of the umbrella while market umbrellas don’t.

These days most patio umbrellas are constructed of light-weight aluminium and are designed to be free standing. You can buy umbrella stands (usually cast iron) that can weigh the patio umbrella down to stop it moving too much in light breezes.

Cantilever Patio Umbrella

Cantilever umbrellas have their supporting post offset rather than directly in the middle of the shaded area. They allow the umbrella to be moved around as the sun moves throughout the day and provides more options for shade on your patio or outdoor area.

The only downside of this type of patio umbrella is that it’s even harder to control in windy conditions than a normal market umbrella.

Thatch Patio Umbrella

As many gardeners mimic tropical garden settings, thatch umbrellas are becoming more and more common. This type of umbrella would be a permanent feature in your garden as they can not be pulled down and stored.

The beauty of their thatching is that it allows wind to filter through the straw rather than try to suppress it and so they don’t succumb to much damage during windy conditions – certainly not unfixable, anyway.

Remote Controlled Patio Umbrella

For the ultimate lazy summer days, manufacturers have now produced remote controlled patio umbrellas. At the flick of a switch you can open the umbrella’s canopy and close it just as easily.The downside: Having another remote!

Skyline Umbrella

Here’s another interpretation on a common theme – a square or rectangular patio umbrella. The shape more resembles that of a house roof with the obvious benefit of providing more shade during the whole day.

Another option would be is to use shade sails. (See our reviews of the best shade sails in Australia for an in-depth guide on how to choose and which one to get.)

5 Ways to Create Ambience with Patio Umbrella Lights

When the seasons begin to warm up it’s natural to start considering the use of our patio areas once again. Unless you live in the tropics these landscaped zones around our houses become uninhabited and dormant, devoid of all life leaving us with distant memories of a summer filled with laughter and chatter.

So it’s only natural that as the cold of winter dissipates our attention is turned back to those relished moments and thoughts of recapturing at least some of those treasured experiences.

For me, the patio is an evening haunt. While we certainly use it to escape the day-time summer heat, it's not until the sun finally sets that our outdoor area comes alive. Food, wine, friends and a starry sky to gaze at between imperfect dialogue is more than a recipe for those balmy, warm evenings.

While this is all good, the success of such experiences can only be realised by great ambient lighting. But, it doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise. In fact, fitting your outdoor area with some patio umbrella lights will create an ambience second to none while still allowing you to keep your bank balance in a reasonably healthy shape.

Using Patio Umbrella Lights

Tropical Ambience Using Patio Umbrella Lights

The first ambient upgrade you can make is attempting to re-create a sense of the tropics. If you’ve ever spent time in the tropical wet season you’ll notice that the lighting is coloured yet mildly subdued – an attempt to keep the gargantuan bugs at bay.

Therefore it’s an easy fix to add a lighting kit with green or blue coloured globes facing up into the umbrella’s canopy and diffusing the light over the fabric.

The beauty of this makeover allows you to set those low-voltage lights so that whenever you’re outdoors, even when you’re not entertaining on the patio, your umbrella will mimic a tropical resort and remind you that summer is a time to slow down and take it a little easier.

Projecting Light Onto Your Patio Umbrella

This idea for creating ambient lighting is the only that doesn’t require the lights to be contained within the umbrella. Instead it’s more about projecting light onto the outside of the umbrella and illuminating it that way.

This gives the added benefit of having a decent outdoor light to help navigate you through the garden, or across the patio, with relative safety but won’t blind you when you take up your relaxed position lounging under the umbrella.

As above, a coloured yellow light will work best for creating this ambience and won’t attract any unwanted nightlife.

Creating the Party Atmosphere with Patio Umbrella Lights

You guessed it, this is all about colour – and lots of it. Decorating each patio umbrella with a series of colourful lights and globes will really set your next party off and force your guests into the party atmosphere almost instantly.

Here they’ve been used as paper lanterns but plain, old colourful globes will do the trick just as well. In order to really set the atmosphere alight, having multiple patio umbrellas illuminated will truly set the scene.

Lighting For Summer Evenings

I can’t think of a better way to enjoy your patio – and a sultry summer evening – than with good friends and an even better bottle of wine. You’ll find yourself winding up the conversation at 2 in the morning flabbergasted as to where the time went but thoroughly enjoying an evening with friends.

The lighting doesn’t have to be perfect to help create this ambience so long as it’s subdued yet bright enough to focus on each other's faces. Even fairly lights might work with this setting.

Patio Umbrella Lighting To Set The Romance

Creating a romantic atmosphere is never an easy assignment so playing with lighting for your patio umbrella to create an intimate mood isn’t going to be an easy task.

However, provided you keep it simple, understand the difference between party atmosphere lighting and setting the mood for an intimate couple, your intentions won’t be wasted. 

To create this ambience it’s all about going with the minimum and showing restraint – less is good. A few subtle lights attached below the umbrella’s canopy will be more than enough. The rest is up to you….

Last Updated on December 18, 2023

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About the author 

Gary Clarke

Hi, I'm Gary Clarke, gardening enthusiast and former landscaper. I have had privilege of sharing my gardening knowledge at Aussie Green Thumb since early 2020.

I have a passion for using native Australian plants in Aussie gardens and I always try to promote growing fruit trees and vegetable gardens whenever possible.

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