Buyers Guide: Patio Umbrellas
Throw some shade—in a good way!—with the outdoor umbrella that suits your budget, décor, and the size of your patio furniture.
The ultimate summer must-have when outdoor living calls you but you need a reprieve from the sun’s beating rays? A patio umbrella, of course! The right umbrella brings a big patch of shade and an equally big splash of style to your space, but beyond good looks there are various features to consider to find the size, materials, base, and operating mechanism that will suit your needs. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the best patio umbrella for your outdoor space, including three great picks that win rave reviews from homeowners like you.
What’s Your Style?
Outdoor umbrellas come in a dizzying array of colors, patterns, and fabrics—but only two basic design styles: market and cantilever.
Market models are the classic, upright patio umbrella. Most have a vented canopy, which allows for a bit of wind to flow through without lifting the umbrella from the ground. Some market umbrellas have a tilt function, which lets you adjust the upper portion of the frame to keep the shade centered right where you want it. Market umbrellas are excellent options for shading a patio table, outdoor kitchen, or small seating area.
Cantilever umbrellas—also called offset umbrellas—have an arching frame that offsets the canopy from the base. This means you can shade your lounge chairs or outdoor entertaining area without the umbrella base getting in the way.
One of the most important decisions when buying a patio umbrella is the size. Too big and it will look bulky and out of place; too small and you don’t get enough shade. Note that umbrella measurements refer to the width of the fully extended canopy, not the height. While there’s a large range of umbrella widths, its height should be no less than seven feet and no more than nine feet when fully raised. The following guidelines will help you pick the perfect umbrella for your needs.
• A 5-foot to 6-foot umbrella provides perfect cover for a bistro set with two chairs.
• If you want to shade a 36-inch table with two to four chairs, you’ll need a 7-foot umbrella.
• Looking to shade a 40-inch table with four to six chairs, or a small conversation area? A 7.5-foot to 8.5-foot umbrella is your best bet.
• For tables up to 48 inches or small-to-medium conversation areas, you’ll need a 9-foot to 10-foot umbrella.
• An 11-foot umbrella is suitable for a 60-inch table with six chairs, or a medium-sized conversation area.
• For a large conversation area or a 60-to-72-inch table, choose an umbrella that’s 11.5 to 13-feet across.
The three most common materials for umbrella frames are aluminum, wood, and fiberglass.
• Aluminum umbrella frames are the most popular choice, as they are the least expensive option, hold up well in a wide range of weather conditions, flex enough to tolerate moderate winds, and are lightweight.
• Teak and other hardwoods make attractive frames that look particularly nice on a wooden deck. Although the wood is normally treated to prevent rot and weather damage, it does tend to fade or change color over time and is likelier to snap in high winds than metal frames.
• Fiberglass is the most expensive choice, but also the most durable. This lightweight, strong material won’t weather or rust and performs well even in fairly high winds.
Every patio umbrella requires a heavy base to keep it from falling over or blowing away, even if the umbrella is centered through your patio table. Failing to secure your umbrella not only makes it likelier to be damaged, it also creates a risk of injury to those enjoying your patio.
Stone, iron, and concrete are common umbrella base materials, although some less-expensive bases are hollow plastic, requiring you to fill them with sand or water. Some umbrella bases have small wheels, a handy feature if you’ll want to move your umbrella from place to place.
As a general rule, the larger the umbrella, the heavier the base, and cantilever models need even more weight than market versions. While some umbrellas include the base, others require you to purchase the base separately. Here are guidelines for market umbrella base weights:
• 40 pounds for 5-to-6-foot umbrellas
• 50 pounds for 7.5-to-8.5-foot umbrellas
• 60 pounds for 9-foot umbrellas
• 70 pounds for 10-foot umbrellas
• 100 pounds for 11-to13-foot umbrellas
The fabric of the umbrella needs to be durable enough to tolerate sun, rain, wind, and cold. One particularly popular fabric is Sunbrella, which is used by many manufacturers. This durable acrylic fabric comes in a huge range of colors and patterns and stands up to just about any weather condition without fading. Polyester, canvas, unbranded acrylic, and Olefin are also sturdy fabrics that perform well outdoors.
Two Additional Features Worth a Look
There are two other features to weigh when choosing a top-notch patio umbrella.
• The lift mechanism is what opens and closes your umbrella. The three common options are push-up, which requires you to use your own strength to lift and secure the canopy and is only suited to small umbrellas; pulley, which uses a wheel and rope mechanism to lift the umbrella into place; and crank, which has a small handle that cranks the umbrella canopy open and shut—the best option for large patio umbrellas.
• The tilting mechanism on umbrellas usually takes one of three forms: a button you push to release the umbrella so you can tilt it to the desired angle, a crank that tilts the umbrella, or a rotating collar that lets you tilt the umbrella into place.
There’s nothing like enjoying a beautiful summer’s day while sipping your favorite beverage in the shade of a great patio umbrella. Looking to dress up your outdoor space? Check out three of the best patio umbrellas available according to consumer reviews.
Abba 9-Foot Market Umbrella ($69)
The perfect size for round or rectangular tables up to 48 inches, this budget-priced, aluminum-framed, polyester-canopied market umbrella cranks open and closed, and has a push-button tilt mechanism. With an average of 4.4 stars on Amazon, pleased owners praise the Abba 9-Foot Market Umbrella’s sturdy quality and ease of use. It’s available in several colors and patterns like this one, but you’ll have to buy the base separately. Available on Amazon.
Hampton Bay 11-Foot Solar Cantilever Umbrella ($299)
If your outdoor leisure spot calls for a touch of luxury, the Hampton Bay 11-Foot Solar Cantilever Umbrella will fill the bill. Its 11-foot Olefin canopy is topped with a solar panel that powers 40 LED lights strung along the canopy supports, a nice touch to illuminate evening entertaining. The frame tilts easily to provide plenty of shade, and at 11 feet, this umbrella is can easily cover a large table or conversation area. Happy Home Depot customers give the Hampton Bay an average of 4.2 out of five stars. It’s only available in two colors (a beige and a red), and you’ll need to fill the base with 220-pounds of sand, sold separately. Available at Home Depot.
Abba 7.5-Foot Patio Umbrella ($59)
Large enough to shade your bistro set or small table, the Abba 7.5-foot patio umbrella has an aluminum and steel frame that cranks open and closed, along with a push-button tilt mechanism. The durable polyester canopy comes in several colors. Amazon buyers give this reasonably priced, quality umbrella an average of 4.4 out of five stars. The base is sold separately. Available on Amazon.