The complex world of a shade structure
There probably is not day that goes by that we don’t notice or utilise a shade structure of some sort: parking under cover at the mall, having coffee in an outside area protected by umbrellas or just protecting our children as they play on the park playground or at home.
Shade structures are a highly effective at maximising health benefits when outdoors as they reduce immediate sun exposure and the effects of long-term sun exposure, and there are many steps to ensure they are the most effective solution, of excellent quality, installed correctly, designed to the highest building standards, meet council approval, provide protection, and compliment the aesthetics and environment they are in.
Although the process may seem straight forward, do not underestimate the complexity of the design, manufacture and install a quality custom solution. If you ever wondered all goes into shade structure design and install before you see and enjoy the result, read on.
Understand your need
As with most services it is important to understand your need in relation to a shade structure and what you are wanting to achieve, both structurally and aesthetically. For instance, are you looking at providing an area for patrons to sit down and eat or protect them from the elements at a sporting event, keep their cars cool and protected while they are shopping, or giving an old building a fresh fresh look? It is important to be clear about the level of protection you are after for example is it only UVR, or it is privacy as well, and reducing utility bills, or protection from wind, rain, and hail? Also, think about whether you need the flexibility of to open and close the shade structure.
Do your research
Once your needs are clearly identified, do your research and look to find a reputable shade structure supplier. A skilled installer will act upon their own judgement, offer sound guidance, and not accept short cuts or direction from their clients no matter how well meaning. Ask questions like are they insured and licenced, do they offer a contract and written quote? Do they own and control the entire process/do they own factory facilities with access to specialist manufacturing equipment, what warranties do they offer, do they specialise in custom designs etc?
Location and environment
An experienced supplier will ensure they have a clear and accurate understanding of your needs by evaluating the shade structure environment, the orientation of the building, the variant in the sun’s path throughout the year to ensure the structure provides adequate shade and UVR protection, the wind strength, building requirements and approvals most suited to your area, for example a car park tarmac requires different considerations to a six-story apartment block. Furthermore, the supplier will consider access to the installation area, council approval, engineering requirements and of course, your budget. Our team is experienced in working with councils, so check in with us if you have questions.
Safety and risk assessment
Safety is primarily when it comes to the shade structure installation process. Each site is unique and presents its own set of risks to be managed. Excavations to install posts need to consider underground services such as power, gas, water, and fibre optic cables, while working at heights may require scaffolding, scissor lifts, or whether the project can be safely installed using a ladder. Other factors include adequate height clearance and fall zones for play parks, foundation types, wind speeds, structure supports, fixings and more.
Design and Budget
Once the shade structure requirements and the budget you have allocated to the project are finalised, the design and engineering team will get to work and present you with the most suitable designs. Shade structure solutions are extremely versatile and allow you to create a fully custom design that not only considers the aesthetics you’re after, but also offer the flexibility of an array of colours and substrates, to satisfy the most decerning of buyers.
When it comes to budget, it is important to know that when decisions are made purely on price, there will always be cheaper shade options available. Shade structures are an investment you are making to your property and buying on price alone has its cost like lesser quality substrates and stitching, substandard services levels, workmanship and guarantees. At Versatile Structures we honour our word and ensure we deliver on price and on schedule.
Once you approved the design, the next stage is doing a risk assessment if needed and getting the relevant council and engineering approvals for the shade structure before the project goes to into the manufacturing stage. Depending on the complexity of the project, it may require a lot of support documents like design plans, detailed drawings of the setup area, and workplace health and safety plans. A shade manufacturer that is worth his salt will ensure most of the manufacturing is done off site to limit the amount of disturbance to you and your patrons.
Having a dedicated project manager will ensure that you are updated every step of the process and made aware of any delays such as heavy rain that may push out the install date. Project management also takes care of external contractors like fabricators, electricians, demolition teams, excavators, site managers and architects.
Versatile Structures takes full ownership of your project and deliver on what we promise, on time and on budget and our excellent quality control systems ensure you always get the highest possible standard.
The big day has arrived and all the decisions you have made are coming to fruition. A quality installer will ensure the structure is sound to maximise the structures’ lifespan and works from day one. As much as you would have seen renderings of the design beforehand, it is not until you are on-site and viewing the project, that it comes to life, and you fully experience the result.
Fabric structures need to be tensioned correctly and need to make allowance for adequate water runoff to avoid ponding and risk of collapse during a rain event. Inexperienced suppliers can run into issues from the structure not being made to specification, incorrect post heights or footings, inadequate tensioning that causes sails to flap in the wind and collect pools of rainwater to catastrophic failure with footings collapsing.
Regular inspections and maintenance can significantly extend the lifespan of a shade structure and ensure that small problems do not become big and costly problems. Stretching may require re-tensioning while tears or perished stitching must be repaired, and loose fittings need to be re tightened or new ones purchased.
It is advised to inspect a structure from time to time, especially after a major weather event where excessive loads can cause wear or damage, or in the event of vandalism or vehicle damage, or include a maintenance agreement as part of the sale.
Jamie Howard - Director
Co-founder and Director Jamie has been hands-on in the shade and steel industry since leaving school. With over 15 years’ experience in shade, membrane and steel projects, Jamie is excited about the design opportunities shade structures offer in the commercial and industrial sectors. Jamie’s extensive design skills give him a competitive edge in situations with technical design complexity. He has won two personal industry awards for his designs, alongside many company-won awards.