Parasol Buying Guide with all you need to know about parasols and garden umbrellas before purchasing

 

The hot season is the perfect time for you to enjoy and spend more time outdoors. Maybe you want to relax in your exotic plants garden, chill into the pool or simply rest in a hammock. We all love sunbathing but sometimes the sun’s rays can do more damage than good to us and our skin.

If you are in the hospitality sector, having a full terrace with people enjoying quality time with their friends is the best thing that can happen. Don’t let the sun or summer showers ruin their time, but make their stay as pleasant as you can.

If you have decided, or maybe still considering to purchase a garden parasol, Shade Specialists team wants to make sure you know all the key aspects of this product, before spending your money. With prices ranging from 30£ up to 5000£ or even more for a professional and fully equipped commercial parasol, the question ‘what makes the difference?’ comes naturally.

This Parasol Buying Guide hopes to bring light among a wide variety of products of different shapes, sizes, designs, materials and features. Inside you will find useful links to different relevant products or to other mini-guides, to help you see and understand the world of parasols and garden umbrellas.         

What do you use a garden parasol for?

parasol and sunchairs on a beach A quick look at wikipedia’s definition lets us know that a parasol is a folding fabric named ‘canopy’, sustained by a metallic or wooden frame with circular spokes attached to a central pole. It is designed with the purpose of protecting one against sun rays or rain. Often called sunshades, they are similar to hand-held umbrellas, but larger in sizes, usually placed in gardens or terraces, over patio tables, on beaches or pool sides next to a sunchair.

What are the benefits of a parasol?

Parasols are highly effective at blocking UV rays from the sun, better than the average sunscreen and they reduce the temperature under with up to 10 degrees, meaning that in a sunny day it can keep you cool by staying in the shade. It prevents direct sunlight from reaching the dining table and if the fabric is water resistant or waterproof, you will also have shelter under it from the summer showers or even heavy rain.

How do I choose a parasol?

When choosing a parasol for your outdoor space, there are 8 main criteria that you want to consider before purchasing: budget, usage, wind resistance, different types of fixations, the space available, the size of the area that needs shading, the parasol accessories and the materials used for manufacturing.

It may be confusing with so many aspects to consider for one product, but the Shade Specialists team is happy to do the work and put all things in to place to help you make the best decision when you buy a parasol.

What should I look for in a parasol?

The key features of a garden parasol you should be looking for, are:

  • The right size and shape of the canopy - round, square, rectangular.
  • Materials that you prefer for frame and pole - steel, aluminium or wood.
  • Type of parasol - free standing, overhanging cantilever, tilting or wall mounted.
  • Available parasol accessories - heaters, lights, speakers, cover.
  • Possible fixations - permanent or non-permanent bases.
  • UV protection factor for the canopy and overall wind resistance.

When choosing a garden umbrella, you’ll have to do it responsibly because it may be made of low-quality materials, too small in size or it may not protect you properly. You don’t want it to be easily blown away or spined by the wind because it could cause damages or even hurt someone if it’s not stable and well anchored.

Let’s dive in and look closer into all the features and options that a garden umbrella can have and how can you choose the best one for your space.

  1. Usage – Commercial parasol or garden umbrella?

There are 2 different situations when buying and using a parasol: either you want it in your home garden, to shade your patio table and garden furniture, either you may require one or more to place it on the terrace of your café, pub or restaurant – in this case a commercial parasol. These are larger, stronger and heavier than the regular garden ones, because most of the times they’ll have to cover larger areas, face all the seasons and are more fitted for busy environments. This will also involve a higher price than a garden umbrella, as well as more attention for the installation and maintenance process.

This doesn’t mean you can’t opt for a large commercial parasol in your backyard if the space allows it and you need a semi-permanent shade over a large surface. If you haven’t decided yet where exactly should you place your parasol, this article on ‘how to position a parasol has some good advices in it.   

Once you know where is it going to be placed and used, it’s time to think about the size, shape and dimensions of your parasol.

home garden parasol with sunchair on the side of the pool

Home Garden Parasol

large commercial parasol on a pub terrace

Commercial Parasol

  1. How do I know what size parasol to buy?

parasol diagram with sizes

Your parasol size is determined by the canopy width, and not the pole height. Typically, the edges should extend over the dining or patio table by at least 50 cm on all sides. For a 1.5m square table a 3m square parasol is the ideal choice.

For more details about sizes, visit our parasol size guide and see the index tables with all of our products and their measures.

Garden umbrella pole height and diameter:

The pole height is an important factor to consider, because your parasol should be set up high enough so that people won’t have to stoop down to sit under. You can choose a parasol with a telescopic pole and adjustable, or make sure that the brim height (from ground to the canopy) is of at least 2 meters.

The pole diameter is another dimension you will need to check, as it is important for the overall stability of the parasol. They vary from 38mm to 58mm and the tube of your parasol base should be slightly larger so the pole will fit inside. Some parasols have reinforced poles with additions on the inside for heavy duty usage and increased resistance.

  1. What shape parasol should I get?

parasol canopy shapes - round, square, rectangle There are 3 possible shapes for the parasol canopy: round, square and rectangular. For a better visual effect, we recommend matching the canopy shape with the table – for example, for a 1.5m diameter round table, a 3m round canopy would be a good match.

Square vs Round – Which parasol shades more?

The answer is - Square. If we compare a 3m round (octagonal) umbrella to a 3m x 3m square parasol, the round shaped will shade approximately 7 sq meters, whilst the square shaped will shade 9 sq meters.

  1. What material is a parasol made from?

All the 3 distinct parts of a parasol – the base, the frame and the canopy are made using different materials. The base can be made from concrete, granite, plastic, or a steel frame with tiles; the frame and pole can be made using wood, aluminium, or stainless steel and the canopy fabric is usually polyester, acrylic, vinyl or thatches.

Depending on your preferences and your budget, you can choose the ones that are the most suitable for your project.

  1. What are the different types of patio umbrellas and parasols?

Created for different space setups and needs, we can identify 7 types of parasols:

free standing parasol
  • Free-standing parasols

    – the most common one, similar to a regular umbrella, it has the pole in the centre of the canopy and it can go through the centre of the patio table, to increase its wind resistance. The price will depend on the size and the materials used.
cantilever parasol
  • Cantilever parasols

    – often referred to as overhanging parasol, side arm parasol or side post parasol, is designed with a side pole, to have the space clear underneath. They have a more luxurious aspect and if your table does not have a hole, or maybe you’d wish to shade the jacuzzi, this is the type of product you want to have. They require a heavier base and they are more expensive than the free standings.
tilting parasol
  • Tilting parasol

    – similar to a free standing with a central pole, this type of parasol is usually operated by a crank handle with winch that has both functions of unfolding the parasol and tilting the upper part of the central mast so that the shade will land where it’s needed. This function can be also found in cantilevers, sometimes on two axis – vertical and lateral.
telescopic parasol drawing
  • Telescopic parasol

    – this type of parasol has the central mast made from 2 separate poles and with different diameters, one sliding out from the other to make its height adjustable.
wall mounted parasol with metallic arm
  • Wall mounted parasol

    – designed for narrow terraces or balconies, this parasol can be fixed on to a wall and adjusted to find the perfect shade, thanks to the rotating bracket and mobile arm.
beach parasol with thatches canopy
  • Beach parasol

    – similar to a free standing, they don’t require a base and the pole has a pointed bottom to spike into the sand. The canopy is usually made from thatches.
balinese parasol with decorative laces
  • Balinese parasol

    – less strong than the regular parasols, these decorative umbrellas are made from wood and have a slightly different aspect, with a laced valance and more vibrant colours.
  1. Parasol parts, materials and features:

The parasol cover or canopy

The widest and most visible part of your parasol is the canopy that makes the actual shade. It can have different shapes – round, square, rectangular and it’s made from either polyester, acrylic or vinyl fabric. The sizes can vary from 2m small garden parasols to giant parasol canopies over 9m. They have less life than the frame and base, due to their exposure to direct sunlight, rain, stains mould and heavy usage, but can be easily replaced. See our replacement parasol canopy guide to learn how to measure and replace your parasol canopy with a brand new one.

cantilever parasol canopies - view from above

Cantilever Parasol Canopies 

What should I look for in a parasol canopy?

  • Parasol UV protection factor and fabric density (grams/m²).

    The main purpose of your garden umbrella is to shade and stop as much as possible the UVs from the sun. This means that the thicker the fabric, the better protection you will get. You can calculate by dividing the weight to the size (grams/m²). A good score will be around 200 gr/m² or higher. Usually, the density is not specified, but the producers provide the UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) - from low protection 10+ to maximum protection 80+.
  • Parasol canopy materials.

    The 3 main materials used are polyester, acrylic and vinyl, each one having different properties and resistance to sun, fading and water. Vinyl and acrylic are more expensive options due to their resistance and different substances repellence like water, oil etc. Polyester is a cheaper type of fabric, fading faster than the others if not protected with a cover, but still waterproof and wind resistant up to one point. To learn more about each type of material, visit our article about parasol cover materials and decide which one is more suitable for your project and budget.

canopy materials and colour palette

Canopy Materials and Colour Swatch

  • Parasol canopy colour.

    When it comes to choosing the colour for your parasol, it’s usually a matter of personal taste, surrounding environment or other purposes like marketing. You can choose to match it with the patio table or different garden furniture elements, make it stand out with a vibrant colour, or blend in with the rest of the elements. We know how confusing can this decision be so, fortunately, we’ve created an quick guide on how to choose the parasol colour, that can answer most of your questions on this matter. If you plan to purchase a parasol and use it in the hospitality or commercial sector, you may consider having the canopy printed with your logo and make your business visible from further away. We offer this service at Shade Specialists and you can find it on our printed parasols service page.
  • Parasol canopy ventilation.

    Air ventilation on top of the canopy is definitely something you would want to have for your parasol. Though it comes as standard to most of the garden umbrellas, with some having even double ventilation, this feature has double utility: it allows heat dissipation from under the canopy on hot days and creates an air flow of the wind, making the umbrella more resistant if you live in a windy area.    

parasol canopy with vented top - front view

Parasol Canopy With Vented Top

The parasol pole, frame and operating system

The parasol pole and frame make the rigid structure that holds the canopy neat and stretched when unfolded. The pole can be central placed, sustaining the frame from below, or lateral, sustaining the frame from the top (for cantilevers). The frame is made from a set of spokes or ribs, that are connected to the pole by a hub with a runner. The operating system makes the hub slide up and down, folding and unfolding the canopy.

Parasol pole and frame materials.

 The materials used in parasol manufacturing are probably the most important aspect, having a major impact upon the sturdiness of the structure, its resistance over time and the final price of the garden parasol. The three most common materials used are:

  • Wooden parasols bamboo, eucalyptus, hardwood are some of the wooden parasol structures available on the market. They have a luxurious aspect, they match wonderfully with darker colours of the garden furniture and they are the eco and environmental friendly version of the metallic ones. Some may need a once-a-year treatment but they are still strong and resistant. Bamboo for example has the tensile strength of steel, a natural impermeable protective layer and does not require any treatment.

wooden parasol parts - ribs, hub, runner, frame and finial

  • Aluminium parasols with a lightweight profile, this material does not rust, it’s practical and efficient, and it can resist in harsh weather conditions. The pole can be reinforced on the inside, it’s fast and easy to transport and store it and it’s a great choice to have in your garden.

aluminium parasol parts - ribs, hub and tip of ribs

  • Steel parasols this material is used more for parasols in the commercial and hospitality sector due to its weight and resistance. It can be stainless steel or powder coated and it can resist in incredible high-speed winds. It can be more expensive than wood or aluminium and may require more than one person for installation.    

stainless steel parasol parts - frame, ribs and hub

Is steel, aluminium or wood better for a patio umbrella?

Steel. A steel structure is the most heavy and resistant against high winds and can offer most of the benefits of aluminium, sometimes at a lower price. Wood and aluminium can definitely stand the test of harsh weather conditions, but in extreme situations the aluminium pole can bend or the wooden one could snap.

Parasol operating systems for opening and closing the canopy

Operating your parasol should be easy and safe. There are different systems, all with pros and cons, depending on the manufacturer and the design. Some may have also the tilting function included, whilst some are made to be as simple as possible. The three most common are:

double pulley and rope opening system - aluminium hub
  • Double pulley and rope system – the simplest opening system a parasol can have, it is designed on the hub and it uses a marine grade rope for actioning. You have to pull one end of the rope for the hub to slide upwards and push the frame until the canopy is fully open and stretched. The rope can either be secured with a clamp or it can have a pin to stop the hub from sliding down. To close it, remove the pin or unsecure the rope and pull the other end until the umbrella is collapsed.
winch with crank handle for parasol
  • Winch with crank handle – this type of system can be found mostly at parasols that have the tilting option set on the pole. For unfolding the canopy, one must rotate clockwise the handle. Continue the movement and the canopy will tilt. To close the umbrella, rotate counter clockwise. Firstly, the canopy will get back into the initial position and slowly close as you continue the rotating movement.
parasol opening system - push up button with spring
  • Push up system – similar to a regular umbrella, this system has an integrated spring. For opening, the hub and runner must be pushed upwards, until you hear the ‘click’ when it locks into position. To collapse it, just press its release button and see the canopy folding.

Parasol bases, fixation and anchoring:

A parasol base is the lower part where the parasol fits in, to be kept upright and to resist against winds. Depending on the garden umbrella model you choose, centre pole or cantilever, they come with different sizes and materials. Either granite, concrete or plastic base filled with water or sand, there are plenty options to choose from. The first question before making your decision should be if the position where it’s placed will be permanent or non-permanent? 

  • Permanent parasol fixation – for this type of setup, the strongest of all, an in-ground base will be used. This needs to be buried in concrete 60 cm deep and it also reduces the footprint of the parasol, preventing tripping and saving space.
  • Non-permanent parasol fixation – this type of bases can have caster wheels, their weight can vary from 15 kg up to 250 kg depending if the parasol goes through the centre of the patio table, or designed as a plate, to be installed under a deck.

premium granite parasol base

Parasol Granite Premium Base

To learn more about different parasol bases, what weight and material should you choose and how to install them, read our parasol base guide and have your questions answered.

Parasol accessories:

To make the most of your garden parasol, make it useful no matter the weather, season or time of the day. How? Accessorize it and turn it in to a full option parasol so it can also shelter you during the cold season and be a source of light after sunset. Be aware though, some options could increase the price, in some cases almost reaching up to the price of the parasol.

  • Parasol heaterscan be halogen heat lamps or short wave infra-red lamps. The main advantage of the halogen type is that the moment they are switched on, you can feel the heat, but it’s recommended to be turned on only when the area is occupied. The main advantage of the infra-red heaters is that they heat the objects and people and not the air. This means that it saves a lot of energy and the wind can’t blow the heat away.
  • Parasol lights LED lights are a great option to have for your umbrella. They can be fixed to the frame or portable. The portable ones are usually water resistant and they offer plenty of light so you could finish that last chapter of your favourite book, prepare dinner or play a game of cards with your guests. Usually, they have rechargeable batteries meaning that the electricity consumption is reduced.
  • Parasol speakers – either separated or integrated with the LED lighting kit, speakers will allow you to continue the party outdoors, or enjoy a great chill-out song while resting on the sunchair. The smaller versions have rechargeable battery, whilst bigger versions will have to be plugged in.
  • Parasol protective cover – this accessory is maybe the most recommended to have, as it could extend the life of your parasol for many years to come. When your parasol is stored or it’s not in use, a protective cover will stop direct sunlight, water and stains from bird drops, preventing the canopy from fading, tearing or the frame from scratches. Less expensive, but could save you money in time.
  • Other parasol accessories – the accessories list does not end here. Depending on your needs, you can add rain gutters to connect 2 parasols, screens, insect curtains, or even a mist cooling system.
  1. FINAL CONCLUSIONS:

Now that we’ve covered the key aspects of our products, from small garden umbrellas to large commercial parasols, it’s time to answer to some important questions that have a major influence to your final purchasing decision:

What makes a good parasol?

  • Resistance to elements - water, high temperatures, dust and most important - wind resistance. If you live in a windy area, you want your parasol to be sturdy.
  • Longevity – that is given by the quality of the materials used (keeping it stored and safe in a protective cover will help).
  • Usability – it has to be easy to install and operate. If you choose a non-permanent place for it and you plan to move it, consider a parasol base with wheels.
  • Features and accessories – to make your parasol useful all day and all seasons.

How much wind can a patio umbrella handle?

125 km/h or 12 on the Beaufort Wind Force Scale, after engineers from Bambrella tested their heavy-duty windproof parasol (Hurricane Extreme) in a wind tunnel. Wind tunnel testing does not fully reflect the wind speed felt on the ground. This is a controlled environment, where the wind blows only from one side, without sudden changes in direction and intensity, like in nature.

For this test the parasol had extra anchoring added to the heavy-duty base. Regular parasols are far less strong, usually around 4 – 5 (35 km/h) on the Beaufort Scale. 

For harsh weather and areas where the wind has to be considered, you can check a list with our best parasols for windy conditions here.

Below you can see the wind tunnel testing of our top 3 products, made from different materials: steel, aluminium and wood – bamboo.

Bambrella Hurricane Extreme Wind Tunnel Test

Bambrella Hurricane Aluminium Wind Tunnel Test

Bambrella Levante Bamboo Wind Tunnel Test

 

(*) We do not encourage our clients to keep their parasol open in high winds and we always recommend to collapse the canopy and store the parasol safely in its protective cover when not in use. 

What is the highest rated and the best quality patio umbrella?

The Hurricane Extreme is our top of the range product, made from steel and with a vinyl canopy, designed to be used more in the commercial environments.

For a home garden you can go lighter and opt for the Hurricane Aluminium frame, or the Levante Bamboo, to add a touch of luxury to your outdoor space.

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We hope you find this Parasol Buying Guide helpful for making the best decision when it comes to purchasing a parasol for your home garden or your pub’s terrace. Remember, we work Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm and we are happy to help you with all the details you need.

Get in touch with us by phone or email, tell us about your project and our team will find the best solution to shade your space and let you enjoy summer safe.