Sail shades
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Another summer, another round of broken patio umbrellas. I’m looking into something the kids can’t destroy, which means it has to be something they can’t reach. Maybe shade sails.

“We’ve been around for 15 years,” said Dan Mezich, owner of SoCal Shade Sails in Encinitas (760-535-1966,, “and demand has really grown over the past five years. The sails have a dynamic look — ours come in 25 colors, and they do not fade. They’re less expensive than traditional wood patio covers; I would say our residential price range is $3000 to $50,000. And they provide a lot more shade — 90 to 97 percent UV protection.”

To make his custom sails, Mezich uses “a polyethylene fabric imported from Australia. But we actually make the sails locally, so our turnaround time is faster than some other companies. The sails come with stainless steel mounting hardware and steel cabling along the perimeter. It’s very easy to clean — just hose it off. And it has a ten-year warranty. Plus, we offer a one-year installation warranty.”

“We’ll help with the design,” assured Mezich. “Most people like the look of shade sails but have a hard time figuring out connection points. It’s got to be connected properly or it will fail. I’m a general contractor, so I know where we can put the brackets. We come over to help. We offer a 3D sketch so that customers can see how the sails will look. The sketch costs $200, and that is then applied toward the purchase price. For the sail itself, we charge by the linear foot.”

Next, I spoke with Mike Ruder, owner of DMR Shade (714-379-0011). Ruder is a preferred installer for, and he services San Diego County. “Each job is designed to the customer’s taste,” he began. “We offer ready-made sails in a variety of shapes and sizes; those come with a two-year fabric warranty and offer 65 to 75 percent UV protection, depending on the color. Or we offer custom-made sails with a ten-year warranty; those offer 75 to 95 percent UV protection. The sails are made from a high-density polyethylene fabric that is reinforced along the perimeter. The custom sails also have either stainless steel cabling or seatbelt-style webbed material along the edge.”

Installation is the real trick, said Ruder. “They have to be put under the right amount of tension. We stretch the edges, and that puts the entire sail under tension. That minimizes movement, which in turn prevents premature fabric wear. If sails are tensioned properly, they will withstand a Class C wind load — that’s 85 miles per hour. We usually use the customer’s building as an anchor point, and we also usually set a post into the ground or affix it to an existing concrete slab. If you’re using the ready-made sails [$59.95–$980, depending on size], we might be able to use whatever the customer has available — say, a tree.”

Costs vary, depending on the project, said Ruder. “For residential setups, I’ve done projects ranging from $600 to $40,000. With today’s technology, people can email me photos or a site plan, and I can work up a design to get them the best coverage within their budget. Sometimes, I can pop in three or four sails and maybe a post or two, using the home as an anchor point, and come in about a third cheaper than a wood or aluminum patio covering.”

Finally, I talked to Michael Moran at Moran Canvas in La Mesa (619-462-7778, “We do custom sails in any color. If you do your own measurements, you can just tell us over the phone. Or you can have us come out and do a consultation at no charge. Installation is extra. The sails are made from a polypropylene-polyethylene mesh, and they’re very durable,” he assured me. “You can expect to see a 14- to 15-year lifespan. And they’re user-friendly — they don’t need maintenance, and they wash clean in a mild rain.”

Speaking of rain, Moran noted that the sails “need to be installed with some slope, because even though they are a shade material, some water will come through” if it sits on the surface. “We recommend two inches of slope for every foot of sail. We charge $15 a perimeter-foot for fabrication. On the low end, sails plus installation could cost $1500 to $2000. Of course, last year we did an installation at High Tech High in Chula Vista, and it ran to $250,000.”

Finally, said Moran, “We give a full warranty of ten years on both fabric and installation. A good warranty is important. We repair other shade sails all the time — people buy them online, and they go to pieces in a year or two. Then the owner has to take it in and get it resewn, and that can be expensive.”

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tomjohnston June 21, 2012 @ 6:48 p.m.

These things have been a fixture over in Arizona for years, both in residential and commercial use. I've noticed them in use in quite a few parks as well.


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