History of Shade Cover & Sun Shade Structures in the United States
The shade industry is relatively new in the United States, unlike overseas where it has been a mature industry for many years. It dates back to 1990 when the first shade cover in the United States was erected in Dallas, Texas. Until 1990, awnings were the only cloth structures in use. They were usually metal supports bolted onto building exteriors, custom designed and fabricated to protect windows, create a unique appearance for a store, or provide cooling shade. Covers were made from a range of 100% waterproof vinyl, woven cloths or vinyl laminates that were generally cost prohibitive for larger structures. The awnings required extensive steel to support the weight of the cloth and usually required considerable customization to fit each building exterior. To the company's knowledge, there were no freestanding permanent lightweight shade canopies that qualified to be rated as a "building" in terms of city building code prior to 1990.
The development of such shade canopies required a frame and membrane system that eliminated the problem of rainwater "collecting" in pockets in the cloth, adding to the weight that was to be supported. The introduction of shade cloth, made in South Africa and unknown in the United States until 1990, stimulated the development of new shade covers and structures. Shade cloth is a high-density polyethylene woven cloth, ultra-violet stabilized to prevent deterioration from the sun, and fire retardant to meet building code requirements for fire propagation and smoke inhalation.
Automobile dealers and recreational companies were the first industries to recognize the utility and visual appeal of the new shade canopies. Dealers and manufacturers, along with their insurers, had suffered the losses of devastating hail storms for years throughout the Midwest; the new canopies provided excellent hail protection and instant eye appeal for their properties for costs well below conventional building materials. Water parks and commercial playgrounds recognized that they could increase attendance by providing shade. Canopies again were an excellent choice and their free flowing design beckoned potential customers with the promise of a cooling shade.
Custom-Made Commercial Canopies Outperform Prefabricated Commercial Canopies
The majority of companies in the industry elect to design and manufacture shade canopies in a limited number of standard models, the components of which can be made in the shop and assembled on site with temporary labor. While manufacturing components in a controlled environment can be effective for small to medium-sized projects, the disadvantages of this strategy for prefabricated commercial canopies include:
Powder coating, once scratched - either during transportation or after installation - can never be restored to its original finish, as the powder paint surface is baked on at extremely high temperatures.
The bolt-together system utilized by most of the industry assumes that the support columns will be installed exactly in the correct place, and 100% "plumb". Due to variations in the field, such as ground slope, soil and rock conditions, concrete settings and errors in measurement, it is unlikely that the actual environment will conform to the plans. The result is that the steel may not fit together, the cloth may be too tight or too loose, or the entire shade structure may not be able to be assembled, especially if there are steel tubes that must be sleeved into one another.
The cost of manufacturing cutouts and plates, and reciprocal plates with reciprocal holes for bolting steel tubes together is very high, a prerequisite of a bolt-together system. While there are manufacturing benefits resulting from economies of scale, in-plant supervision, quality control through measurement, and production metrics and standards, the costs of these extra steps and steel parts are extremely high. The production advantages are often lost when difficulties in installation result in additional costs.
Most companies publish a price list and standard size chart. Many orders taken for structures differ from their standard chart of sizes. As a result, the order must be completed in a custom production run, with lengths, angles, material sizing, and shop drawings having to be recreated. As a consequence, the production economies may be lost, as these production items become "custom" items.
Few companies have the technology to "sew" the fabric to a custom made commercial canopy on-site. The fabric must be cut and sewn in the factory, creating the need for exact tolerances and/or expensive re-fits.
A typical shade canopy produced by a prefabricator relies upon a single cable stretched around the perimeter of the structure to secure the fabric cover to the steel frame. If the dimensions of the pre-sewn cover are too large, the top will flap and blow in the breeze; if the dimensions are too small, the cover must be returned to the factory for re-sewing. In addition, the lack of support cable sewn into the cloth itself leaves broad expanses of the top with no support. During periods of snowfall or accumulation, the top will "pond", the fabric stretching to meet the load. This is both unattractive and can be very dangerous if the wet fabric falls upon electrical fixtures.