Shade placement is a balance between aesthetics and functionality. A common misconception is that shade has to be either functional or look good.It is possible to have both. In our last article, we reviewed all of the different ways to shade the critical areas of your wash, from drying to detailing to pay stations to vacuums to customer waiting areas.

How many times have you driven by other businesses that have good looking shade umbrellas or canopies that provide no shade where the shade needs to be? How about the incredibly good shade provided by a structure that, for lack of better terms, is not very good looking or professional?

Fabric shade structures provide a perfect balance between cost and functionality. Many designs are available to place the shade right where you need it without driving costs up through complicated construction concepts or an abundance of materials. The question of proper placement of the shade is something to consider closely before investing in a permanent or semi-permanent solution.

Try this test at your wash: Place a patio umbrella over a table in the outdoor customer waiting area or in the employee break area and monitor the shade pattern for a few days. Chances are, you will find very little of the chairs around the table are actually shaded. Now (if it can be done safely), raise or lower the umbrella a couple of feet and watch the shade pattern. Notice the difference? The closer to the ground the umbrella is, the more shade actually falls on the seating. Taking this concept into practical application brings into play a number of considerations we’ll explain through examples.


On the right are two shade analysis sketches of an 8’ x 8’ umbrella placed at 8’ foot high over a typical pay station. We are looking north in both of these sketches. Notice the umbrella is located about a foot south (in front) of the pay station. Also notice the shade cover is placed with its edge directly above the front edge of the pay station. Both of these sketches represent the shade pattern at noon on June 21. The only difference in the two is their physical location in the United States. The sketch on the top represents a pay station at our factory in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and the sketch on the bottom represents a pay station near my Mom’s house in Terra Alta, WV.

Figure 1
Fort Lauderdale – 12:00pm – June 21st
West Virginia – 12:00pm – June 21st

Fort Lauderdale is at 26°N latitude, which means the sun is almost directly overhead at noon on this longest day of the year. Terra Alta is at 40°N latitude, placing the sun lower in the sky at exactly the same time on exactly the same day. So, if the shade’s column was located on the north side of the pay station, we would be okay here in Florida. But my Mom’s pay station would be in the sun, despite the shade cover being placed directly over the screen.

The situation gets worse at different times of the year. Here is a comparison of the shade pattern at noon on September 21 at both locations. For those of us that remember our geography, September 21 is the first day of fall, with the sun directly over the equator and heading south for the winter (like for all who live in northern climates). The sun is now low enough in the sky to significantly affect our shading pattern. Here in Fort Lauderdale we still have good coverage of the pay station screen while in West Virginia the bottom left of the screen is exposed to the sun (see Figure 2).

Figure 2
Fort Lauderdale – 12:00pm – September 21st
West Virginia – 12:00pm – September 21st

Mornings in September (or March, when the sun is heading back north for the summer) exacerbate the issue even further. At 9:00 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale the screen is still in the shade, while in West Virginia, only the tip-top of the screen is shaded as seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3
Fort Lauderdale – 9:00am – September 21st
West Virginia – 9:00am – September 21st

So, What’s the solution? Here’s an easy one, we think: We’ll just increase the size of the shade and cover the entire lane. Note the width of the shade does nothing to eliminate the issue of the sun being lower on the horizon at the more northern locations. The only way is to place the pay station further to the north under the shade structure or to place the shade structure further to the south.

Figure 4
Fort Lauderdale – 9:00am – September 21st
West Virginia – 9:00am – September 21st

The simplest solution would be to increase the size of the shade structure to 10’ x 10’ square and to place the column further to the south. Lowering the shade cover if it is taller than 8’ high will also increase the amount of shade directly below the cover. Not to worry about the height, your tunnel clearance is most likely less than 8’. Besides, both an F-350 with running lights (like in West Virginia) and a fancy painted Hummer (like in Fort Lauderdale) are less than 8’ tall. These minor adjustments will allow for full coverage during the spring and fall as well as in the morning (or afternoon if your pay station faces west).

These same shading concepts apply equally to all areas in your wash. Think of all the times you have seen a detail area with the cars under the canopy being half in the sun, or the time your employees couldn’t stand in the shade despite an umbrella being directly over them. Don’t fall for the idea that a cover being directly above the area that needs shade to be a perfect solution.


There are a number of ways to properly shade critical areas and we only had time here to discuss one or two. Adding shade sails to the list of solutions opens up a number of additional possibilities and challenges. Whichever way you decide to go, there are many reasons to use a professional quality shade structure. Let’s quickly look at a summary of our last couple of articles:

1. Improve Profitability
• Nothing shouts to the world, “I am a professional detail center” like a shade structure
• Improved flow means higher throughput without introducing potential accident areas
• A cooler, more comfortable working environment leads to higher productivity

2. Provides a Controlled and Comfortable Work Environment
• Lowers temperature up to 20° underneath
• Blocks dangerous UV rays

3. Creates Professional-Looking Grounds and Aesthetics
• Creates curb appeal
• Improves visibility of your wash

4. The Government (OSHA) Requires It
• Workers are required to be protected from the heat and sun
• OSHA summarizes their Heat Illness Prevention campaign in three key words: Water, Rest, Shade

5. Automotive Paints Should Not Be Cleaned Under the Hot Sun
• Prevents water spots, especially in places that have extremely hard water
• Modern automotive clear coats and paint formulas actually yield a rather soft surface that can be scratched easily

6. Custom Shade Structures Are Less Expensive and Easier to Install than You Think
• A high-quality, professional structure or sail will perform flawlessly and look good for years
• Many structure systems are easy to maintain and have replaceable components in case of incidents

Finally, for a full comparison of the shade pattern throughout the calendar year, Figure 5 shows both locations on Dec 21 at noon.

Figure 5
Fort Lauderdale – 12:00pm – December 21st
West Virginia – 12:00pm – December 21st

To ensure you make the right investment, call a shade professional to explore all of the options for shading your critical areas. You will not be disappointed and will increase profits to boot!

Chip Breitweiser is with Pompano Beach, FL-based Industrial Shadeports. You can visit the company on the web at