How to Measure for a Playground Shade Structure

Playground Without Roof Under a Playground Shade Structure with Blue Rubber Mulch Safety Surfacing

Playground Shade Measurements

Whether you have an existing playground or are looking at outfitting your new playground with a sunshade, we are here to help!  And with a myriad of solutions available, we will give you some guidance on how to measure for your new shade structure.   

If you happen to be in the beginning stages though and wish to learn more about Playground Sunshades and Styles in general, feel free to look around Playground Outfitters.  We will be creating a post all about playground shade and structures very soon as well.  

In this article, we’ll lay out some considerations for your shade project and share some helpful tips and tricks to make sure that you don’t fall into common pitfalls and mistakes when choosing the right size, height, style, etc.  So, let’s get started! 


Blue and White Integrated Shades for a Playground

Before You Start & Considerations

Before you start your journey, there are a few things that you are going to want to consider:

Are you measuring for a new playground or existing?

If you have a new project, you should really consider a playground with an integrated shade structure. They are becoming more popular and really take the heavy lifting out of having to measure and purchase a separate structure for shade.  Each of these cleverly designed play systems has a shade structure that’s built into the center. This eliminates the need to install footers around the structure. Getting a two-in-one play structure and shade structure allows you to handle the purchase and installation of both pieces at once. It is also almost always cheaper than buying them individually. Selecting a play structure with a built-in shade can be a great way to save both time and money. As an added bonus, they are warranted together with your actual playground structure.  

Geographically, where will the playground be located?

If you are located in a community that doesn’t get much sun you may decide that a shade structure is an expense that isn’t as much of a priority as another project (i.e. safety surfacing, adding new playground items).

However, if your playground will get a lot of sun and you don’t already have some type of shade, you should likely move a shade sail or structure up the priority list in your playground project.

How large is the area that you need to cover?

Get the dimensions of the playground itself.

Try to get the use zone of the playground as well.  This would have likely come with the original playground receipt/purchase.  Or if you have safety surfacing, this is usually the area that the safety surfacing covers.  

How tall is the playground?

The height of your playground is going to dictate the height of your shade structure.  For example, if your playground has a very high roof point, then your shade structure is going to need to hang above that and out of reach of children.  If the shade structure is too high up, it won’t cover as large of an area (think, the higher up a shade sail is, the smaller actual shade it is going to throw on the ground or whatever is below it). This makes it less effective at protecting against sun. However if the shade structure is too close to the structure, it will make the play structure look crowded and give a claustrophobic feel. Additionally, there is a risk that kids may be able to reach and damage it.

If a play system does not already have a built-in roof, the optimal height for a shade structure is 84 inches above the surface of the tallest deck. An easy way to find this measurement is by looking at the “Max Deck Height” on your playground’s spec plan.  If your play structure does already have its own roof, that roof will already be 84 inches above the structure’s tallest deck. In this case, the shade structure simply needs to be a little bit taller than the tip of the roof. Playground owners often believe that roof pieces eliminate the need for shade structures. However, playground roofs are usually designed only to provide partial sun protection for the structure itself. For wider coverage that allows kids to play all over and all around your play system, a shade structure is highly recommended.

How is the sun positioned during the day in relation to your playground?

Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  Do a quick experiment.  Look at the play area three times a day to see where the sun is.  Let’s choose the morning, noon, and afternoon.  That should show you how the sun rotates around your playground.  Keep the orientation of this in mind when choosing your shade structure so that you can get the max shade coverage during the day.  

Measuring for your Playground Shade

Shade Sail Example in a Park Covering Two Picnic Tables

The spec plan can be very handy when working with a playground designer to plan your new shade structure. It defines your exact use zone, which is the most important part of determining the size of your shade structure. 

Even the minimum size for a shade structure will generally be fairly large. This is necessary not only so that it covers a wide enough area, but also because the support posts which hold the shade structure in place have to stand entirely outside of the play system’s safe use zone. This means that the posts must be six feet away from the structure at a minimum, to ensure that children won’t collide with them.

Additionally, the footers have to be completely outside of the safe use zone as well. The dimensions of the footers are generally 3 feet wide by 3 feet long, and 3 feet deep. Even if these footers are completely underground, they still must not overlap with the use zone at all. Since the posts go directly in the middle of the footers, this does not add another full 3 feet. However, it may add more than a foot and a half of distance. We recommend that the support posts of your shade structure stand at least 8 or 9 feet away from all parts of the play structure, or farther depending on the play structure’s height. For a tall play system, the shade structure’s supports may need to be a considerable distance away.

If you are measuring a shade structure for a playground that has not yet been built or finalized, it may be a good idea to consider a play system that has its own shade structure built right in. We offer a wide selection of playgrounds with integrated shade structures to choose from. 


The figure below shows an example of a playground setup using a shade structure which follows all of the proper measurements and guidelines:

An overhead image of a playground depicting footer locations for a shade structure.

The dotted line around the play system shows its safe-use zone. As you can see, it forms a perimeter six feet from all points of the playground’s outline. The shade structure’s four footers each stand just outside of this perimeter, at a safe and reasonable distance. The dimensions of the shade structure are 26 feet and 5 inches by 27 feet and 10 inches. The tallest deck on the structure is 48 inches, or 4 feet, above the ground.

Assuming this play system does not have a roof, the shade structure will have to stand at least 84 inches above the top deck. This adds up to a total height of  132 inches or 11 feet. Of course, as referenced earlier, if the play system does have a roof it may need to be taller.  

In Closing

Measuring a playground shade structure may seem tricky at first. However, once you know the rules and regulations, it is not so difficult. The shade structure does need to cover a very large area around the play system itself, but this has advantages. The extra space ensures that kids will have plenty of room to run and play all around the structure. The larger your shade structure is, the more protection they will have against sun exposure. The shade structure will also protect your play equipment against long-term sun damage. Although it may seem like extra effort, installing a playground shade structure is well worth it in the long run.

And remember, it may be hard to consider each and every possible factor when measuring for a playground shade.  So feel free to reach out to us directly with any and all questions you may have.  We are happy to help!


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