This blog post has been written to provide its readers with a professional understanding of the requirements and Specifications of a shade sail for schools.

Why you need to know about Shade Sail Specifications.

Being part of a tensile architectural design practice we still find it hard to believe that many construction companies and, even architects, don’t know that shade sails have a design guide which needs to be adhered to, together with a requirement to conform to specific construction codes; unfortunately this is the case. To many these guidelines, such as  health and safety and practical design and engineering requirements which a shade sail or sail canopy installation needs to comply with are being ignored. It is a legal requirement that a fabric structure for schools have M2 – EUROPEAN COMMUNITY DECLARATION OF CONFORMITY. Without this conformity any such school shade sails or sail canopy installation will not comply with national health and safety directives, which can invalidate insurances of both the school and the main overriding construction contractor.

It is vitally important that Shade Sail Design Principles and Sail Canopy Specifications are adhered to.
Damaged cheap shade sail


What happens if you don’t follow Shade Sail Engineering Criteria?

The easiest way of explaining or outlining this is by provide you with a real life instance that was brought to our attention only a couple of weeks ago. Out of the blue we received a call from an extremely stressed Quantity Surveyor (QS), claiming his job was as risk if we could not help him solve a situation which he found himself in.

Towards the end of last year his company won a contract to build a new school in Essex. The tendering process was long and hard fought and they had only just won it by biding £30,000 less construction costs than that of their nearest rivals. Unfortunately local government contacts are now predominately issued to the company offering the lowest cost rather than the company with the best solution and capabilities. Anyway, as part of the final phase, which was close to completion, 6 x 5.8m x 5.8m shade sails were to be arranged around the perimeter of the playground, to confirm with the recent legislated shading requirements for schools. In all, over 200 square meters of shading cover was to be installed.

With no prior knowledge or understanding of shade sails, their tender response price included figures which he found on the web. As this is what they had budgeted for, he contacted the company and asked them to supply sails to fit.  After all if they supplied sails to Alan Titchmarsh they must be OK………..right?

With limited understanding of tensile fabric installation, his installers ripped the first two sails before finally finding a way to install the remaining four. That evening it rained.

When they returned to site the next morning, the four sails they managed to install had collapsed under the weight of the rain water which had accumulated in the centre of the sails. The centre of one of the sails was even touching the floor under the weight of water it had collected. All the edges had torn the fixings had also buckled. Essentially it was a total disaster.

When we asked him who supplied the sails he gave us the name of an internet based company whom sells thousands of cheap shade sails to the domestic market. We asked him why he had bought from them, he told us “I didn’t know any different, they are all over the Web, Ebay and Amazon, I thought they would be fine”. He then went on to say “The sails are really poor quality, the turn buckle fixings could be bent with our bare hands and the fabric is like a cheap tent fabric…they are not fit for purpose”.

We then went on to ask him to explain the installation. As a result we immediately realised that the shade sails had no consideration towards the design or engineering and there installation failed to comply with the very  basics of European Tensile Structure Guidelines, M2 Conformity and Health & Safety Directives. Not one thought had been given the safety of thoughts that would be using the shade sails.

Where it went wrong

  • No consideration for wind loadings.
  • No engineered conformation of stress loads.
  • Totally wrong shape and design – Sails cannot be flat with such a size.
  • No catenary edge cable to take the stress loads.
  • No membrane plates to spread the load evenly.
  • Fixings not rated to take the calculated loadings.
  • Insufficient sized anchor posts.
  • Inappropriate Fabrics – did not meet M2 Conformity or EU guidelines in either fire or tensile strength.

Essentially everything was wrong and by some distance – the installation was not designed for the site.

When we explained the safety issues and what needed to be done, he was shocked as his own child was to attend the school. He then asked us to provide him with a cost estimate so he could go back to his MD. He then added in dismay “Why had the architect not picked up on this during the tender stage?” Unfortunately we could not answer this for him.

The result.

The shade sails and posts are currently being removed from site for safety issues, which means the playground surface will have to be relayed at a significant cost to the construction company.  The School has demanded the construction company deliver on the tender and supply the “Water proof” shade sails that were stipulated in the tender document. They are also being financially penalised for not completing and providing a handover in accordance to the contractual agreements.

In our last communication with the construction company, their MD told us they are looking at a potential £63,000.00 or more loss on the project due to their QS’s mistake, plus a significant loss of face. They have also fallen out with the Architects practise, which they had built a good relationship over the past 4-years. Unfortunately we do not know if the QS is still employed, as we had no further communication from him after his initial contact. But judging by the tone of the companies MD we would be surprised if was.


To find out more about Specifications of Shade Sails for Schools please call us and let us provide you the professional assistance you need.  Tel: 01249 848649 Email:

Shade Sail Blinds is part of the Airsculpt Group