I just had the good fortune of returning from Palm Springs. It was 90° every day, with not a cloud in the sky. Now I’m back in rainy Vancouver missing lounging out on a balcony.
However, all is not lost. Very soon it will be patio weather in Vancouver as well.
We got really lucky because the super nice woman who checked us in at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Hotel hooked my wife and I up with one of the nicest rooms at the resort.
We were on the eighth floor west if you of the pools and the golf course. Here was our view:
We took advantage of the large balcony sitting out having coffee in the morning and enjoying the warm evening here after dinner.
Obviously, being able to enjoy the outdoors so much after many months being cooped up inside our house in cold British Columbia I became an inspired to put together and in depth article on the different types of awnings. I’m very excited to be able to start enjoying the outdoors as temperatures warm in my neck of the woods.
With spring on the corner, it’s time to start setting up your outdoor space.
The thing is when it gets very hot it can be a very unpleasant sitting outside. I noticed this in Palm Springs and have even noticed it during the hottest months in British Columbia.
Accordingly, it’s definitely nice to have some form of the covered outdoor seating area so that you can take full advantage of your outdoor space as much as possible.
But, as with all things home related these days you have many options for your awning system.
Main Types of Awnings
This article focuses on the different types of awnings for decks and patios. It does not get into awning options for windows and doors and does not discuss waterfall awnings.
1. Retractable Awning
Source: Heritage Shade and Awning
The retractable awning is one that can extend to provide shelter or retract so you enjoy the sun. Not only do they offer outdoor covering options, but you also protect your awning when not using it.
Retractable awnings can be operated manually via a hand crank or extend/retract on it’s own with a motor. If motorized, it can be triggered with a button, remote control or sensor. Sensor-triggered awnings can be programmed to extend when various events occur such as the sun beaming down, rain. Alternatively it can be programmed to retract when it gets windy.
The sensor-triggered retractable awning offers the most convenience, but it’s costly.
See our article setting out 17 things to know before buying a retractable awning.
2. Fixed Awning (Wall-Mounted)
The fixed awning is wall-mounted and provides constant shelter. It often, but not always, has additional support poles at the end of the extension for greater durability.
The fixed awning is great if you want to permanently shelter a portion of your deck or patio. You don’t have to fiddle around with any retractable unit; instead it’s often durable and strong providing 24/7 shelter.
3. Portable (Freestanding)
There are several portable or freestanding awning options. The 3 main types are:
c. Freestanding awning
Portable awnings give you the option to move it around your deck, but they typically won’t provide as much shelter as a wall-mounted awning.
FYI, we have two umbrellas on our patio, which do the job, but inevitably someone at the patio dining table is stuck in the sun. They’re the least expensive deck covering option by far though so if you have limited funds, one, two or three umbrellas will do or you can opt for a canopy.
B. Retractable awning parts and components
There are 4 main components to a retractable awning. They are:
1. The Cover
You definitely want a durable fabric or material that forms the cover. Ideally, the covering will offer the following benefits:
- UV protection
- Color retention (i.e. colours stay vibrant for a long time)
If you want more shade, consider getting an awning with a dropshade. Here’s an example – notice how the fabric drops down almost enclosing the space under the awning.
The frame supports the awning. Most are made of aluminum or galvanized steel. Aluminum is lighter and won’t corrode, but galvanized steel is stronger.
There are 2 main types of frames
- Round tubing which is bolted together: Good if store the cover frequently.
- Square or rectangular tubing which is welded together. Good if keep up year-around
The cassette is the covering around the motor and holds the covering when retracted. It’a the part mounted to the wall.
There are 3 types of cassettes
- Full (closed) cassette: When awning retracted it’s fully protected.
- Semi cassette: Provide some protection to the covering.
- Open cassette: Retracted awning remains exposed.
When it comes to the motor consideration, you want one that is:
- Maintenance free
If using an awning company to provide and install your awning, ask about the type of motor being used and whether it’s durable, quiet and whether it requires maintenance.
C. Awning Materials
Main awning materials include:
- Polyester (Vinyl-coated): Polyester is ideal for larger awnings because it offers “rebound” behaviour to prevent sagging in the long term (Source: Weinor.com). The vinyl-coated option is resistant to UV light, mildew and water. Good for high humidity areas.
- Solution-dyed acrylic (Canvas): Best for frequent use because the colours remain vibrant longer.
- Acrylic-coated polyester
- Metal (aluminum): While durable and relatively low maintenance, metal awnings can rust and/or dent (Source: ColumbusRetractableAwnings.com).
Note: many awning companies have trademarked names for their fabrics which don’t really tell you anything. Therefore, when discussing your awning purchase with a company ask about the material of each “model” and then inquire about the pros and cons.
Sewn vs. Glued Awning Cover
Another recommendation is to opt for a sewn awning instead of a glued awning. Sewn awnings are more reliable.
Waterproof vs. Water Resistant
Laminated fabrics (i.e. vinyl-coated polyester) will be waterproof but woven fabrics like acrylic fabrics may over time end up only water resistant.
If you plan on using your awning for shelter from rain, you definitely want a covering material that is rated “waterproof”.
D. Typical Retractable Deck Awning Sizes
Unless you buy an awning from a retailer which offers a variety of sizes, your awning can be any size. In other words, it can be custom fit for the amount of covering you seek. This is a huge benefit of hiring an awning company to create and install your awning.
The dimensions you need to know are the width and extension length.
E. Additional Features to Consider
- App/mobile device control: If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can now get motorized awnings that are controlled via app. While I think this is cool, I think I’d want a backup remote control or some button available to control the awning.
- Lighting integrated: Don’t forget to check out integrated lighting in your awning. This is a way to kill two birds with one stone… i.e. shelter and lighting.
Source: International Light Technologies
- Heating system integrated: You can also get awnings that come with built-in heaters that project heat to the covered area. This is great in cooler climates where it can get chilly at night.
- Skylights: You can also get awnings that are a series of retractable windows which provides plenty of light and air. The downside with the “glass” awning is that you don’t get shade… it merely protects agains rain.
Source: Samson Awnings
Retail: The range is huge. You can buy an awning from Home Depot, Loses or even Amazon for $400 or more and install it yourself. One popular brand you can buy retail is SunSetter (https://www.sunsetter.com).
Custom & Installation: Alternatively, you can hire an awning company to create a custom-sized awning for you and install it. This is much more expensive, but it’ll likely be much better quality, properly sized and you’ll have all the bells and whistles you seek. This will run you $1,500 to $5,000+. Many factors go into pricing such as material, size and features.
G. How long do awnings last?
It depends on the quality of awning you get, your climate and how often you have it extended. Your awning could last a measly 5 years or 15 years of enjoyment. Most quality frames will last a long time; it’s the fabric that needs to be replaced so at least when the fabric needs to be replaced, it won’t cost as much as the full set up.
You can extend the life of your awning fabric by retracting it during winter months and being diligent about maintenance.
H. What should you choose?
You have a lot of decisions to make, but it boils down to this.
Settle for a low-cost, install it yourself model or research and hire what you think is the best awning company in your area to provide something more robust.
If you sit outside frequently and like shade/protection from the elements, it’s hard to suggest anything but hiring an awning company to get you something that will last, is set up properly and includes all the features you want. Yes, it costs more money, but it will serve you well for many years.