Awnings serve many practical purposes, helping to save energy, increase interior comfort, and protect furnishings from sun damage. They can also be a stylish touch that helps showcase the design or historical significance of a building or home.
The idea of awnings has existed for thousands of years. Ancient Syrians and Egyptians are said to have hung rugs or blankets outside their homes and shops to keep the heat out. Romans took the concept a step further, adding rods to which such coverings could be affixed.
In 19th century America, the use of awnings took a more decorative route. While they still had utilitarian purposes, people started using awnings as ornamental accents for their homes.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, shops began using retractable awnings that could be lowered at night or during windstorms. On sunny days, the fabric awnings kept customers cool and protected wares from the elements. By the 1940s fabric had been largely replaced with strong aluminum awnings that could be left up all the time.
When air conditioning became commonplace around the 1950s, the use of awnings dropped off significantly. However, there has been a recent resurgence in demand. The biggest reason is that growing concern for the environment has consumers looking for ways to save energy.
Today’s homeowners are also big on aesthetics, and want their home to reflect their personal style. The wide variety of awnings available on the modern market present ample opportunities to highlight the design of a home or business.
Types of Awnings
Fabric — The earliest awnings were made of fabric, and while they’ve received a few updates over the years, this old standby is still going strong. Fabric awnings are most often made from cotton canvas, vinyl-coated canvas, polyester, or acrylic. Fabric is versatile and often inexpensive, but is susceptible to wear-and-tear and needs to be replaced every few years or so.
Metal — Metal awnings are extremely popular with home and business owners. They are often painted using a baked-on enamel. Metal awnings offer all the room-cooling, energy-saving benefits of fabric types, plus they are more durable and typically last much longer.
Retractable — Retractable awnings can be extended and retracted as needed. Early on, this type of awning was retracted by turning a hand crank. While hand-crank varieties still exist, more popular are the automatically retracting awnings — some that can even be remotely operated using a smartphone. One disadvantage of retractable awnings are that the initial expense and cost of repairs can be fairly high. Another is that they cannot withstand bad weather, so one of those expensive repairs will likely be necessary if you forget to retract your awning before a storm.
Individual types of awnings are associated with particular eras or design styles. For instance, striped awnings and canopies are the perfect — and historically accurate — complement to Victorian homes. Awnings can blend seamlessly into a home’s exterior, or stand out as a vivid focal point.
There is no "best" type of awning, but some styles are clearly more suitable for certain uses than others.