Reducing solar heat gain is a proven strategy to reduce cooling costs. That's why shade is critical for comfort and home energy improvements in hot climates.
If you eliminate a large part of the solar heat you may not need mechanical air conditioning; shade and breezes can easily lower temperatures by 20º F or more.
Awnings are one proven means of many cooling strategies.
They block the sun's heat before it reaches the windows (or doors), which can make them a lot more effective than indoor shading devices. But their color, their drop or their style are very important for their effectiveness.
There are several styles of awnings - retractable and fixed, window-awnings, patio and deck awnings, canopy awnings… - that vary in features like sides, colors, style (dome, flat, canopy, etc).
The style of the awning is obviously important, but do not overestimate it; most of all don’t forget their ultimate purpose: shading your windows or the space next to your house for indoor and outdoor comfort and energy savings.
Fixed awnings are a popular choice, with multiple styles and shapes. They are mainly used over windows and doors.
Since they are simple and without movable parts, they are relatively inexpensive and require less care than retractable awnings.
Patio and Deck Awnings
Typical patio and deck awnings have retractable arms, which can be automatically or manually extended and retracted.
Retractable awnings are now easy to operate and a flexible choice.
The awning drop
Always pay attention to the height of the "drop", when choosing a awning (the drop is the vertical distance between the top of the awning and its lower edge).
Only awnings with a fairly large drop can control solar heat gains when the sun is low in the sky.
The drop should be about 60 to 75% of the window's height on the east and west of the house, and about 50%-60% on the south (north, in the southern hemisphere). That's very important for comfort and energy savings.
Be aware to sideless window awnings. Concave and dome awnings, involving a completely shaded enclosure, can be more effective at blocking solar heat gains than sideless models. But alls depends on how the awning faces the sun...
Choose awnings with light colors; they are better at reflecting sunlight.
The strength and the type of support frame may not be very important for some window awnings. Metal and slatted awnings, or small retractable awnings, are very light structures that do need very strong frames.
But the same can't be said of typical patio and deck awnings, or canopies… They are heavy structures and require strong support frames. New frames can be especially engineered to provide higher strength-to-weight ratios; they involve very strong materials like extruded aluminum and galvanized steel tubing, and computer-aided designs to get the ideal relationship among fabric materials, shape and structural requirements.
They are now designed to last a lifetime. Though low-maintenance, they require annual inspection of connections, fasteners and metal supports…
Frames – in the case of patio awnings and other heavy structures - require annual inspection and care, and can be designed to be dismantled for winter storage.
Many awning manufacturers and installers offer removal services, but you can do it yourself... Just follow the manufacturer's instructions, and make sure to clean and dry the parts thoroughly, prior to storing them in a dry place.
New awnings are mostly made from synthetics like acrylic and polyvinyl fibers. Metal (aluminum) and canvas awnings are rather outdated.
Some new fabrics have some clear advantages over older ones: they are cheap and may benefit from treatments that make them more mildew-resistant, fade-resistant, water-repellent or even fire-resistant. Choose a tightly woven and opaque fabric, with a light color.
There are thousands of small awning manufacturers.
Look for a trustable manufacturer and ask for references. Pay a visit to their showroom. A good awning professional can provide useful information about designs, fabrics, frames...
In USA, look for members of the Professional Awning Manufacturers Association (PAMA) and the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI). .
Professional installation of fixed awnings may cost you $50-$100 dollars per window.
Prices and Warranties
Prices vary a lot: $150-$800, for window awnings. Patio doors are more expensive, depending on their type, size and features; expect prices above $1,000.
Fabrics are often warranted for up to 3-6 years; structural supports, roller bars, gear mechanisms, and accessories can benefit from very similar warranties.
There are several types of fabrics. New woven fabrics do not fade easily and are typically treated with a water repellant finish. With new woven fabrics you will not need to re-cover your awning every 6-8 years.
There are also coated or laminated fabrics (vinyl laminated fabrics) with very high water repellency, but do not overestimate this feature. Vinyl is an eco-unfriendly material, and awnings aren't designed to withstand heavy rains; they are designed to provide solar protection…
Windy and rainy climates
Extreme wind and rain loads can overstretch the fabrics and damage the awnings. Do not install awnings in hurricane prone regions, or in very windy regions and rainy climates.