Awnings Throughout the Ages
For thousands of years awnings have been a prominent and functional addition to homes, marketplaces and commercial buildings as far back as Ancient Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, where woven mats were suspended over the opening of doors and windows to provide shade and a respite from the scorching heat of the sun. Early awnings were also used to provide shelter for livestock. Even the well preserved ashen ruins at Pompeii contain evidence and inscriptions pertaining to the use of awnings as do countless other civilizations that have long since come and gone.
Awnings in Ancient Rome
During the peak of the Roman Empire, awnings were utilized to provide shelter for the masses from the intense sun and inclement weather while events were taking place in the stadiums, amphitheatres and even the great Coliseum in Rome.
It seems unfathomable that an awning or series of awnings could be utilized to cover such a large and ominous space, however their history and use is well documented. Perhaps our modern “dome” type covered stadiums, such as the “Astro-dome” or “Super-dome” (where our modern day and much more civilized gladiators do battle) are not so new after all. Could it be that the idea for a covered stadium can trace its roots back to the massive awnings and ancient stadiums of the Roman Empire?
It is recorded that the circumference of the top perimeter wall of the Coliseum in Rome included 240 massive wooden beams which supported the Coliseum’s great Velarium (awning). To accomplish such a monumental unfurling, hundreds of sailors adept at manipulating sails and rigging were used to deploy and maintain these massive awnings. The brilliant minds, common sense and true grit required to operate these early retractable awnings is astounding and was done without the use of computers or mechanized equipment! No gears, no hydraulics or pneumatics and no electric motors — just good design and manpower.
These ancient retractable awning systems utilized a well-engineered plethora of ropes, poles, cross beams, grommets pulleys and more—that must have been quite a sight to behold. The Roman Poet Lucretius compared the sound of the awning as it was being deployed to great cracks of thunder.
In 50 B.C. he wrote, “linen-awnings stretched o’er mighty theatres gives forth at times a cracking thunderous roar, when much ’tis beaten about, betwixt the poles and cross-beams.”
Awnings are, in my opinion, the eventual outcome of needed protection from the elements combined with common sense and in some cases mind-boggling calculation. They have been primitive and complex in ages past.
Today they are elegant, functional and practical with unparalleled ease of installation and maintenance.
Awnings in the Nineteenth Century
During the nineteenth century awnings found new uses in commercial areas and were broadly utilized on storefronts for the comfort of customers during “sidewalk sales” and as a way to entice customers to enter their shops, eateries and inns. The post Civil War era saw a major increase in the use of awnings, for a variety of reasons. Canvas duck or sail cloth was the material of choice for most awnings, due to its versatility, ease of use and affordability. It was widely available and it was cheap!
During the latter portion of the nineteenth century operable awnings as opposed to fixed awnings grew in popularity simply because they allowed more control and flexibility.
These first operable awning systems utilized extension arms that were hinged where they joined the building. The partially fixed arms could then be raised or lowered as needed with the use of ropes and pulleys. The canvas remained permanently attached to the framework which allowed a much more convenient and customizable approach to the amount of shade and awning coverage that the shopkeeper wanted. There was much room for improvement though as the awning was not very attractive when not in use due to the bunching up of fabric and the pooling of water.
As with all pitfalls and design flaws, the mother of invention would reign supreme once again as a variety of fixed and retractable awning styles were created utilizing a “roller” system which rolled the fabric as the awning or shade was deployed or retracted. The neatly rolled canvas could be used for longer periods of time as the canvas was protected from water damage and mildew.
The Invention of Plastics and Vinyl Coatings
With the invention of plastics, after World War II, vinyl coatings were added to cotton duck fabrics which prolong their life and usefulness by increasing water resistance. The creation of plastics was huge and its impact on our economy, on ingenuity, and on the creation of new products and industries was so great it is utterly immeasurable—even today.
Post World War II and the Decline of Awnings and Outdoor Living Spaces in America
At just the time that awning technology could have come into its own in post World War II America, the use and availability of in-expensive electricity and air conditioning created a consumption oriented society. Air conditioning was comfortable. It was cheap and it was King!
With the emphasis in the building trades on metal, concrete and utilitarian looking structures that provided fast, cheap and easily reproducible “cookie cutter” housing, aluminum awnings were popular because you could mount them and forget them.
Sadly during these times (1950s – 1970s) some of our most important, charming and uniquely vernacular architectural styles and other structures were lost. The awning became almost obsolete for most residential applications due to a more interior and sedentary American lifestyle.
Residential Awning Use in Europe Continues
During this same time period, when awning use was declining in the United States, the prominence and popularity of residential awnings in Europe continued to increase.
Access to inexpensive electricity for cooling the average home was not available or affordable to most Europeans. Out of necessity European homeowners had a self-imposed mandate to find inexpensive and highly effective cooling products for their homes that could also add to the exterior appeal of a building.
The end result was inevitably the widespread use of retractable awnings and other shading devices, which became an integral part of cooling and shading the interior of their homes as well as providing outdoor entertaining spaces and patio gardens around their homes, apartments and flats.
Today retractable awnings are utilized as a practical and aesthetic part of most homes and businesses. In designing buildings and homes, they are considered an important architectural feature. Now that we realize our own responsibility and desire to be better stewards of our natural resources and are spending more time outside—isn’t it about time we took a second look at awnings for more sustainable living and less burden on our pocketbooks and wallets?
Even if the thought of saving money and utilizing energy wisely doesn’t “float your boat” why not consider awnings for their ability to transform your home from mundane to magnificent, when used thoughtfully.
Types of Awnings
Awnings can come in many shapes and sizes and can be color coordinated with their freestanding relatives, the cabana, umbrella and tent, if you so desire.
There are a multitude of designs, fabrics, colors, options and styles available from the awning industry. We are the beneficiaries now of the research and development that created the awning industry we see today. From luxe fabrics to retractable technologies and powder coated finishes we can thank our brothers and sisters across the pond for their innovation and discriminating taste.
Awnings have never been more affordable, maintenance free and gorgeous. Literally thousands of fabric choices are available from the bold and traditional to the serene and sublime. Awnings are not just canvas anymore! They come in fade resistant solids, bold floral prints, brochade & chenille types, plaids, paisleys, nautical stripes and other textured fabrics that although synthetic have the appearance of fine or exotic textiles.
Your awning supplier of choice can provide you with a host of options and ideas for ALL budgets. They will help you to find the right awning that meets all of your needs simultaneously.
The following are just a few of the different awning styles available on the market today. They include but are not limited to:
- Retractable or lateral arm awnings are most often used over brick, stone or aggregate patios or decks. The retractable awning has the added benefit in that it can automatically or manually be extended or retracted to provide the ultimate in protection from the scorching sun or inclement weather. Motorized awnings can be controlled with the push of a button or have the option of sensors that can automatically result in its deployment or retraction.
- A Full Canopy is a fixed type of awning that is supported by more than one stanchion at the outer end of the canopy while one side of the canopy remains attached to the outside wall of the cottage or house. They provide a more permanent feature than a retractable awning and are also covered in weather impervious and colorful fabrics of our choice.
- The Traditional awning has a triangle shape on the side that may or may not be covered in fabric. Hence it can have one side or three. It can be used over smaller windows but also provide protection over larger areas like porches, decks, storefronts and patios.
- Dome shaped awnings are most usually found over small entryways or windows and can also be used over archways. It provides the same protection from the sun, wind and rain from all angles because of its quarter-sphere shape.
- Elongated dome shapes work best over long window or entryway.
- Concave awnings are most typically used over a door that is situated just under a window. The inward curvature of the awning front is covered with awning fabric for a covered entry way. The sides are covered as well. This makes a charming awning for a historic home or cottage.
- Quarter-round or convex awnings are characterized by the outward curve of the front panel supported by parallel bows in the shape of a convex curve. The sides are flat rather than convex. This awning type is best used over a small entryway or window.
Coordinate, Coordinate, Coordinate. . .
Our outdoor and casual living market has come so far that numerous manufacturers offer literally hundreds of choices each of their own outdoor fabric lines which can coordinate your awnings, outdoor furniture, outdoor draperies and outdoor carpets with the greatest of ease. Fabrics for all of these applications are available at differing price points which makes them widely available for everyone.
Awning Facts and Benefits
There are many benefits to consider with regard to the use of awnings on your home. The greatest flexibility and ease of use associated with retractable awnings makes them the ideal choice for those wishing to create outdoor living spaces without the availability of an existing overhead canopy. Some of the benefits of awnings include, but are not limited to the following:
- Awnings can keep your energy costs in the warmer months down by blocking the sun’s heat and damaging rays from entering your home. The American Society of Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers states that “an awning can reduce heat gain by 55 to 65 percent on southern facing exposures and 72 to 77 percent on western exposures.” Additionally, they can cut glare that enters your home by 94 percent!
- Retractable awnings can transform a south or west facing patio, too hot to use in the daytime of spring, summer or fall, into a comfortable outdoor living space that can be used all day long, not just in the morning or the evenings. It provides additional protection from inclement weather and can be raised or lowered as needed.
- Awnings come in many standard sizes, shapes and colors. The canopy material choices are endless and block UV rays that can harm you and fade your furniture, carpets and window treatments inside.
- Awning canopy material is impervious to weather and will last for years if properly maintained.
- Valances, side curtains and screens are some of the accessories available for use with awnings.
- Your home can actually appear larger from the inside out with the addition of a retractable awning and your personal decorating style can transition accordingly.
- The use of retractable awnings can expand your outdoor living capability without the added cost of construction. They can be strategically placed as well to cover otherwise unsightly areas of your home façade that you were previously unable to enjoy or utilize.
- Many older and historic buildings once made use of awnings. Old photos can give you a glimpse into the past and help you turn your historic home or your reproduction home into a more energy efficient and historically accurate one. Main Street programs all around the country are utilizing fixed and retractable awnings in their revitalization programs. Older buildings depended on passive heating and cooling. For cooling the use of large shade trees and awnings was utilized.
- Every home can use some extra curb appeal. Awnings can transform your home from mundane to magnificent in no time at all.
- Every dollar saved on utilities has the potential to translate into ten to fifteen dollars in resale value. Awnings can conservatively add thousands of dollars in resale value to your home, not to mention the curb appeal.
Awning Care and Maintenance
Regular cleaning will give your awning a long useful lifespan. Once a month, you can hose down your fully extended awning with clean water on a sunny day so that the fabric dries out quickly and thoroughly. This will be particularly important during pollen and dust prone times of the year. Keep your awning fully extended until it is completely dry to avoid trapped water.
The underside of the awning can be kept clean by simply brushing it lightly with a clean household broom only. Use common sense here and make sure your broom is free of debris.
At least twice a year, you can scrub your awning with a very soft brush and a mild natural soap. Detergent is never recommended. After the gentle scrubbing your awning should be rinsed thoroughly with a garden hose and allowed to dry completely.
Every two or three years a professional cleaning is recommended. You should always check with your awning supplier or manufacturer for an approved professional cleaning company and care instructions for your awning.
With very little maintenance your awning can give you many years of living pleasure both inside and out. Go ahead, do a little living! Why not try awnings?