It's summer, and for most of us our energy bills rise right along with the temperatures as we try to cool our homes and offices.
But some new twists on an old classic are available to help keep those costs under control. The classic awning has been joined by solar screens and retractable, cassette or tensioned awnings to help homeowners in very practical ways.
How do they help?
"Comfort is one," says Bill Welch, owner of Deluxe Awning Company in Ashland. "Energy savings is another."
With a wide range of choices available, sunscreens can be an integral part of your home or garden design, says John Shawnego, owner of Pacific Northwest Canopy in Eagle Point. "It gives the house a lot of character."
The Classic Awning
A fixed awning, says Welch, can be one of the most economical choices. A rigid metal frame is covered in fabric and mounted to the house. Welch describes fixed awnings as "especially appropriate for a sunny south window." Because of seasonal changes in the angle of the sun, a fixed awning still allows light and warmth to enter the house during winter months.
When you're looking to cover a larger outdoor area, retractable awnings can be a practical option. They extend to provide shade but can be pulled back into self-storage when they're not necessary.
"They can really help control heat," says Welch, both in your yard and in the house. Add a drop valance or insect screens and, "in essence, it's like you've created a new room," he says.
Retractable awnings come with a variety of options. "Virtually anything that can be hand cranked can be motorized," says Welch. For even easier operation, retractable awnings and screens can be fitted with wall controls, a remote control, adjustable sun and wind sensors or even timers.
"Whether I'm home or not, these screens operate," says Shawnego, adding that they provide ongoing temperature control and protect the awnings, as well.
Tensioned awnings let you use unusual planes, shapes or forms to provide shade with high visual impact.
"Tensioned screens provide a huge world of creativity," says Welch, for places where you want "a creative flair or in places where other systems simply don't work."
Fabrics can be porous to prevent water from collecting or nonporous for an all-season living space.
Solar screens, which can either retract or clip onto windows, provide both heat and light protection without blocking your view.
"It's an amazing combination of features," says Welch. With their "openness factor," solar screens can block 80 to 90 percent of light and heat, making a substantial difference in indoor temperatures. They particularly prevent what Welch calls "the hot-spot phenomenon," rooms unevenly heated or cooled by a whole-house system. "The entire house becomes more comfortable and a healthier place to live."
Solar shades are installed outside the windows, which increases their cooling effect. "When you stop it (the heat) outside, you reduce the energy costs of cooling your home," says Shawnego.
And there's a bonus, adds Welch: "You protect the glass unit, as well."
Once you've chosen the right awning for your home, fabric choices allow you to add a unique touch.
"The idea is to make an awning look like part of the house design, rather than an afterthought," reminds Welch.
Some suppliers carry more than 250 colors or patterns. Fabrics range from canvas to acrylic to PVC-coated fiberglass. All are designed to stand up to the weather for years of sun protection.