Retractable awnings are a great way to extend your outdoor living enjoyment and business opportunities. They offer protection inside and out from the sun’s damaging UV rays and add an aesthetic element to your building. Sitting out in the rain, snow or wind might be nice too though.

In this post, we’ll discuss:

We’ll also discuss what types of awning materials handle different conditions best. This discussion will be beneficial to owners of homes and businesses interested in extending their outdoor experience using a retractable awning.

Retractable awnings are commonly attached to buildings and RVs to provide shade and relief from the hot sun. They can also be used to protect outdoor areas and furniture from the rain. However, some materials are waterproof, and some are water resistant, so how effective they are depends on what they are made of. The same holds true for wind and snow.

There are many manufacturers to review when choosing the retractable awning that best meets your business or residential use. How you plan to use it and the environment it will be used in are important factors when considering canopy products for your patio or deck. Retractable awnings with an unsupported front bar will handle weather differently than one with supports or within a frame or pergola.

The type of weather retractable awnings can handle depends on their metal or wooden framework construction and how securely it is fastened to a building or the ground. The type of materials used for the protective hood/cover, and how it is attached to the framework determine the severity of the weather it may hold up to, or be rated to handle.

How Much Rain Can Retractable Awnings Handle?

Retractable awnings that are attached to a building and extend or retract with a manual crank or are motorized are the most common retractable rain awnings. They are held up by the aluminum frame lateral arms, and tension springs within the arms. The aluminum framework system is durable, strong, and lightweight. They don’t normally have any other external support, so any weight added to the canopy increases the stresses on the arms and building attachments.

Rain and rain water pooling will add weight to the canopy and can damage the awning. Adjusting the angle or pitch so water can’t pool decreases that weight and prevents the fabric from stretching and sagging. Adding a rain sensor to a motorized awning will automatically close the cover if it rains, which will protect your investment too.

Retractable awnings that can handle rain weight have to factor in the amount of extended fabric surface exposed to the rain. Drizzle or light rain has less impact force than a torrential downpour. A rain awning usually is set at an angle or pitch that will clear it more quickly. Identifying how much rain is too much needs to include the weight and force of the rain. A gallon of water weighs approximately 8.35 pounds (a liter weighs 1 kg). However, falling water is 64 pounds of force per cubic foot.

A 12’x10’ awning has a surface area of 120 square feet. A light rain that drops 1/8” of rain will add 80 pounds of weight over the surface of the fabric. A 1/4” will add 192 pounds, and a torrential downpour of 1” pushes that to 640 pounds. The bigger the surface, the more weight the arms must support. Some retractable awnings will support an extra 10 pounds, others 30, and some are rated for 300 pounds. Retractable awnings for rain protection often have higher wind ratings.

The type of fabric rain awnings are made from is another important consideration. Vinyl is a rainproof material which doesn’t absorb moisture, stretch or shrink. It weighs 18 oz/yard², so the 12’x10’ awning already is carrying 15 pounds of cloth. Acrylic is lighter and water resistant but must be regularly treated to be waterproof. It will shrink and stretch with temperature. Natural fibers like cotton, hemp or linen will stretch and shrink, and absorb moisture, so also require regular waterproof treatment.

What About Sun, Snow, and Storms?

Retractable awnings help to shade outdoor spaces and reduce the solar gain within a building. They can cover residential and commercial patios, decks, sports venues, and hundreds of other possibilities. Most are designed to support the weight of the cover, plus a bit extra for wind, leaves, light rain, or a dusting of snow.

The quality of the retractable awning is an important factor regarding its durability. Most metal awnings will last years in the sun. Unfortunately, fabric, plastic or nylon parts and the coating on tension cables within the aluminum arms may not.

Heat and UV rays can cause the material to fade, flake, and weaken. It can also make the protective cable coating brittle, which makes it crack and allow moisture in, causing rust and weakening the mechanisms. Plastic and nylon parts can also become brittle and fail.

Retractable awnings are a great addition to homes and businesses. They will protect from the sun, a drizzle or light rain, a dusting of snow, and some are manufacturer rated based on the Beaufort wind load scale. They add shade and protection from the elements and have the bonus of being retractable, so they disappear against the wall or soffit or into a protective housing or cassette.

Protection from Sun

Retractable awnings will protect people and furniture sheltering under them from harmful UV rays. Reduce sunburn and create shade and a cool place to relax. It extends your outdoor living space and enjoyment. Canopies decrease the amount of heat entering windows and doors, which lowers air-conditioning requirements thus saving energy and money. Adding a retractable awning to your home or business will definitely enhance its appearance.

Protection from Snow

Some retractable fabric awnings will support a dusting of snow. They aren’t rated for any snow loads that can run from 5 to 80 pounds per square foot, or more. However, once that snow has stopped, you can extend the awning and enjoy the shade on a bright sunny day. Several retractable awnings, better known as retractable pergolas, retractable louvered roofs or rotating louvered roofs are rated for snow loads up to 80 psf. They are built into a self-supporting attached or free standing framework, and the canopy is made of retractable waterproof vinyl, retractable louvers or rotating louvers.

Protection from Wind

When selecting a retractable awning for your home or business, consider how windy your location may be. How much wind an awning can tolerate depends on its size, construction, wind force and direction, and how it is secured to a building or the ground. Quality awnings should have a Beaufort Wind Scale rating of 5 or a Wind Class 2 rating.

That means they can withstand a constant breeze of 19-24 mph; not counting gusts. A 23 mph wind creates a force on an awning similar to a person weighing 300-pound laying on it.

Some awnings even meet the Miami-Dade County building codes and will withstand hurricane force winds when extended. Two good ways to know when you should retract your awning due to the wind are when the front bar starts to bounce, and if the wind keeps flipping the pages of the book you’re reading. Both anemometer type wind sensors and motion sensors are available to automatically close a retractable awning, retractable pergola, retractable louvered roof or rotating louvered roof system.

How Different Retractable Awnings Handle Weather


RainSunSnowStorms
Acrylic FabricYesYesNot RecommendedBeaufort Scale 5
Vinyl FabricMust be treatedYesNot RecommendedBeaufort Scale 5
Natural FabricMust be treatedYesNot RecommendedBeaufort Scale 5
Wood SlatsMust be treatedYesYesYes
Aluminum SlatsYesYesYesYes
PlasticYesYesYesYes
GlassYesYesYesYes
FiberglassYesYesYesYes

Conclusion

Retractable awnings will provide shade and protection from UV rays; some will even act as rain awnings too. However, most awnings that retract won’t stand up to heavy or torrential rains or snow loads. Select a product that has a manufacturer’s wind rating that will withstand the breezes your location experiences.
The type or kind of material the retractable cover is made of is also important. Some are waterproof while others need to be treated regularly to be more than water resistant, which means more maintenance and cost. Choose a retractable product that will stand up to the conditions you expect in your area, and then enjoy the sun and rain.