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Retractable Awnings: How Do They Work

Retractable Awnings: How Do They Work

para striped retractable awning wall mounted wave valance style

How do retractable awnings work? Here’s how!

This blog will explain:

  • What parts retractable awning consists of;
  • How it all works;
  • Additional features that may affect the way it works.

You’ll also acquire information about the type of retractable awning that may be best for you. I assist home and business owners with understanding which type of awning they should purchase.

When you’re buying a smartphone, you want to know how different functions work. So when you’re looking at retractable awnings, you also want to know how they work. How does it open and close? Is the awning spring loaded with articulated arms using stainless steel chains or belts or steel cables or not spring loaded with telescopic arms? Is there annual maintenance required? I’ll look at the big picture, not the individual nuts and bolts. Hopefully, it will be enough information to help you choose the best product for your needs.


What Parts Retractable Awning Consists Of

Cover or Canopy

The cover or canopy maybe canvas, polyester, duck, acrylic, solution dyed acrylic or PVC. It’s what you relax under. Some types are good for most types of weather, while others shouldn’t be out on heavy rain but can be used during a light rain.

Roller tube

The roller tube is anchored to a wall, soffit (eave), beam or roof rafters using installation brackets. The fabric rolls off the roller as it is extended, and wraps around the roller tube when it is retracted.


There are two types of arms. Articulated spring loaded arms are more common than telescopic arms. Both open in stages and can be stopped at any point when being extended or retracted. Both hold the cover at an angle (required for light rain runoff) which can be adjusted post installation if necessary.

Front bar

The front bar is attached to the canopy cover. It is connected to the roller tube by the arms and helps keep the fabric taut. Spring loaded arms, coupled with gravity, help to draw the canopy cover out properly as it rolls off the roller tube.

Motor (For motorized models)

Motors are used instead of a detachable crank to turn the gears that operate the roller tube and open or close the canopy cover.

Detachable Crank (For manual models)

Hand cranks require manual power to operate. The crank gear turns the roller tube and moves the cover in or out, similar to the motor.

How it All Works

Motorized awning

Motors open or close with the push of a button from inside or outside the house or building. New models are multi channel remotes to operate different motorized awnings individually or simultaneously. Most models come with an optional crank a.k.a backup manual override or manual override to manually close the retractable awning due to a power loss in the home, building or neighborhood.

Manual awning

A detachable hand turned crank is used to rotate the roller tube. The spring loaded arms and angled design, coupled with the front bar weight, helps draw the retractable canopy out. As the cover extends, the arm springs and elbows open to provide horizontal support.

Telescopic arms

Telescopic arms use gas to extend the arm tube sections that support the canopy cover. To retract, the gas returns to a cylinder and the retraction of the fabric draws the arm sections into place. Typically, telescopic arms need more maintenance and are used on larger patio and deck awnings.

Articulated arms

The first section of the articulated arm is spring loaded and provides support as the canopy cover is extending when the hand crank or motor is operated. As one section extends, the next arm section springs open; continuing until the cover is fully extended. As the cover retracts, it pulls the arms closed.


Additional features that may affect the way it works

Sun, rain, motion and wind sensors are additional features available for motorized models. They will automatically open or close the retractable awning if the sensor is triggered. Timers and key switches are another option, and many models also have apps for your smartphone and/or tablet.

Now that you have a better understanding of how the different parts of a retractable awning work, you can select the awning that is best for you. I highly recommend checking retractable awnings reviews on our website to get a better picture of what the market has to offer today.