The beating heat of the summer sun is the most common reason that people install awnings on the outside of their home, but that’s not the only time that these exterior structures can be useful. Can awnings be used in the winter? Absolutely!
It’s a common misnomer that retractable awnings are pulled back during the colder months to protect them from harsh weather, but for many parts of the United States, from Georgia to Michigan, awnings can be a wonderful way to enhance the outside of a home – all year round.
Even when an awning is pulled in an out for different kinds of weather, it’s important to know what kind of materials and structures support the durability of an awning through the winter months.
Outdoor Structures Aren't Just For the Summer
The right sun protection application won’t just help you in the summer, but can also help your outdoor space be more usable all year round.
While outdoor structures can offer protection from the sun, they can also cover the space from the elements during the cooler months. Harsher weather such as wind, snow, and glare can all affect the usability of your backyard space.
Which Awnings Are Best for Year-Round Use?
Though homeowners sometimes choose to winterize their awnings when the colder months come on, there are lots of year-round benefits to keeping a patio cover or awning up throughout the changing seasons.
The real question here is not whether an awning will be useful all year round, but really whether the material an awning is made from can withstand the elements. It’s all about the materials used and the quality of the construction.
Here is some real world advice for how to pick an outdoor patio or deck cover that will withstand all kinds of weather.
Choose The Right Rating
There are two kinds of ratings that you’ll see on an awning – pitch and snow load.
Any awning that you’re planning to keep completely up during every season needs to be able to either:
- handle the weight of the snow (snow load)
- be able to shed the heavy snow easily (pitch)
With the pitch system, the angle of the awning is such that the snow doesn’t accumulate on the material. These awnings are steeper and so necessarily cover less of the ground for shade purposes. They aren’t designed to carry the weight of the snow, and they aren’t trying to.
Meanwhile the snow load accounts for when the awning itself is flatter and engineered to keep the snow right where it is, on top of the awning, without the awning buckling or breaking. Snow has various densities, depending on the weather conditions.
A single cubic foot of snow could weigh anywhere between seven and twenty pounds. A homeowner in Illinois or northern Ohio could have a serious problem if snow with that amount of weigh accumulates on an awning that’s not either set with a pitch to release it onto the ground below or that’s got a snow weight that will hold it completely.
Choosing an awning with a high snow load capacity is the lesser of the two solutions. Unexpected winter storms can drop huge amounts of snow in low temperatures, and the variability of accumulation makes it hard to know exactly how much weight you’ll need to an awning to carry.
Instead, look for a pitched awning that will shed the weight of the snow as it goes. If you absolutely must have an awning that’s flat and needs to handle accumulation, look for one that’s got a high snow load capacity.
Metal Awnings Hold More Snow with Less Damage
A metal awning will hold a higher snow load capacity simply because of the structural nature of the aluminum or steel that it’s made from.
Keep in mind that all metal awnings are not created equal in terms of holding a high accumulation of snow and ice, so be sure to ask your installer about the highest level that you’ll need in your area. The snow load of a metal awning in Lansing, Michigan will need to be higher than the snow load capacity of a metal awning in Columbus, Ohio.
Metal Awning Frames
The frame is just as important as the metal that the covering itself is made from. Snow load capacity is based on the heartiness of the frame that attaches to the wall of the building, just as much as it’s related to the thickness of the covering. Those contact points, both how many of them there are and how many supports criss cross beneath them, are important facets of protecting the exposed outdoor covering from damage or collapse.
Metal Awning Covers
A metal outdoor awning is usually made from galvanized steel or aluminum. These will vary in thickness, again depending on the weather needs of the area and the structure of the frame.
Both aluminum and galvanized steel are resistant to corrosion due to wet conditions from rain and snow. Coatings also make them resist mold and mildew. Because these materials are much stronger than awnings made of fabric, they can hold much more weight from ice and snow without becoming damaged. Not only that, but a metal awning won’t be as vulnerable to wind or fading from the sun.
Metal Awning Durability
The long lasting durability of a metal awning does come at a higher financial cost than that of a fabric awning. Expect to pay a much higher cost for a metal awning than for a fabric awning or a retractable awning.
The tradeoff for the higher price ist hat ther is a much longer lifespan for a metal awning, particularly in a place like Kalamazoo, Michigan or Naperville, Illinois where heavy snow and freezing temperatures area a reality every winter.
With appropriate maintenance, a metal awning can withstand the seasonal changes in temperature and exposure to the elements for up to fifty years. That’s an incredible return on investment for an exterior structure that adds value to the property.
Fabric Awnings Offer Flexibility and Protection
Metal awnings are not the be-all-end-all of outdoor coverings. As with any materials, nothing is perfect. A fabric awning has the potential to weather the winter storms of the great lakes and norhern states if given the right parameters and configuration.
Ideally, even a retractable awning should be covered in the winter weather to help preserve the materials and keep them looking great all year long.
Framing and Retractibility
As with a metal awning, the frame of a fabric awning plays a central role in its durability through the winter snow and ice.
Unlike metal awnings, a fabric awning won’t be able to hold a huge amount of weight from frozen precipitation through the winter weather. This might not be much of a factor for people living in Georgia, but north towards New Jersey and even North Carolina, it’s a serious consideration.
Unlike metal awnings, retractable awnings don’t have to withstand the cold and harsh weather all of the time. Even when an awning is not made of incredibly sturdy fabric, the protection afforded when it’s retracted will help it to last much longer when it’s pulled in from the snow.
Depending on the needs of the property owner, a retractable awning can either be manual or electric. Maintenance on a retractable awning is straightforward once installed, and it’s possible to have an awning like this last for many years.
Fabric Awning Characteristics
Choosing the right fabric for a retractable awning is important. Though the fabric is pulled into the case when not in use, the variation in temperature and moisture level will have an affect on the life span of the material.
Fabric awnings can be made of several types of material:
- expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
Canvas isn’t waterproof as it’s made of cotton. However, canvas awnings are dipped in a water resistant coating that allows them to last longer and so provide more coverage for a long period of time. It’s important to note that this coating can wear off over time as the material is exposed to the elements. More exposure means a higher risk of that coating wearing down.
With canvas awning fabric, it’s all the more important to retract it during ice and snow in the winter. The rewarming of the wet fabric can lead to a higher rate of mold and mildew on the items.
Acrylic fabric is better suited to standing up to tough winter weather. This fabric has a natural water resistant quality as it’s synthetic, so it doesn’t need a coating. Even in a less wintry part of the country like Georgia, a exposure to the water while it’s freezing and expanding with winter storms can be detrimental to the longevity of the material.
As spaces between the wefts of thread start to expand, changing size throughout the colder months, drops of water might leak through.
The other option for a fabric awning is expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Not only is this fabric waterproof and durable, it’s also resistant to abrasion. The coefficient of friction on PTFE fabric is higher, meaning the snow and ice don’t stick to the fabric as they can with canvas or acrylic awnings. It’s by far the best choice for winter awnings that have to deal with cold snow and ice.
Making a Smart Choice About Winter Awnings
Choosing an awning that works for your climate and property needs always starts with lots of information. Understanding how winter weather will affect the materials used and construction of your outdoor awning is an important way for you to make a great decision.
Whether the awning is metal or fabric, retractable or static, it can help increase the value of your home and improve the usable outdoor space that you can enjoy with your family. The best awning is the one that fits your needs and supports your budget.
For the longevity of the awning, choose one that’s rated for the amount of snow and ice that your area gets, whether it’s in Northern Michigan or Northern Georgia. An experienced awning installation company like Marygrove can help you make the right choice to keep your house looking beautiful and functioning fully during both the summer and the winter.
Though homeowners tend to associate awnings with hot weather, they can be a source of benefits all year long.