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RV Lifestyle Blog

How to Select, Operate, and Maintain your RV Awnings

Posted by Bill Tuttle on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 @ 08:09 AM

RV Awnings

iStock_86040877_LARGE-1000x662.jpgOne of the greatest joys of camping is enjoying the natural environment of your campsite while in the shade of your patio awning. Your covered patio expands your RV living space and can be a great place to relax or entertain. Awnings can be included as standard equipment with some RVs, as a manufacturer/dealer option at the time of purchase or purchased as after-market add-ons. By understanding the types of awnings available and the care and maintenance needed to protect your awnings, your RV awning decisions will allow you to reap years of reward on your awning investment.

Types of Awnings

There are several awning options to choose from. Some RVs offer electric awnings that are very simple to operate with a touch of a button. Most awnings are manually operated. However, all awnings should be professionally installed for best operation on your RV.

Patio Awning – These awnings usually are mounted near the top of an RV and extend for most of the length of the RV, starting beyond the cab door and stopping before any slide outs. When the retractable patio awning opens, it usually covers the main house door and provides a length of up to 20 feet and an extension of up to 10 feet. When stored, the awning has a vertical arm at each end that is attached to the side of the RV.

Window and Door Awnings – These retractable awnings provide sun and rain protection over doors and windows.

Slide Out Awnings – These retractable awnings protect the slide out from dirt, debris, and water. Slide out mechanisms can be damaged by dirt, twigs, leaves, pollen buildup, and other debris. If your slide outs have any leaks, slide out awnings will help prevent rain water or heavy dew from entering your rig.

Awning Materials

When you buy an awning, you may have an option of multiple fabric types:

Vinyl –Usually a high grade marine vinyl is used for RV awnings. These vinyl awnings are waterproof and mildew resistant.

Acrylic – These awnings are mildew and water resistant, but not waterproof. Sunbrella® is an example of an acrylic awning material.

Opening Your Awning

Because awnings extend from your RV under tension, there are certain operation basics that will help ensure a longer life for your awning. In all cases, please review your awning manufacturer user manual and follow the directions for raising and retracting your awning. The steps below are a general guideline for awning use.

  1. Before using your awning, please consider the weather. If there are wind gusts exceeding 20 miles per hour, do not use your patio awning. If you see that everyone else in the campground has their awnings retracted, you may want to wait a while before opening your awnings to make sure that a storm isn’t on its way. You never want to put your awning away when it is wet, so do not extend it unless you have time to make sure it is fully dry prior to retraction. Retract your awning if you will be away from your rig for some time and at night.
  2. Make sure that the space into which your awning will extend is free of any trees, limbs, or posts that could damage your RV. Also, make sure fellow campers are out of the way when you extend your patio awning.
  3. Remember to close the door to your RV before extending a patio awning.
  4. Unlock your awning. If you have an electric awning and have unlocked it per your manufacturer’s instructions, you can push the button and then skip to step nine. For manually- operated awnings, there is a locking mechanism that can be found on each awning arm. Some RV owners also add an additional travel lock strap around the awning, to further secure the awning when fully retracted, that must be unlocked. Next, the inner arm of each awning must also be loosened by turning the knob on the back of each arm. Finally, the cam lock on the top right side of the awning must be positioned down, or open, so that the awning can be pulled down.
  5. By using the awning rod to pull the strap loop at the middle top of the awning, you should be able to pull down the awning so that the flap hangs down and the awning is fully extended, yet low.
  6. Loosen and slide the inner awning arms up so that the inner arm is fully extended on both sides. This tightens the awning fabric so it becomes taut. Use the knobs to tighten the inner arms.
  7. Loosen and extend each awning arm to raise the awning to your desired height. Be sure that the awning clears the RV door. The bottom of each awning arm may be detached from the RV and brought to the ground, and staked if desired. However, when the arm is removed from the side of the RV, the risk of damage from wind increases.
  8. Slide the awning strap all the way to one side so it is out of the way.
  9. It is a good idea to slightly lower the end of the awning away from traffic flow so that any accumulated water is easily released on the pitched side without pooling and potentially damaging the awning. This should be done manually on an electric awning.

Retracting Your Awning

Particular care must be taken when retracting your awning since spring tension is used to roll up the fabric. To retract an awning, please follow your manufacturer’s instructions. We’ve provided some general guidelines to follow here:

  1. Gently brush or hose all dirt and debris off both sides of the awning. Make sure the awning is dry when you are ready to put it away - always let awnings air dry. Never apply heat to the awning.
  2. If awning arms have been extended to the ground, loosen and latch them back to the fittings on the side of the RV.
  3. If you have an electric awning, follow your manufacturer’s instructions for retraction after manually removing the pitch and evening out the awning. Then skip to step seven. For manually operated awnings, lower the awning by loosening and lowering each awning arm.
  4. Loosen knobs and slide the inner awning arms to the side of the RV.
  5. Slide your awning strap all the way to the right side of the awning. Have your awning rod ready and firmly hold on to the strap loop. Put the cam lock in the up, or closed, position. Carefully slide the strap back to the middle of the awning, taking care not to release the strap. Use a hand over hand method and the rod, as needed, to maintain control while carefully allowing the awning and strap to slowly roll up into the housing. Keep the cam lock in the up, or closed position while traveling.
  6. Once the awning is fully retracted tighten all arms.
  7. Last, secure all awning locks and any add on travel locks. This is an extremely important step since if awnings are not well secured, they may open while in transit - potentially causing damage and accidents.

Awning Problems

Please check your awning user manual to find the solutions for RV awning problems and products recommended for your awning. Below you’ll find general information on common awning issues.

  • Odor/Staining/Mildew – When awnings are put away wet or stored in humid areas, mildew may develop. Often the mildew develops due to debris or dirt left on the awning material when the awning is retracted. There are products made to help treat mildew and eliminate the odor and stains from the mildew. Maintaining your awning limits your risk of developing mildew.
  • Leak or water seeping at stitches – Use a high-quality seam sealer in the event of leaks or water seeping.
  • Awning won’t close properly – If the fabric is stretched unevenly or ripped, it will need to be professionally replaced. If the roller tube is warped, the awning may fail to properly close. It may need professional replacement. If the awning arms are not level, the awning may fail to close until the arms are repositioned.
  • Minor hole in awning material – Use a tape made for RV awnings if you find a minor hole in the material. Check with your awning dealer/manufacturer.

Awning Maintenance

Check your user manual and follow the recommended maintenance steps. Here are some general guidelines - additional maintenance may be recommended by the manufacturer for electric motors.

Awning material – Hose down fabric monthly and allow the awning to air dry. If needed, use warm water and a natural soap to eliminate dirt. Once a year, or more often if needed, do a deep cleaning with awning manufacturer’s approved cleaning products. Never use detergents or scrub acrylics. Apply cleaner and pat fabric. Use a fabric guard or surface protectant as recommended.

Arms – Inner and outer awning arms should be cleaned with running water to remove dirt. Lubricate with silicone spray as needed. Never use an oil based lubricant, which will collect dirt.

Mounting hardware – Tighten hardware and screws occasionally.

Awning Parts

Awning rods are available if you lose yours. Awning covers, straps and fabric repair tape are also available from RV dealers. Some people like to use awning stabilizing kits to limit the risks associated with wind damage. Do not attempt to do major awning repairs by yourself. The awning roller springs are under tremendous tension and if released, they could potentially cause serious injury to anyone nearby. Major awning repairs should always be done by an RV technical professional.

Awning Tradeoffs

When considering the number of awnings you want, remember to calculate the weight each awning adds to your RV. The added weight may increase your fuel bills. If you plan to change campgrounds frequently, awnings add to your set up time as well as the time it will take you to get your RV ready for travel. Each awning requires maintenance, so be sure you are up for the task. That said, the benefits when you are relaxing in the shade may far outweigh the extra care.

Awnings and RV Insurance

Your friends at Explorer RV Insurance hope that you have found this information helpful in determining which types of awnings best fit your needs. Explorer RV e-books provide valuable information for RV enthusiasts like you. If you are considering an RV purchase, download our RV Purchasing Guide (PDF) for information on budgets, finances, registration, insurance and more.

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Tags: RV Appliances