By REBECCA SLOAN
With summer's heat right around the corner, now might be the time to consider awnings for your home's windows.
Besides adding pizazz to your home's appearance, awnings can also cut the cost of your summer utility bills by blocking intense sunlight before it has a chance to filter into a room.
Marijo Rischar, of O'Neal's Tarpaulin and Awning Co. of Youngstown, said window awnings can reduce indoor heat levels by as much as 78 percent.
"What that means is that if your home is 70 degrees when you wake up in the morning, it will be only 72 degrees by the afternoon instead of 82 degrees," Rischar explained. "Awnings can keep a room 15 to 20 degrees cooler."
Besides reducing the heat gain in your home -- by as much as 65 percent on southern windows and 77 percent on eastern and western windows -- awnings also keep interiors lighter and brighter.
"If you have awnings on your windows, you won't have to close your curtains or blinds. Therefore light can still come into a room, and you won't feel like a cave dweller," said Kathy Weinberg, of Bi-Rite Home Improvement in Youngstown.
Window awnings also protect carpets and upholstery from the fading effects of the sun and protect windows from the elements, especially if they are a type of awning that can be left up all year long.
Awnings made of aluminum or from a fabric intended for year-round use fit into this category.
"Window awnings are made of basically three types of material," Rischar said. "Aluminum; seasonal fabric that should be taken down in winter; and all-weather fabric that can be left out during winter."
Weinberg said many people prefer aluminum window awnings (also called step down awnings) because they are more durable than cloth awnings and require less maintenance.
"Wiping aluminum awnings twice a year with water and an aluminum cleaner is usually all you need to do. An aluminum awnings can last up to 20 years with proper care," Weinberg said.
The cost of an aluminum window awning depends upon the size and the style, but Henry Levy, also of Bi-Rite Home Improvements, said a ballpark cost is about $200 per awning.
Choices in cloth
Some advantages of cloth awnings include greater versatility and a selection of thousands of colors and fabrics, Rischar said.
"If you want to take a cloth awning down, you can just roll it up and store it for the winter. Also, there are thousands of colors and fabrics to choose from. You can have just about any style or color you want," Rischar said.
Cloth awning maintenance includes hosing down the fabric as needed.
"If your awnings are underneath trees, you might have to clean them more frequently because of falling debris and because mildew will have a chance to grow," Rischar said.
About 80 percent of cloth awnings are made of woven acrylic, a fabric that resists fading and rotting and can last about 10 years with proper care, Rischar said.
Like cloth awnings, aluminum awnings also come in a variety of colors and styles and can also be painted to match the color of a house.
"Several new colors have come out in the past eight years. You can also buy aluminum awnings with scallops or stripes. There are a variety of styles," Weinberg said.
But whether made from cloth or aluminum, awnings aren't just for windows.
"Both cloth and aluminum awnings area also used over doorways, as well as over patios," Weinberg said.
Door canopies help to eliminate messy floors by cutting down on the amount of rain, dirt or slush that is tracked into an entranceway.
"If you have a really expensive door on your home, a door canopy can increase the life of that door," Weinberg said.
And large awnings can make it possible to enjoy a deck or patio during the heat of summer or even during a light rainfall, Rischar said.
"You can choose a permanent or seasonal cloth awning for your patio. The permanent type is attached to a welded frame. It is very sturdy, and since the fabric is very taut, it will resist wind. It can be left out all year long," Rischar said.
A cloth awning that is attached to a galvanized pipe frame is not as sturdy and won't withstand year-round use.
Both permanent and seasonal types cost about $2,000.
"Choosing a cloth patio awning, whether permanent or seasonal, is an affordable alternative to installing an enclosed patio, which ends up costing about $10,000," Rischar said.
Cloth retractable awnings for the patio are also popular.
"They allow you to choose between sun and shade, and in the winter, you can simply roll up the awning and leave it attached to the side of your house," Rischar said.
Retractable awnings can be motorized and plugged into an outdoor outlet, or operated by a hand crank. Electric models can also be outfitted with an indoor switch or remote control.
"One disadvantage to the retractable type is that they are not meant for rain. They are a sun product, and it goes without saying that they need to be taken down in winter," Rischar said.
If you want to invest in a retractable awning, Rischar recommends buying a model with lateral arms -- or retractable arms that are overhead and not at eye, shoulder or torso level.
"Those types become a nuisance because you can bump into them and hurt yourself or damage the structure of the awning," Rischar said.
Retractable awnings also cost about $2,000. Rischar said some retractable patio awnings are made of aluminum, although this is not as common.
Aluminum patio awnings (not retractable) can be insulated and enclosed, creating an all-weather structure, Weinberg said.
This type of awning costs $2,000 to $3,000, Levy said.
Creating a carport with an aluminum or cloth awning is also a popular trend, Weinberg said.
"It's a cheaper alternative to building a garage," she said.
The cost of having any type of awning installed depends on the particulars of the project, such as how the awning will be anchored into the ground.
But when it comes to installation, both Weinberg and Rischar said it's best to leave the larger jobs to the professionals.
"You'll probably be able to do it yourself if the awning is just a small window awning. But unless you are a contractor or very handy, I wouldn't attempt a larger project," Rischar said.
Weinberg said installing window awnings can be a tricky task if your house is made of brick.
"There's a lot more involved than you might think," Weinberg said.
Whether cloth or aluminum, awnings look best when set at a 45-degree angle.
And don't forget that darker fabrics will absorb UV rays, so if you want a dark canopy, it will need to be vented so heat that builds up beneath it can be released.