How Do Retractable Awnings Handle Rain, Snow, and Storms?

One of the most common questions about retractable awnings is “Can it handle rain?” And, depending on the climate of the customer, the rain question is quickly followed by questions about whether retractable awnings can handle snow, strong winds, sleet and other atmospheric conditions.

The most accurate answer, is it depends. It depends mainly on the type and severity of the weather. The good news is that retractable awnings have options to respond to almost any weather condition.

Why Weather Affects Retractable Awnings

Anything outdoors is subject to some kind of exposure to weather; when looking at retractable awning options, part of the decision lies in determining what the options are for responding to weather.

Fixed awnings, canopies, and gazebos are fixed in place. The fabric is stretched taut across the frame and supported by stanchions. This inflexibility is what makes them vulnerable: sun damage wears out the fabric, the frames become weather-beaten and weak. The posts and frames offer limited support against wind, though it leaves the fabric more vulnerable to the weight of snow and rain.

Retractable awnings are fixed in place only at the base; their support is from tension springs in the arms of the retractable awning. High-quality frames are lightweight aluminum, which is strong and durable. However, because they aren’t supported externally, anything that puts heavy stress on the frame – like heavy weight or sharp movements – can potentially cause damage.

Retractable awnings have a significant advantage, though. Fixed canopies simply wear out after exposure to weather; retractable awnings can retract into a hood and be protected.

The Impact of Rain and Snow

The biggest danger of both rain and snow is the weight. Very light precipitation – drizzle, fog, a very light dusting of snow – doesn’t have enough heft to damage a high-quality retractable awning when it’s extended. But steady rainfall or snow can cause problems.

Rain has the biggest impact on the fabric. The rainwater pools on the fabric and, over time, causes the fabric to stretch, sag, and possibly tear. There are two ways to prevent damage from rain:

o Adjust the pitch of the arms, so that the angle of the retractable awning can be made steep enough to cause the water to run off.

o Use a rain sensor which, when the retractable awning has a motor, will automatically retract the retractable awning when it begins to rain.

Snow impacts retractable awnings differently than rain. Snow and ice tends to build up, layer on layer. Along with putting stress on the fabric, snow and ice can put enough weight on the retractable awning frame to bend and damage the lateral arms and the mounting (torsion/square) bar.

There isn’t a “snow sensor,” but having a motor with an indoor switch or radio remote control makes it easy and comfortable to retract the awning even in cold weather.

The Impact of Wind and Motion

Good quality retractable awnings are designed and tested to withstand winds up to 35mph, so almost any day is safe. The rule of thumb is this: if it’s too windy to sit outside, it’s too windy for the retractable awning to be extended. However, wind gusts can be a hidden danger. Sudden, sharp wind shears can cause immediate damage to retractable awnings, twisting and wrenching the frame.

There are sensors for both types of wind. A standard wind sensor measures the current wind speed and retracts the retractable awning when it gets above a certain user-defined point. A motion sensor can detect abrupt movements, something common as a storm kicks up. Both sensors recheck wind conditions, so the retractable awning can be automatically extended as soon as it is safe.

Design Makes a Difference

The shape of the retractable awning makes a difference in how well it handles the elements. Traditional awning styles are flatter, with a taut stretch of fabric between arms (called lateral-arm). Dome retractable awnings, however, are steep, rounded, and closer to the building (due to shorter projections), providing good run off and protection from precipitation as well as making them more resistant to winds. Dome retractable awnings are ideal for windows, doors, and walkways.

The key part is, assess your climate. Do you get heavy rains? Does snow linger or melt off? Is there a lot of wind or storms? With a motor and the appropriate sensors, retractable awnings can be safe in any climate.