The urge to create something new and eye-catching on the blank slate of a home is powerful. As is the urge to save some money and maximize one’s efforts. Whether it’s a change to landscaping, a roof garden, or a casual seating area for customers, retractable awnings or drop screens are an ideal project for do-it-yourselfers because they make a very dramatic difference with relatively little effort.
The Planning Stage
A major part of installing a retractable awning is finding the perfect place to install it. Retractable awnings are much easier to install than fixed awnings or canopies because they are only mounted on a wall – no need to dig post holes or put in a foundation or grounding – so they can be installed over existing pavements, patios, decks, hot tubs, and gazebos, as well as doors and windows. Retractable awnings are suited to any location where sun, glare, UV rays, or light rain protection is required.
A drop screen usually enhances an existing structural feature, such as a door or window, or as panels to enclose a porch, lanai, or gazebo. A drop screen requires a sturdy beam to mount to and possibly a door frame or post to fix the side guides to. After finding the location, simply measure the width of the area from side to side on the interior of the frame (for an inside mount) and add for the width of the side guides if mounted outside the window frame. Then measure the height of the screen, going from the inside (or bottom) of the top frame to the bottom of the threshold for the height; for an outside mount, add the size of the headerbox and bottom rail to the height measurement.
Finding an ideal retractable awning location has a few other factors to consider.
o How much shade coverage is required.
o What the width of the awning should be, based on the shade area. Add at least 12 inches to maximize coverage for sun and rain protection.
o How far out the awning extends (the projection), based on the shade area. There is a natural slope to an awning, so the actual shade is several inches shorter than the full projection.
o How high to mount the awning. Because of the awning’s slope, the front of the awning is lower than the mounting position; this difference is the drop. The recommended drop is 3 inches per foot of projection. So, if the awning has a 12-foot projection, the drop is about 36 inches. To get a 7-foot clearance under the front bar, the awning has to be mounted at least 10 feet high.
Scout out a mounting place that is free of obstructions (no lights, gutters, wiring, or ornamentation) and has adequate clearance around any doors or windows. For screens, make sure that any doors swing away from the screen. For retractable awnings, make sure the awning can extend its full projection without running into a tree, patio, roofline, or fence.
Installation in a Few Easy Steps
The general installation process for both traditional retractable awnings and drop screens is pretty simple: attach the correct number of mounting brackets using the appropriate fixing and insert the torsion (square) bar. The simplicity of installing awnings is what makes them ideal for do-it-yourself weekend projects. The exact installation steps, naturally, vary depending on the awning being installed (so always read the manufacturer’s specific instructions!), but these are the general processes.
For a drop screen:
1. Assemble the screen itself, putting together the roller (called the headerbox), similar to an old-fashioned shade.
2. Install the mounting brackets at the top and around the door frame or the beam of the gazebo or porch.
3. Snap in the headerbox, making sure that the bottom rail of the screen is toward the inside of the room.
4. If there are vertical side guides, measure and cut them according to the height of the opening, and then screw them in place and snap them in position with the headerbox. If there are guide wires, screw the bottom brackets into place, and attach the wires to the cassette. Be sure everything is level and plumb.
One important note for drop screens: not every manufacturer has a do-it-yourself style, so make sure you don’t need a contractor before ordering the screen.
A retractable awning installation is slightly more complicated than a screen installation, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions:
1. Locate the bricks, rafters, studs, or joists to which to mount the awning.
2. Install a pressure-treated board at the install location if mounting onto siding. It is extremely important that the awning be mounted on a flat, level surface, which isn’t always possible with siding, shingles, and brick.
3. Install the mounting brackets, with the end brackets about three inches inside the edge of the awning and the other brackets evenly spaced between them. The number of mounting brackets depends on the width and projection of the specific retractable awning.
4. Install and attach the optional hood about 1 inch above awning location.
5. Lift the retractable awning, and insert it in the mounting brackets.
6. Tighten the retaining bolts.
Here are a few helpful tips for installations:
o Always attach retractable awning mounting brackets to a load-bearing part of the building, like a stud, joist, rafter, brick, or beam, depending on the mounting option.
o Use a chalk line and level. It’s just easier than trying to eyeball whether the awning or screen is even.
o Because of the weight of the awning and to keep everything properly positioned, have two people working on the retractable awning installation.
o Read the instructions in the kit or on the company’s website. When in doubt, call the manufacturer’s customer service line.
In a decent afternoon of work, you can have a lovely retractable awning or drop screen installed over a patio, garden, eating area, walkway – wherever you want to make a pleasing, comfortably shaded haven.