By far, this is the most common concern that consumers have about lateral arm retractable awnings—the type that extends with bent arms (see photo). It is intuitive, right? If it extends from the structure without any support on one side, isn’t the product prone to lift on that side? At what point does that lifting cause damage to the awning or the structure where it is attached? Seems like a good question. After all, who wants to buy a product that will break easily or damage their home?

After researching information on the web, I was left feeling very sorry for the consumer. I found that much of the information was incomplete at best and downright misleading at worst. Let’s see how we can tackle this concern in a practical way.

First of all, let me put you to ease. Thatcher Retractables has installed over 4,000 lateral arm retractable awnings in the Chicagoland area. Our customers love their awnings! Where there was once a hot unusable outside space, there is now a comfortable oasis of shade. Why are our customers so happy with their awnings? A trained awning expert consulted with them and considered all of the factors to ensure that they would be satisfied when the project was complete.

Factor #1: How far is the awning extended?
I was amazed in my research that the most scientifically relevant factor was completely ignored. Anyone who has used a breaker-bar to acquire additional leverage to turn a bolt understands that the further you are away from the lever, the more force you apply.

Therefore, when the product is retracted against the structure, no leverage is gained by the wind and the product is completely safe. In the summer of 2012, we saw awnings withstand micro-bursts of over 100 mph while they were retracted. THIS IS THE POINT OF A PRODUCT THAT HAS THE CAPABILITY OF RETRACTING! Sorry for shouting at you, but when you are not using your awning, simply hit the button and let the motor bring the awning in.

Many homeowners find that retractable awnings over their glass patio doors heavily reduce solar heat gain, thereby reducing cooling costs. This can be accomplished by extending the awning a few feet rather than to its full extension. The product is inherently more stable in this position because of the awning design. This brings us to our next topic…

Factor #2: How large is the awning and how much fabric is exposed?
Wow! This is another topic that is not discussed! How could we not discuss this factor? Awnings that are 12′ wide x 10’ projection are going to be more stable than awnings that are 30′ wide x 16′ projection. If you live in an area that is typically windy, you should consider how much space you really need to shade. If you really do need to shade a larger area, you should probably consider Wind Stabilization Poles (see below).

Factor #3: What pitch does the awning have?
Having a good pitch of about 2-3″ per foot of projection will increase the product’s ability to withstand windy conditions. When an awning has a good pitch, the wind will actually push the awning down and back towards the house. This force is more easily accommodated by the awning, because the awning arms naturally want to flex in and out in the same way they do when the product is operated. The most dangerous force for an awning is a quick strong gust of wind that pushes the awning up quickly. By having a good pitch, the awning will be better positioned to resist this force.

So you say, “Okay Rodney, understanding the factors is great, but you still haven’t answered the question. Is this thing going to break at the first sign of wind or tear up my house?” Alright, alright, let’s get practical.

The example we often use at Thatcher Retractables (which I have also seen in numerous places on the Internet) is the newspaper example. If you can comfortably read a newspaper under your awning, your awning will be just fine. More importantly, you will be comfortable under the awning. Wow, that’s another important point that virtually no one addresses. Who wants to be under an awning, even if it isn’t damaged, when it is bouncing up and down? This is where Wind Stabilization Poles add practicality to your awning.

First of all, Wind Stabilization Poles should not encourage you to leave your awning open while unattended. Now that we have that out of the way, we recommend using Wind Stabilization Poles in a variety of different applications. As stated above, if you need a larger awning, especially a larger projection, such as 12′, 13’4” or 16′, Wind Stabilization Poles are highly recommended. If you live in an area like Huntley, IL, Elgin, IL, Shorewood, IL, Crest Hill, IL, Mundelein, IL or other windy areas, you should talk to the sales representative about this option before purchasing an awning.

The poles prevent the most dangerous force, the quick upward gust of wind, from affecting the awning frame in the same way as it would without the poles. Keep in mind, the fabric will still move with the wind, and the frame will sway in and out slightly depending on the size of the awning and the strength of the wind, but you will definitely feel more secure and know that you are not going to have to worry about your awning “breaking in the first sign of wind” or “tearing up your house.”

Some other misinformation out there about awnings and wind include:

1. Wind Sensors prevent wind damage.
While wind sensors are designed to detect movement and tell the motor to retract your awning, there is a critical flaw in this system. Wind Sensors are most often sold to customers as a security policy if the consumer forgets to retract their awning. Most often, consumers that purchase larger awnings also purchase this feature. Here is the problem: TIME!

Motors used to retract large awnings are geared very slowly. When conditions change from a calm summer day to thunderstorm, 30-60 seconds can be an eternity. Additionally, getting the exact settings down on sensors can be problematic for some homeowners. The last thing you want is for your awning to retract when you have guests over and food out, because the sensor is a little too sensitive.

2. Wind Warranties or Wind Insurance.
I have seen this out there for a few years. Be careful about small print, and make sure the labor is included. From my research, it seems that companies are claiming to warranty parts, but are free to charge anything they choose for the labor to replace the parts. Even worse, you may have to do the repair yourself.

3. Some sites specify specific MPH ratings for their awning systems.
Sunsetter states mph ratings of 55-75 mph on “Sunsetter Awnings.” The model of awning, size of awning, extension of awning while tested, features employed to stabilize the awning and other factors are not specified. Additionally, these MPH ratings were done in wind tunnel tests, NOT the real world.

After making MPH claims, Sunsetter states that their lateral arm retractable awnings are intended to be retracted in high winds. More information is necessary for this humble awning expert to make a judgment on whether 55-75 mph ratings are an accurate reflection of product performance in a practical real world application.

I know I went a little long on this, but I really believe that the consumer deserves some real information on this topic. While I touched on a number of pieces to this puzzle, nothing can replace a trained Awning Expert consulting with you at your home about your project.