Window awnings were a standard feature on many homes, and they seem to be making a return. They are a simple way to help you lower the amount of heat coming into your home.
When air conditioning arrived on the scene, cities like Houston became more livable. We are still one of the most heavily reliant cities on ac units. This love affair with the cool air blowing from our ducts caused us to move away from the passive methods used by the original settlers in the area to make their homes more livable. As we become more aware of our energy usage, we look for ways to reduce the need for electricity. With air conditioning being the largest user of power in a Houston home, it makes sense to consider ways that will prevent us from needing so much cooled air. Window awnings were
a prime method for reducing heat gain through a window, so maybe that is why awnings are making their return.
In my case, I wanted to do more than prevent heat from the sun entering through the window; I wanted to cool down a wall. As the exterior wall heats during the day, that heat will travel through the wall to the interior. This is the process of thermal bridging.Wrap around porches helped to cool walls in days past, but adding a porch is not practical for the design of my home. Awnings are being used creatively on many sustainable homes, so my project was to take the window awning to the extreme by having it be for the entire wall. Typically a shaded area is 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than an area in the sun. (I noticed that when I bought my awning material, which was an porch cover material, that they were advertising the solar benefits. Any material for exterior use would do the same.) Plants help create this shade, and they can cool an area down more than the fabric or other material that you may use. This is dude to the fact that plants use the energy from the sun, instead of only blocking it. My plan therefore is to plan out how to use plants in conjunction with my awning to reduce the heat in the window and wall. I also want the window to serve as a functioning light source. Light from the window means not having to rely on light from a fixture.
Steps in making the window awning
1) There is a formula for determining how far down the awning should come from your window’s top to allow light while preventing most heat. It is not difficult, but I prefer studying the site to decide where I want the awning to fall. Since we are close to summer, I am fairly safe in making observations. If I had made them during the winter months, my awning would not be well made for the main heat months. Over the course of a week, I watched where the sun hit the home during the day. I held up my hand under my soffit to see where the shadow would fall on the wall. I have a one story home, and I was not planning to go much beyond the fascia with my awning. I did begin to walk back away from the home to see what would happen with the shadow. I imagine that I could have done this over the course of a day, but I had other things to do. Once I understood what was happening with the sun and the home, I could decide on the dimensions of the awning. For my eastern wall, which is hit with the sun during the hottest part of the day, I felt coming out about two feet from the home worked well, but I wanted more protection, so I let the material drop down quite a bit from the end of my frame.
2) I used a 1″ by 6″ board to create my frame. I had seen from my observations that a board cut with a 45 degree angle and coming down about three feet would suffice for my plan. My idea was to attach the angle board to the soffit, where a rafter comes down. I could attach the frame to the wall, which is common for most awnings, but this set-up would be more better for my goal. I nailed my board into the rafter end for more stability. (I could see where these were by looking for nails in the soffit). If I was only doing a frame for the window, I would place a board as a nailer above the window. When I had the dimension for my first angled board, I cut the other boards to match it.
3) With this board nailed in place, I placed another board with my level against the wall out to the board end. I marked everything with a pencil. I did this for each angled board, because there may be slight differences in dimensions. To attach these braces, I chose a to use a metal hanger that is used for joists. These will be to big for my boards, but these hangers make for a good connector to the wall. I have a brick exterior wall, so I used the appropriate anchor to affix this hanger to the wall. I also caulked this hanger to prevent damage to the brick. The brace was screwed into the board, and then screwed onto the angle board.
4) I painted these boards to match the scheme of my home. The fabric will cover this framing, so you could go with another color, but I think that the consistency in color makes the framing seem like it belongs. I also painted the metal hanger. All of this could have been on the ground, yet I did not see it as a problem to paint the frame when it was up.
5) I tacked the fabric to the frame with short roofing nails. The fabric came in a roll of 6′ by 25′. I cut this into two strips of 3′ by 25″. I let the fabric fall down the frame end. I could cut the fabric to be only slightly longer than the end of the frame, but I wanted the extra length for this wall. There is only one small window on this side for a utility room. That window is for ventilation and light, not a view. I pull the fabric taught when tacking it to the next frame. If the material is loose after attaching it, I simply pull the fabric again to re-tack it.
6) My final step is to cut the end panels (the picture does not have the end panels in place to show the frame), and to create a finished edge. For the edge, you have some options. I have used a pvc pipe in a pocket of fabric to have the end look more stable. I used a good thread to sew a simple pocket. I was going to use the scissor that creates a crimped edge. You can create a scalloped edge if you choose.
The whole process took me a couple of hours. This was due to my assistant, my one year old daughter. According to her, she was a great help. She did have fun. Without her help, I think I could have much of this done within an hour of work time (you have to give the paint time to dry). The materials cost me around $50, producing an awning of 40 feet. I purchased everything at a home improvement center. I happened to know that there was a fabric similar in color to my home; however, if you are feeling more creative, fabric stores sell material for outdoor use which may be great for a window awning. Most awnings use canvas. I liked the porch cover, because it did allow for filtered light for my plants below. Canvas is a popular choice for awnings, and these would provide more shade. You can order metal awning frames for your windows, which are easy to attach, but this was such an quick project, and my awning is customized to my need.