RV Awnings, Choice, Care & Maintenance
Author: Malcolm Street
One of the most practical developments in RVs over the past few decades is the retractable awning. Older RVers may remember the heavy canvas awnings that had to be dragged along the roof via a sailtrack - they were heavy, especially when wet, and definitely not fun in the wind! But retractable awnings, once seen as optional extras, are essentially standard kit these days, and have revolutionised the way we live in - and outside of - our RVs.
TYPES OF AWNINGS
There are many different types of awnings on the RV market in Australia, from brands such as Dometic, Fiamma, Carefree, Sunburst, Thule and Cvana.
Some models have a mounting bracket down side of the RV, some don’t. Some have a winding handle, others can be pulled out or retracted by hand, and there are some which are specifically designed to be roof-mounted, rather than wall-mounted and suit RVs with limited wall space (like campervans). There are even electric retractable awnings - you just push a button and the awning either opens or closes. Electric awnings are definitely much easier to use but, due to the fact that they are power operated, they require either a battery or mains power source to operate, which is something to consider.
In a perfect world, RVers could just choose the awning they liked the best, however, in reality, the awning choice is determined by factors such the length of the RV and the location of items such as your windows and doors.
Many RVers just have an awning but you may also choose to option a full or partial annexe. Manufacturers such as Kakadu, Australia Wide and Annexe Solutions make annexes in any number of configurations. There’s everything from fully enclosed annexes with three walls or just a sun-blocker along one wall, plus floor mats for every size. Floor mats are great for minimising dirt and dusty entry into the RV itself. Other options allow for multiple doors, insect screens and walls combinations.
For something completely different, you could look at an annexe by Ikamp, which includes the roof, is held up by inflated air poles, and is very simple to erect.
HOW THE WEATHER CAN AFFECT YOUR AWNING
Awnings are a great camping accessory, however, they must be used with care, especially in inclement weather. Awnings are very vulnerable to strong winds, and an awning can disappear over the roof of a motorhome very quickly. It’s imperative that you keep an eye on the weather when using your awning and, for long term stays, it’s best to use tie-downs on both ends of the awning to keep it secure.
There are a number of after-market items available such as anti-flap kits, roof rafters and hold down straps for inclement weather and even gizmos for holding LED light strings (if your awning doesn’t have inbuilt lighting, or you need more illumination).
While awnings do a great job keeping rain away from the door of your RV, the awning has to be positioned to avoid any water pooling on top of it. If enough water pools in one place, its weight can damage the awning or, even worse, pull the awning off its wall mountings.
Like anything other RV accessory, retractable awnings will benefit from a little care and attention. There is little maintenance do be done other than cleaning, however, the springs may need to be re-tensioned from time to time. Awnings have high tension springs fitted within the roll-up mechanism to assist with retraction and, if the awning isn’t rolling up straight or started to sag, then the springs might need attention. It’s not really a DIY job unless you know what you are doing, so professional help is definitely the way to go.
AWNING TIPS AND TRICKS
- It’s good practice to make sure that no leaves, twigs or tree sap are on the awning prior to rolling it up. Lower the awning slightly and sweep everything off before you pack it away.
- If it has rained overnight or there has been a heavy dew, then make sure the awning is dry before rolling it up. If not, then take the first opportunity to unroll the awning and get it dry.
- Clean the awning from time to time but avoid using household or industrial detergents on the vinyl. There are proper cleaning products available.
- Some awnings have a pull-down strap which can be moved along the awning. The best place to use it is dead centre, so make sure it is in place before retracting the awning.
- Some awnings are in their own covers, on others, the vinyl is exposed. Vinyl doesn’t fare well under the sun for extended periods so, if you’re putting the van into long term storage, then consider an awning cover.
- Awnings are vulnerable to damage from shop awnings, roadside signs and overhanging trees. Keep that in mind when travelling.