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The major difference between fixed and retractable awnings comes down to one word: movement. As the names imply, fixed awnings are frozen into a single position, while retractable awnings can be opened, closed, or stopped at any point in between.
This ability to move an awning gives retractable awnings significant flexibility, and this flexibility translates into some significant performance benefits.
Longer lifespan with the fabrics.
One of the most vulnerable elements in an awning is its fabric. The fabric (whether solution-dyed acrylic, PVC, mesh, or even cotton canvas) is simultaneously the most delicate part of the awning and the most exposed. Awning frames can be painted or powder-coated for additional protection against rust and UV damage, and are relatively resistant to daily damage. However, fabrics can tear in heavy winds, stretch as water pools, rub against the awning ribs and fray, and fade and become brittle in unrelenting sun and UV exposure.
Some of this can be mitigated by using quality fabrics, as we do with solution-dyed acrylics and PVC-based materials which are fade resistant. But the most effective way to protect the fabric is also the simplest -- roll it up. Retractable awnings roll up the fabric, so if the awning is not being used, the fabric isn’t exposed to wind, rain, snow, hail, or even sun and UV. An optional hood provides a cover for the fabric roller, preventing debris and water buildup which could further damage the fabric. This extends the lifetime of the fabric (and therefore the attractiveness of the awning) by years.
Longer lifespan with the frame.
The awning frames are overall sturdier than the fabric, but they are still not indestructible. Many types of awnings, like lateral arm, canopy, and drop screens, have no posts or supports, so when they are retracted, they are flat against the building and completely hidden.
Many of the frames are rated for 20mph winds or higher, so a lazy afternoon on the patio is possible even with a moderate wind. However, if the winds pick up or there is worse weather (snow, heavy rains, hail, or strong winds), then a fixed awning is just left out in the weather, leaving the fabric and the frame vulnerable to damage from wind gusts or the weight of precipitation. Retractable awnings, however, can be closed and protected, for a few minutes or days. Using sensors like anemometers and precipitation sensors can allow your awning to retract and be protected even if you are not there to close it yourself.
Improved energy efficiency.
Both fixed and retractable awnings provide substantial savings on air conditioning bills. Awnings block sunlight, which reduces the overall heat gain by as much as 77% and anywhere from 8 to 20 degrees (F). Depending on the window orientation and the length of summer, this can result in hundreds of dollars in energy savings annually.
The other side of energy savings, though, is winter, and this is where retractable awnings have a clear advantage. Blocking indoor heat gain is great in summer, but that’s the opposite of what you want in winter. Letting in sunlight and ambient heat reduced heating costs. With fixed awnings, that is not an option, but retractable awnings can be retracted throughout the winter, allowing in a maximum amount of light and ambient heat. This can be significant in northern climates.
Improved light management.
An important factor with awnings is (obviously) light management, but that does not necessarily mean blocking all light, all of the time. Light and weather are always changing, and there are a lot of factors that can affect light conditions:
Angle of the sun, both seasonally and throughout the day
Available interior lighting
Retractable awnings can be adjusted to provide the appropriate amount of light and shade, both for improved comfort and for improved energy efficiency. Using ambient light rather than electric lights can impact energy consumption for large facilities -- and it can also significantly affect the mood and health of employees or guests in larger spaces, since natural light is linked with reduced stress and better moods.
Fixed awnings, on the other hand, block light at a specific angle, which could mean reducing available light unnecessarily or not being able to block light and glare with seasonal changes in the sun’s position.
To see the entire comparison scroll left to right and top to bottom
|Sun / Heat||
|Threading / Seams||
|Movement, Pitch, and Position||