Looking for extra living or storage space? Sammy Faircloth explores the world of awnings with a practical guide to the different varieties on offer
Purchasing an awning is a great way to increase living space without buying a bigger caravan or motorhome. Awnings are also ideal as storage areas or as places to take off muddy boots etc. But with so many options on the market, choosing the right one can feel daunting, so let’s take a closer look…
Full-size awnings can be used as dining or lounge areas, making them perfect for families. On some models, the side panels feature zips, allowing you to attach a further side annexe or kitchen compartment (an annexe can be used as a sleeping pod – for humans or dogs – and is also a great place for bikes). However, bear in mind that full-size awnings can be large, heavy and pricey, so are best suited to seasonally pitched caravans or long-stay holidays.
Porch awnings are compact and particularly useful in winter. Positioned around the front door, they help to minimise draughts into the main living area and provide a dry place in which to remove muddy wellies or dry off a wet dog.
Combi awnings sit somewhere between porch and full awnings. They are designed to fit a wide range of models – particularly useful if you change your caravan regularly.
Sun canopies are often seen attached to motorhomes and campervans. Usually drawn out of a ‘cassette’ that is permanently fixed to the side or roof of the van, they are small and lightweight and simple to erect. Options depend on the size and shape of your vehicle and the mounting brackets that are available for it. Some porch awnings attach directly to the caravan or even to a full-size awning – ideal for long-stay holidays in hot countries (remember that you will need a large pitch for this type of set-up).
Drive-away awnings are self-supporting awnings for motorhomes or campervans. They are designed to detach from the awning and be left in situ so you can leave the site and use your vehicle during the day. Some companies (eg OLPRO) offer drive-away awnings with bedroom compartments.
Many awnings are now made of a synthetic fabric similar to that used in ‘backpacking tents’, and various forms of proofing are used. Although the material is lightweight and can be packed easily into a bag, it isn’t breathable, so condensation can be a problem. In contrast, natural cotton, which used to be commonly used for awnings, is porous, but must be packed away dry to avoid rot. More expensive awnings are often made using breathable, treated synthetic products that feel similar to cotton.
Quick and easy to erect, air awnings, featuring integrated ‘air poles’ and separate support poles are increasingly popular. A word of warning – air awnings can be very heavy to lift (even the porch awnings) and a challenge to pack away! More traditional awning support poles are made from steel, aluminium or fibreglass. Fibreglass poles are light and corrosion-resistant, but they lack the rigidity of steel poles and can flex, or even break, if large areas of the canopy are unsupported. Steel poles are very strong and perfect for withstanding heavy snowfall, but can be susceptible to rust. Aluminium poles are lightweight, but lack the strength of steel. However, aluminium folding poles are used very successfully in roller-blind sunshades such as the Fiamma Caravanstore.
Buying the right size for your caravan or motorhome is vitally important, particularly where full-size awnings are concerned. The key is the ‘A’ measurement – this is the distance around the awning rail, from the ground on one side to the ground on the other side. This should be provided in your vehicle handbook but you can also run a piece of string around the awning rail, and measure it to obtain the correct figure. Manufacturers should also be happy to advise on the correct size.
If you change your caravan at a later date, it may be possible to have your awning enlarged or reduced – check with your awning manufacturer.
When buying a combi or porch awning, measure the sidewalls on your vehicle and note the exact positions of the windows. If you buy the wrong size, the panels could end up partially covering your view!
Awnings are must-have accessories for those wanting extra living or storage space, but buying the right one requires a bit of research. Attending a national show will allow you to see some of the options available and talk to the experts about your requirements. Look after your awning and it will last you many years, making it a great investment.