Design Guide for Awnings and Canopies

I recently celebrated 30 years in the awning and canopy business. I started manufacturing fabric awnings exclusively and gradually transitioned into metal canopies. Over the years, I have been involved in many projects and have come to recognize the most common challenges and issues with those projects. I thought my take on a design guide may be a way to share that experience with a wider audience.

When designing a building and you want to add architectural elements that will provide weather protection while still maintaining the design intent, what are the considerations that may impact what you specify?

Rain Protection:

Rain protection is something that you need to consider anywhere you have people traffic. Typically, any outside entrances, walkways and patio areas may require rain protection. Rain protection over windows is generally not necessary unless you suspect the windows may be open while it is raining. Fabric awnings, metal awnings and metal canopies all serve this function well. With fabric and metal awnings, you typically have a continuous drip line across the front of the awning unless you specify a rain diverter. Rain diverters, in my experience, have not been that effective.

Metal canopies with integrated gutters can manage the water to a specific area and be diverted through either a scupper, or an outlet with a downspout connected. A scupper, located strategically, can keep the water in one area that is easily avoided. A downspout can direct the water to wherever you want but adds that vertical pipe to the outside face of the building and therefore is an aesthetic concern. Another option is to divert the water into the wall to a hidden downspout. This, of course, is more costly and creates opportunities for error with the canopy manufacturer, installer and General Contractor having to coordinate critical dimensions.

Another consideration when specifying a metal canopy is whether you want lights beneath the canopy. Many metal canopy styles that have integrated gutters do not have a soffit, but rather the bottom side of the rain decking. This should not be penetrated because it will be a potential leak problem. If lights below the canopy are desired, look for a metal canopy design that has integrated gutters and a soffit that will accept lights.

Another option to add LED lighting under your canopy is to have a LED light strip attached to the back side of the face. Unlike a can light, this washes the wall and provides a nice, even light disbursement. With this LED light strip a soffit is not required.

Sun Protection:

When your primary consideration is to provide shade, there are several factors that play into it. 1) The angle of the sun. Most 3D modeling software programs used today will show you exactly what to expect based on location, time of year and time of day. This will give you what you need to size your awning or canopy. 2) Percentage of Light. Are you looking for 100% shade, or 50% shade? There are a wide range of options for partial shade.

  • Translucent Fabrics-These come in various colors and degree of translucency. There must be some slope to these infill panels or there will be a tendency for puddling after a rain. The warranties are from 5 to 12 years. Maintenance will be required.
  • Glass Panels- There will be size restrictions on glass panels depending on the location and the trellis infill openings will have to accommodate that. You can get clear or tinted panels and decorate with applied graphic for shade or have the glass frosted with a graphic image.
  • Perforated Metal sheet-This option allows you to have a stock pattern (such as ½” holes on 11/16” centers), which is typically the economical route, or a graphic design pattern that gives interesting shadow patterns below. There are many stock patterns to choose from and you can get a custom pattern made.
  • Horizontal Louver blades-The degree of shade you get from this option is from the size and spacing of the louvers. Some of the most common louver shapes are:
    • Rectangular or square tubes
    • Round tubes
    • Airfoils
    • “Z” blades

All of these options can be installed into a flat, open frame canopy, or as we call it, a trellis frame. They would be the infill panel for the openings in the frame. One word of caution with the fabric and the glass, without adequate slope, the infill panel will collect dirt and debris and it will show through.

Aesthetics:

When considering the aesthetic impact this will have on your building, you can usually find what you are looking for with one of the options above. With awnings, you have the greatest flexibility in shape and color. The downside is the maintenance and durability. With metal canopies, you have several options that will impact the look.

  • Face size and shape-What vertical dimension are you looking for? Do you want a clean flat face or something with some detail?
  • Upper or lower supports-Most metal canopies have upper supports (tie-backs). These are part of the structural integrity of the canopy system. If the tie-backs are spread too far apart, it could cause a need for designing reinforcement into the canopy and adding cost. Some projects call out lower supports. These are typically a custom fabrication and will cost more than tie-backs. If you want neither upper or lower supports, there is the cantilevered option. This indeed gives a clean look, but you are limited in the projection you can get (3-5 feet depending on the area).
  • Fascia- If you want the horizontal look to carry on but do not necessarily need the weather protection, you can choose to have a fascia band with the same look of the canopy face.
  • Water management-When using metal canopies for rain protection, consider where you want the water to flow. A safe rule of thumb is an outlet for every 100 square feet of canopy surface area. Scuppers dump the water out at the lower edge of the canopy. Outlets dump the water into a downspout. Downspouts are typically visible unless you build them into the wall.

Bolt-on vs Built-in:

These are my thoughts on both built-in and bolt-on approaches to canopy systems.

Bolt-on

  • When designing a building with bolt-on architectural metal, you simplify the general contractor’s scope of work, reducing the cost of the project from the GC.
  • If the bolt-on canopies are provided by an established and reliable source, you have confidence that the system is well engineered and can provide the canopy knowledge that you or the GC may not have.
  • If ever you want to replace a frame because of refurbish or repair, it is an easy fix.
  • Bolt-on canopies can sometimes be considered as equipment and amortized at a much shorter timeline. Sometimes you can depreciate these over 5 years vs. the life of the building.

Built-in

  • You have more flexibility with larger projections and odd shapes. A built-in canopy can be tied into the building structure to allow for larger projections.
  • You can have the full range of building finishes such as stucco or wood, which typically are not available with a bolt-on canopy.

I hope you found this informative and enlightening. I tried to be as objective as I could and not put a biased bend to it. I’m quite sure I missed some things that would have improved this article and would appreciate any comments, or criticisms you may have.

Thank you,

John Dicks

CEO Awnex, Inc.