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Old 07-10-2008, 02:58 PM
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Greywolf Greywolf is offline
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RV Awning 101 - Basic stuff you need to know

Awnings were designed to create a sort of 'Shaded Porch' area on the entry side of coaches, and as with all RV components they are a hybrid between strength and the lightest possible weight.

They are intended for moderate weather conditions and severe damage can happen if they are left unattended. There is also a certain amount of know-how involved in raising and lowering them because damage can be caused if they are not set up or taken down right. Securing them for travel is also a prime concern, because the winds alongside a coach are far higher than any that occur in weather except in catastrophic storm conditions such as hurricanes.

I was present one year in Newport News when a sudden gale struck the shipyard there, and the high winds (above forty miles per hour) tore loose tarpaulins that were covering the sides of ships being worked on. A yardworker was reported killed when he tried to grab a rope holding a tarp that was coming loose, and it snatched him off the side of the ship and flung him into the bottom of the drydock... The exact mathematics of wind force times square footage of sail material are not important - just keep in mind that you have the equivalent of the mainsail from an old square rigger ship, or at least something the size of an airplane wing attached to the side of your coach.

The coach will attempt to remain an immovable object, so we need to think in terms of the weakest link(s). Normally that would be the extension arms and hardware, sometimes it is the fabric itself if it is old or ripped anywhere. If there is water damage around the mounting feet of the awning, the siding of the coach may be rotted or the screws mounting it can become loose.

But there is another direction things can go in - DOWNWARD. If a lot of water suddenly falls on an awning, such as from a sudden severe rainfall, with the awning fully extended it is possible for several hundred pounds of water to be trapped on top of it, and this will almost always ruin something. I have seen bent awning rollers, awning mounts that tore loose from the roof edge, awning fabric ripped out of the roller and the coach side - and I have also heard of small trailers being turned on their sides!

I know, "Lions, and Tigers, and Bears - OH MY..."

But there are things we can do to prevent this kind of damage. First of all:
Understand every bit of how to deploy and stow your awning.

A very smart man taught me the 'RULE OF 55', it goes like this;
Step 1) Loosen the friction lock **** on the back of the rafter arm at one end of the awning

Step 2) Loosen the friction lock **** on the back of the rafter arm at the other end of the awning

Step 3) Unlock the travel clamp (or clip, or similar device) that holds the rafter arm into the extension arm at one end of the awning

Step 4) Unlock the one at the other end

Step 5) Using your Awning Rod get hold of the strap that rolls and unrolls the awning, and switch the ratchet mechanism at the end of the roller


~that is five steps~

The second 'FIVE' is this: Unroll the awning about FIVE INCHES (or try to) and look it over full length to make sure nothing is caught or binding, nothing was skipped, nothing is sticking, and everything is working as it should be.

NEVER FORCE an awning that seems to be stuck! Find out why, it may be that an extension arm is hung up on a screw. OR one of the friction locks might be tight, OR the sliding foot at the end of the rafter arm might be stuck in it's track. Take care of that directly instead of yanking and pulling, work with it carefully and you will save a lot of money.

When the awning is all the way extended the rafter arms will need to be swung up until they lock in place at the roller. Extend the rafter arms until the fabric of the awning is flat. THIS is the time to tighten the friction lock ***** on them. I hope you noticed that as the awning was coming out from the side of the coach - because the rafter arm sliding foot has a stop at the bottom of it's track, the rafter arm changes length. If the friction lock is engaged it can't do that, and the leverage it can develop is a lot like a pair of vicegrip pliers. It multiplies. That is where a lot of damage can come from! When raising or retracting an awning, one of the most important things to be sure of is those friction locks.

Once ALL OF THIS is done, we check to make sure the rafter arms are tight, and then extend out the extension legs to raise the edge of the awning up to where we want it. That will depend on what kind of weather we expect. It is also possible to shorten how far we unroll the awning, you can always unroll it just enough to swing out the rafter arms without extending the rafter arms. Why we would want to do that I'll get to...

So what we have are five initial steps that are designed to prevent damage from the start, and a checkpoint, followed by a few more steps.

Most awning legs can be unclipped from the sides of the coach to stand them straight up on the ground, you do this without messing with the rafters at all! BUT- the holes in the feet of the awning legs are for PEGS to hold them in place. if you can't drive a peg in the ground for that (if you are on pavement, for example) DON'T RISK IT! It is always more secure anyway to have the legs fastened tight to the side of the coach. It doesn't take much of a breeze to make the legs walk around...

Stowing the awning works ALMOST EXACTLY the same way but in reverse, except I will add this to it: DO NOT EVER allow the awning to roll up without holding the roller strap with an awning rod. If you do - it will slam into the trailer with enough force and speed that even though you may get away with it a few times, sooner or later something is going to break.

(Short Version)
STEP 1) Retract the extension arms, one at a time

STEP 2) Loosen one of the rafter arm friction locks, release the catch at the end of the extension arm, and swing the rafter arm down (this should be done with no wind, or with someone holding the awning strap)

STEP 3) DO the same at the other end

STEP 4) (with the awning rod) Get hold of the awning strap and reverse the ratchet mechanism (switch it to "retract")

STEP 5) Allow the awning to roll up slowly, watching both ends to be sure there are no hangups or problems

STEP 6) Secure all travel clips or locks, including the friction locks on the rafter arms.



*Some people use small pet collars or velcro straps to make sure their rafter arms and extension legs are buckled together tightly, I think this is a great idea especially on the front set of them.

I may have to link to a diagram of what all the parts of an awning are, but hopefully you got a book with your coach. Just in case I'll look up a link.

NOW ABOUT HIGH WINDS and RAIN....
Awnings are designed for shade, since you cant get a "Moon Tan" you don't really have to have one out at night. If there is no worry at all about bad weather or high winds, leave it out. If there is any doubt at all - you don't want to have a rude awakening after midnight. But you CAN short-roll the awning, so there is less of it out if the wind picks up. Like above - the rafter arms are not fully extended, and one technique is to swing up the rafter arms until they clip into place at the ends of the slides, then roll the awning back onto them. You need to reset the ratchet into the deploy position when you do this so the roller springs are not putting added force on the rafters, and you should still use the friction locks. It takes about three people to do this though, and it doesn't have to be that perfect. What this does, is transform the awning from a sunshade into something more like a covered porch.

Next thing to consider is the angle of the awning fabric. You can angle it down from the coach out to the roller, and that might help shed SOME rain - but the very best plan is to have one end of the awning lower than the other so that it slopes towards the rear of the coach (or whatever end is away from the entry door). This makes sure there is a runnoff channel for rain water, since the roller often holds water back on a perfectly flat awning. It doesn't have to be much, but depending on where you are and what season I recommend at least eight inches to a foot. This also helps keep rain from dripping off the edges around the entry door.

Obviously - if you have your awning "Short Rolled" you may not be able to hang a nifty set of decorator lights from it, but there are ways around even that. If the awning is out farther than you want to have it you can tuck some string into the fabric where it goes over the roller, then roll-back the awning and use the tag ends of string to attach the light set!!!

But the main thing here is to prevent damage, and the best ways are to be aware of local weather, plan for it, and if you insist on leaving the awning out when there is a chance of rain or some such, you can reduce the odds of damage by taking advantage of these few simple ideas.



Best regards, be safe on the road!

~Dutch
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Old 07-10-2008, 05:10 PM
CougarXR02 CougarXR02 is offline
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All good points. I have recently started using a pair of nylon wire ties (zip ties) around the leg and rafter poles once stowed for travel. For me I get them free from work and just snip them off to open. Even if you buy them, you are looking at a pack of 100 for less than $10 retail, cheaper if you look at the discount stores. At 4 per trip, that gets me 25 trips, or 3-4 seasons or more.

Cheap insurance indeed.
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Old 07-10-2008, 06:15 PM
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Another great post from Wolfie!

In the few short years we've camped I've awnings become pools and hold water until the roller finally snapped; I've seen awnings become sails (3 at one time on Lake Erie); and I've seen awnings get completely ripped off and flipped over the trailer (just a few weeks ago at Myrtle Beach).

So now I have to ask - Wolfie, what do you think about strapping (tie outs) the awning once it's deployed? With what I have seen and the fact that storms can come up in just a few minutes, I usually put deflappers on and use ratching straps and 'screw-in dog ties outs' to secrure my awning.
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Old 07-10-2008, 06:55 PM
dkhender dkhender is offline
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I'm curious about stories I've heard of wind getting under the awning during travel, and flapping out - but with the arms still locked. I've looked at items like the Awning Clamp ( RV Awning Clamp - Camping World ), but they look like a pain to hook up each time you prep to leave.

Anyone try something like this?
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Old 07-10-2008, 08:33 PM
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Ive had mine get blown out from a side wind, It unrolled about 8". I had strap's on that I alway's put on but I should have put them closer to the top. I just have a little nylon strap with a buckle but those big velcro strap's you can get at lowe's would work great and they are soft. I think if wind is in the forcast I will get the ladder out and put them at the top.
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Old 07-10-2008, 11:54 PM
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If the awning lock on the roller gets moved (tree branch etc.) the awning can unroll reguardless if the arms are locked down or not. The awning will just spin with the arms in the locked position. The only to prevent the awning from unrolling is to lock the roller to the arms itself. Hope this helps.
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Old 07-11-2008, 12:05 AM
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Those same dog tiedowns are often used by small plane owners on grass fields where no solid tiedown point is available. If the weather is somewhat unpredictable, they could be a lot of help.

On the other hand, "Rufuss" (my Pit-Labrador) has yanked out four dog corkscrews in the last ten months - forcing me to eventually invest in an eighty pound sack of readycrete to pour around the screw...

If there are trees or saplings nearby they would be more solid, a light nylon rope would do the trick. I've heard of people using cinderblocks too.

But the bottom line is, that wind and awnings don't get along at all well! This is one reason why a lot of campsites and parks have spaces that are more or less protected from wind. On beaches and in the desert it's another story, and no tiedown screw on earth will hold in sand.

Another concern with tie-downs though, is what happens if the wind gusts enough to rock the trailer? The far ends of the awning arms would not be able to move, and a lot of force would be transmitted to the awning arms and hardware. Keep "leverage" in mind, the screws holding most awnings on are only screwed into wood - not the metal frame! It doesn't have to be a gust of wind either, come to think of it. A significant shift of weight from people moving around inside can rock an RV on it's suspension. Under those conditions, or for those reasons, I'd want an awning to be able to move up and down a little bit.


Concerning awnings that catch air and begin to unroll, regardless the arms are well fastened in the closed position - this can happen because of a weak or broken roller spring (the one that holds tension against the ratchet inside the big aluminum roller). Awning fabrics also sometimes don't roll up flat like they should, leaving a gap at one end where a fold has formed. You don't want that at all, this is why it should be rolled up carefully while keeping an eye on it.

A small fold that catches 65+ mile per hour air on the road will quickly become a balloon trying to inflate itself and there ya go...

For this reason, many awning models have a cap on the end of the arms that acts like an air deflector. Higher end awnings also have piano hinged metal slats as the first foot or so of awning, so that when it's rolled up they form a rolled metal "Garage Door" like cover over the awning material.

A lot depends on whether or not the springs in the awning roller are working right. When the awning is rolled all the way up to the coach sides - there should still be A LOT OF spring tension keeping it from unrolling.

One solution might be to install a strap and buckle, or a small pair of screw-in tiedown points above and below the head end of the roller. That way a strap, rope, or a zip-tie could be put around the front end of the roller and tightened as security for travel.

Put them about a foot back from the front of the roller, one just above and flush with the fabric bead tube on the trailer side, and the other directly underneath where the rolled up awning rests against the side wall.

If there is not enough room next to the bead tube, the top anchor point can be mounted on the roof. BE SURE to use sealer under any hardware like that - plumbers tape, putty, silicone, or a combination of them. NOTHING IS ALLOWED TO LEAK! - Ever...

99% of preventing problems though is still prevention. Know what the weather is doing, stow the awning if you're going to be away from camp and you aren't sure what the wind and rain might do. Know it when something isn't working right, and take measures ASAP. Strap it down if you have to!

RV's have come into dealers where I was working with awnings roped down to the roof more times than I like to think about, because something broke loose and all that could be said was "OH LOOK AT THAT!!!".

You don't want to be the main event in one of those situations...
It gets expensive real fast.
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Old 07-11-2008, 12:37 AM
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By the way Greywolf, great thread. Alot of folks don't realize how fragile RV awnings are. Was talking to my insurance agent a couple of weeks ago and he was telling me that awnings were the #1 claim of RV damage.
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In 5 minutes someone opened the door, popped the hood, started the truck, broke the heated seats and stole your horn and then just left? Where the hell do you live??
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Old 07-11-2008, 12:59 PM
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Greywolf, great post will need to read a couple of times. I do have one question for you, the friction locks you talk about could you do short post on how to replace them. I need to do this on my awning on my horse trailer. Thanks, Steve
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Old 07-11-2008, 02:03 PM
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I'm not sure if you can get replacement friction locks or if the inner arm has to be replaced. (That's how RV service places usually deal with them).

A&E is made by Dometic, see if you can find parts through:
Dometic.com Dometic

For Carefree of Colorado awnings:
Carefree of Colorado - Recreational Vehicle Products

Both of them should have a parts directory on their sites. They may be tricky to navigate, but if you can eliminate a middle man outfit it's usually a good thing.
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