Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

August 2, 2009

Green Review: Sunsetter Awnings Keep Heat Outside

Category: Green Reviews,Household,Tips – Tom Harrison – 8:42 pm

awning-halfopenYesterday I installed two awnings over our south-facing bedroom windows — they look good, let you see out, are adjustable, and the SunSetter brand seems to be very high quality.

Keeping your house cool in the summer (with minimal, or no air conditioning) boils down to three things:

  1. Don’t Add Heat from the Inside — cook on the grill, turn on the bathroom exhaust fan, keep the lights off
  2. Don’t Let Hot Air from Outside In — shut windows, doors, and seal the drafts and leaks that let hot air in
  3. Don’t Let Convective or Radiant Heat from the Sun In — insulation, low-E glass, blinds down … and outside shades

We have had exterior shades on some of our windows for several years now and they work great. They’re nothing more than big rolling window shades, but it’s key that they are outside, not in. Normal inside window blinds are good — they don’t let the sun that has already come in, get further than it has, and can reflect some of the heat back. But even in that pocket of air between the shade and the window, you’re allowing the sun to heat up the air in your house.

Exterior shades or awnings, however, do the same thing as window shades, but the heat never gets inside the house in the first place. We use both, and it has really made a difference.

SunSetter Retractable Awnings

We bought two window awnings from SunSetter, and I installed them yesterday. They are also basically roll-up shades, except they have struts on the side that hold the shade out, at an angle. By raising them you can get them entirely out of the way, lowering them all the way mostly covers the window … but the main setting for the summer is out at an angle.

With this setting, they shade the entire glass area of the window while still providing a view and light from outside. The angle is just right to bounce the radiated sun away but not get in the way of the view.

You can buy the awnings in different colors and sizes. I recommend getting a light, neutral color, as the material lets through the light from the sun without the heat — a strong color awning fabric would affect the colors in your room … which is fine, if that’s what you mean to do. Our awning was about 8 inches wider than the outside frame width of the window. There are numerous sizes and configurations available.

awning-closedThe awnings can be adjusted with a pull cord, and the ones we bought have the option of being adjustable from outside or inside. (In our case, however, there wasn’t enough clearance between our curtains inside to install the supplied pulley … not a big deal, since I think there’s mostly a summer setting and a winter setting).

The materials of the SunSetter awnings are very high quality (and this is not often the case with window treatments, in my experience). The awning itself is thick, rugged vinyl. The hardware is aluminum with an enamel coating — very durable and nothing is flimsy. They’re not cheap (around $235, delivered for a 4′ awning), but they’re also not cheap-o — they will last, and not rust for a long time.

Installation is a bit of work, more than just screwing in a few screws — I mounted our two awnings yesterday, and have two important tips:

  1. The first one took me an hour, mostly running to get a tool I needed (up and down the ladder); the second one took around 20 minutes
  2. Don’t install the awning at noon on a hot, sunny day :-)

You’ll need a few tools — level, measuring tape, socket wrench, drill, screwdriver and a water bottle. If you’re reasonably handy, the instructions provided are very detailed and well written … although frankly they were so detailed I thought there was more to it than it turns out. If you’re not handy, find someone who is to do the installation.


  1. Keeping the sun and heat out of your house is important–especially when energy costs are rising. One thing you might consider is a radiant barrier. Stopping the radiant heat will definitely reduce the heat load and lower your energy cost but it isn’t a “cure-all”. My suggestion is to take a complete assessment of your potential energy savings and start with the one area that will provide the highest return.

    Comment by Bruce — August 15, 2009 @ 11:34 pm

  2. I am just researching simple retractable awning to mount on the side of my home to cover two air conditioner units….this will protect them from the sun and they will also run more efficently. I am currently using an umbrella….does a great job but I think the awning would work much better.

    Comment by murrell jarman — July 5, 2010 @ 8:59 pm

  3. Murrell — after about a year in service, I am very happy with the Sunsetter awnings. We have had some weather “consistent with the predictions of climate change” in the Boston area including some very high winds and torrential rains — the awnings survived beautifully. They look nice, too.

    And they certainly help keep the heat out on super hot days like the ones we just had in Boston.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — July 7, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

  4. it is like an awning but better hehehe

    Comment by Kath Stuart — August 30, 2010 @ 11:03 pm

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