Historically Appropriate Awnings Can Help Cool Your Bungalow

Small Home Gazette, Summer 2011

Historically Appropriate Awnings Can Help Cool Your Bungalow

The September 2011 issue of Old House Journal magazine contains a nice article on awnings and their use on vintage houses.  If you don’t subscribe to the magazine (and we recommend that you do), you can read the article online at this address: www.oldhouseonline.com/how-to-saveenergy-with-awnings.

In addition, the Old House Journal article references an excellent brief on awnings for historic buildings published by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service. The brief includes the history of awnings and the types of awnings used in each period, awning shapes and colors, appropriate materials, maintenance and repair, and more.  You’ll find the brief at this link: www.nps.gov/history/hps/tps/briefs/brief44.htm.

Finally, we ran an answer to a question about awnings for bungalows in the Summer 2007 issue of this newsletter.  We thought it was helpful (if we do say so ourselves), so we thought we’d run it again.

Q: Our bungalow faces west, and when the afternoon sun hits the front of the house, the rooms heat up like an oven.  We recently saw a bungalow with awnings on the windows. Are awnings historically appropriate for bungalows?

A: Canvas awnings are entirely appropriate for bungalows, and they can significantly reduce interior heat gain.  Traditional awning styles are still available and can add a splash of summer color to your home.

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These vintage photos of Minneapolis bungalows, taken in the 1920s or ‘30s, show folded and extended awnings. Photos courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum, Confer Realty Company collection (www.hennepinhistory.org).

Twin Cities companies such as Acme Awnings (www.acmeawning.com) carry a couple of residential styles that haven’t changed in more than a hundred years.  Their “Traditional Awning” looks just like what Twin Cities bungalow dwellers were installing on their homes in the early 20th century.  Their “Retractable Roller Awning” looks pretty good, too, except for the contemporary appearance of the support rods (which are somewhat hidden).  And, though they don’t show them on their website, Acme Awnings also carries traditional “spear” support rods.  These look especially appropriate on Spanish or Mediterranean style homes.  Canvas in both solid colors and bold stripes were used, as you can see in the historic photos on this page.

There are some drawbacks to canvas awnings.  They can cost up to several hundred dollars per awning, so you probably won’t recoup their cost in savings on air conditioning bills.  (It also helps to think of them as a decorative addition to your house.)  And although the canvas is tough and is treated to withstand sun and moisture damage, they’ll still decay over the years.  You can significantly extend the life of an awning by removing and storing it for the winter.  Finally, installing any awning will require that holes be drilled in your home’s siding, something many old house owners are reluctant to do.

You might also explore other means of passively reducing heat gain.  Original bungalow owners used cloth roller shades to block the sun.  They’re also still readily available, though most stores only display shades made of vinyl and nylon—you’ll have to ask for cloth.  You can even get them with the ring-on-a-string pull cord.  White or off-white will reflect light and heat most effectively.

And remember that mature trees are the best awnings of all. If you don’t have one in front of your house, plant one, or call the city and ask to have one planted on your boulevard.  Of course, a tree can take many years to reach the size where it’s an effective sun block.  If you’re in a hurry, you can pay around $1,000 to have a much larger tree scooped out of the ground with a piece of machinery called a tree spade, delivered to your yard, and lowered into a prepared hole.