Updated: October 2018
What are awnings?
An awning is an important item for many caravan owners. It takes the form of an attachment that you can add onto the side of your caravan. There are many different styles to choose from, but it often looks like a tent.
While it may seem like there is not much to consider when you choose an awning, there are actually a number of things to take into account, including the different styles, shapes and extra features available.
Why use one?
There are many reasons why you may want to buy an awning to take with you when you go on your next caravan holiday. These may include:
- they provide you with extra space. Even if you have a large caravan, some extra space is never a bad thing. If you have a small one, it can help you to live in greater comfort during your stay;
- many caravan owners use their awnings for storage purposes, freeing up more space inside. They can be particularly useful areas for leaving wet boots, bikes, coats and other things that you do not really want to take inside;
- many awnings allow you to open up the sides and enjoy being in the open air while still getting protection from the rain or the sun. In fact, some do not even have sides and are just used for this purpose. They can also be especially useful if you want to eat outside but out of the wind;
- because they come in so many styles and shapes, they can often be used to add a bit of personal style to your caravan.
Choosing the right size
One of the most important things that you will need to do when you decide to buy an awning is to work out the right size that you require.
The first measurement to know is the ‘A Measurement’ of your caravan. This is the distance from the ground on one side, all the way up along the roof, and down to the other side, which is where the awning attaches. This can usually be found in your handbook, but you can measure it yourself otherwise.
The other measurement to know is the depth, which is the distance from the caravan to the outer wall. You can decide on a model with a larger or smaller depth depending on the amount of space that you want.
Different types of awnings
There are also various different types to choose from, including:
- porch awnings, which are the smallest models. These are primarily used for storing boots and equipment, as well as for eating at the table, and they also provide some protection for the caravan door. They are quick to put up and are ideal for short stays;
- canopy awnings, which can be either temporary or permanent. These simply provide a ceiling and are open on all sides. However, some also include a separate enclosure;
- drive-away awnings, which are like big tents. These can often be detached from the caravan and used as standalone structures.
For definitions of other caravan terms that you may not be familiar with, you may want to check out this A-to-Z guide.
As well as all of the above, you should also consider whether you want your awning to have cabins for sleeping in, windows, curtains, removable panels and a groundsheet. These are all things that are optional when you choose your model.
How to fit an awning
No matter which awning you buy, you will have to work out how to fit it properly before you first use it. Every model is different, so there is no one guide that you need to follow. However, all models share certain similarities when you fit them.
Read the instructions first
Start off by reading the instructions that come with your own awning. There will usually be a clear process for how to attach it to your caravan, and you should always read this to familiarise yourself with how it works.
This is important even if you have fitted a different awning in the past because each model may have slight differences that you should know about.
Set everything out on the floor
After you have read through the instructions, take out all of the parts of your awning and set them out on the floor.
There will be a number of poles and sections included, including the vertical legs, the front frame and the roof poles, so you want to find out what goes where, and then lay them out in the rough location where they will go.
Mark all of the pieces
Once you know where everything goes, mark them using coloured tape or another labelling system. This will become very useful for future trips when you set up your awning after a gap of a few months and can help to save you some time.
Put it all together
As mentioned, all awnings are slightly different, and they vary between brands and models. However, most follow a general process, and there is a useful guide here that goes over the typical steps. Or, you can search on YouTube for one of the many hundreds of awning assembly instruction tutorials. In general, the steps may include the following:
- you should usually start by lubricating the awning channel in your caravan, and there are various lubricants that you can buy that are suitable for this;
- next, unfold the awning, separating the front panels and putting them to the side for now;
- thread the awning into the channel on the caravan. You may find this easier with two people;
- attach it to the bracket pads to keep it in position, using at least three;
- assemble the frame, using the instructions as your guide. You will normally start with the middle roof pole, followed by the middle leg, and then you can do the same for the first side;
- after the first side is complete, put up the front poles. You can then put up the other side;
- if the roof is not horizontal, you may need to adjust the heights of the legs. After this, you can zip the front panels in;
- finally, peg the whole awning into the ground.
Check your awning before using it
Once you have erected it, always check it over to make sure that you have done it properly. After all, you don’t want it to fall down as soon as the wind begins to blow. It may take a few attempts to get it right, but once you know what you are doing you should be able to set it up quickly every time.
Insuring your awning
No matter which type of awning you decide to purchase for your caravan, one of the issues that you may want to consider is how to get it insured.
You may or may not already have caravan insurance, which can protect you from financial loss for a range of risks such as storm damage and theft.
However, the awning is slightly different, and it is worth knowing exactly how to get it insured before you make any decisions.
Awnings are typically covered separately
The most important thing to know is that awnings are typically specified separately on your policy, and they are often insured to their own specific level. The level that you choose to cover it for may depend upon the type of model you have.
Contents of the awning
Even when you get your awning insured, you should be aware of the possible factors that state how much and what is covered.
For example, if you keep items inside it, such as chairs, bikes, clothes and hiking boots, these may not actually be covered.
Another thing to remember is that your awning could be damaged by a storm. Although some policies will provide cover for damage caused to it, this may only apply if you are actually present in the caravan at the time.
For example, if you leave it up and go somewhere else for the day, and a storm hits while you are not there, you may not be able to make a claim for any damage caused.
Should you insure your awning?
Only you can decide whether to insure your awning or not. If you have an expensive one, you may be more keen to insure it. However, it is completely up to you and something that you must decide yourself.
Just remember that if you do get it insured, the above conditions often apply, so make sure you are certain about the conditions before you decide to purchase a policy yourself.
Maintaining your awning
Whether you buy a top-of-the-range awning or a simple one to keep the rain off your head, you will want it to last as long as possible. To do this, you need to look after it properly both when it is in use and when it is not in use.
Your awning may be tough and weatherproof, but if you do not take good care of it, you will probably find yourself buying a new one sooner than you thought.
Keep it clean
The most important thing to remember in order to keep your awning in the best possible condition is to clean it regularly. How often you clean it is completely up to you, but try to give it a proper clean about twice a year or so.
When is the best time to clean it? When it is being used. Don’t try and clean it when it is laid out on the ground because you will not be able to get to every corner. Instead, fix it to your caravan, use it for the duration of your holiday, and then clean it towards the end of your stay, giving it a day or so to dry out before packing it away – weather permitting of course!
How to clean your awning
Cleaning an awning is very easy because all you need is water and a soft brush.
You can buy more specialist cleaners if you want to, but they are often not necessary.
Once you have got it up and ready, simply go over the whole thing with a wet brush, scrubbing away any dirt that has built up. It is a good idea to start with the roof, where most of the dirt will build up, and to then move onto the corners, which are also more exposed.
You may have windows in the sides, but you do not need to wash these any differently. Simply use the water and the brush to wash away any dirt.
Look after the poles
You should pay special attention the poles to prevent the build-up of mud over the months that you use it. When you take it down, shake out any dirt that has collected in the poles before you pack it away. You should also clean off any mud that has collected on the pegs.
If the poles are made from aluminium or steel, you should take special care of them because they could corrode or rust if they are not looked after properly. To keep them in good condition, try to wax them once a year or so. Car wax can be a good option.
Store it away properly between usage
Try to avoid storing your awning away when it is still damp. If you have to take it down in the rain, pack it away but then open it up again when you get home and the weather is dry. Once it is fully dry, you can pack it away properly and keep it in a cool, dry place, preferably not inside the caravan.
Make sure your awning stays in good condition
Awnings are tough and are designed to put up with bad weather, but you should make sure you look after yours properly to prevent it from becoming damaged and wearing out before its time. Look after it by cleaning it and storing it properly, and you will be able to use it problem free for many years.
Pimp your awning!
Awnings provide you with a great way to add your own personal style to your caravan setup. They come in a wide range of sizes, styles and designs, and there are a number of ways that you can make yours stand out and get more from it.
Many people think of an awning as nothing more than extra storage, but it can actually provide an extra space for sleeping in. This can be a great idea if you want to go on a caravan holiday with more people but you cannot all sleep comfortably inside.
Some come with inner tents, which enable you to create a separate area within the awning itself. The inner tent zips up to provide a private zone for any purpose, and it is an excellent way to provide some extra sleeping space.
Alternatively, you could simply use it as another space for storing items or as an area where the children can play while staying out of the way of the other items kept inside the awning. You can find a good election of inner tents here.
Another good way to get more from your awning is to get an annexe. This is a separate area that zips onto the outside to provide an extra space. It is a great way to increase the amount of floor area available without having to buy a new larger model. Some awnings allow you to add on multiple annexes, creating even more space inside.
As well as providing more space, these can provide useful areas for storage to keep items out of the way of the main area where you may want to eat and relax.
You may want to find an awning that comes with an extra canopy on the outside. This is a great way to increase the amount of outside space available to you. The canopy will typically stretch over the opening of the awning to provide a roof, allowing you to sit in the shade or out of the rain while remaining outside, so you do not have to go inside when it gets too hot or the weather turns bad.
Choose a design that matches your style
As well as all of the above options, remember that awnings come in all kinds of shapes, styles and colours. You don’t have to stick to a standard colour, and you may even be able to find one with a unique pattern that makes it stand out. So try to find one that matches your own style when you go shopping for your awning.
Further reading: Caravan awnings quick guide.