Awnings are classified according to their intended use. The British standard recognises the following types:
Winter awnings (Type W)
These are suitable for all year round use and are able to take a specified roof loading such as might be experienced with heavy snow.
Residential awnings (Type R)
Awnings suitable for continual use over extended periods and capable of handling a light snow load. These are suitable for seasonal pitching such as used by campsite staff.
Touring awning (Type T)
Touring awnings are suitable for repeated pitching at any time of the year, but not in winter snow.
Lightweight awning (Type L)
Awnings suitable for repeated pitching which are characterised by ease of use and lightness and with a total weight of less than 2.75 kg/m2 of the base area.
Note These last two categories cover the majority of awnings available in the UK.
Generally speaking, the higher the quality of the awning, the heavier it is likely to be and the more space it will take up when packed for transport.
The fabrics used for today's awning are mainly derived from man-made products although canvas made from cotton or linen may still be found in older products, often blended with polyester for lightness and durability without compromising strength.
Polyester cloth is generally much lighter than acrylic and has a degree of breathability. However it is not so hardwearing so may be best for awnings that are used just occasionally.
Synthetic polyester is widely used because of its strength and water resistance. It can be woven as 100 percent fibre or blended with other products. The performance of any material very much depends on what treatment it has been given. For example polyester may be coated with vinyl laminate, PVC or acrylic. These increase its strength, durability and weather resistance.
Vinyl laminate coated polyester consists of two layers of PVC film with the polyester in the middle for reinforcement. It is sometimes used for awning roofs.
Alternatively the vinyl may be applied in liquid form with the help of special bonding agents. It contains additives that impart colour, water and mildew resistance. Flame retarding agents may also be added. The resulting material is more flexible than its vinyl laminated cousin.
Acrylic coated polyester has a thin coating of acrylic resin applied to each side. The coating provides UV, mildew and water resistance but allows a degree of breathability.
The other material commonly found in awnings is made from acrylic fibres. These can be spun and dyed like wool to give a product that is light and strong with good insulating properties. The acrylic can also be dyed, while still in solution, and before the yarn is created. The process is known as solution dyeing. It makes the fabric resistant to oils and chemicals including bleach and UV light.
To increase the range of material colours that can be produced it's common to blend solution dyed fibres of different colours together. You may just be able to see this if you look closely enough.
With so many materials on the market it can be difficult to know what may be best for your particular needs. It's also worth bearing in mind that the roof may be made from one material and the sides from another.
Lightweight polyester fabrics are often found in cheaper awnings. They are easy to handle and to dry but often lack durability. Such an awning may be ideal for occasional weekend use or possibly for the annual summer holiday.
For more frequent use it will pay to invest in something a little heavier. Acrylic coated polyester can be a good choice as it combines durability with some degree of breathability.
For ultimate performance you should consider solution dyed acrylic fabrics. They are soft, durable and breathable like canvas but are resistant to wrinkling, fading and mildew growth.