Awnings are common in Europe, where nearly one of every three homes has one.
But in the United States, where only 3 percent of houses have awnings, they're more of a novelty. That number is growing, however, because people want to spend more time outdoors on their patios, porches and decks.
"They add another room to your home," says Greg O'Brien, who had a fabric awning installed on the back of his Leawood, Kan., house a year ago.
Before, O'Brien's west-facing patio would become uncomfortable when the temperature hit the 80s. In summer, it felt like an oven.
With the awning, O'Brien, his wife, Kendra, and their 2-year-old son, Griffin, use their patio more. It's become the spot where the family's golden retriever, Sam, takes naps.
Typically, awnings reduce the temperature by 10 to 15 degrees, says Susan Haas, who owns Awnings by Haas in Kansas City, Mo., with her husband, Jim.
Another benefit of O'Brien's awning is that it cools his living room, which has a large picture window, and hearth room.
"People with a southern or western exposure who use an awning definitely don't have to run the air conditioning as often," says Mike Chael, owner of Kansas City Tent & Awning Co., which installed O'Brien's awning. "So many houses these days have big banks of windows, but the homeowners don't want heavy drapes blocking the view."
Awnings also block out ultraviolet rays. "People often buy an awning because they're concerned about skin cancer," Haas says. "They cover more ground than a patio umbrella."
O'Brien's awning is retractable, the most popular type for homes, compared with stationary ones commonly used at businesses. The awning runs on a motor instead of a manual crank system, which O'Brien had to use a few days while he waited for an electrician to install an outdoor power outlet. He found the system cumbersome because it took minutes of nonstop cranking.
Now he uses a remote control -inside or outside - to automatically roll up the awning in heavy winds and storms. Awnings can last eight to 10 years, and keeping them out of bad weather can prolong their life.
The typical 14-by-10-foot awning starts at about $3,500. Motorization and remote controls can add several hundred dollars to the cost.
So far, O'Brien hasn't had to clean his awning. Maintenance involves occasional scrubbing with a soft-bristle brush and mild detergent.
Rick McDermott of Fairway, Kan., is considering awnings to shade the windows on the west side of his house. For his south-facing deck, he uses a canopy, a shade triangle made of tan fabric called Coolaroo.
The Australian-based knitted mesh is used for boat sails and is credited with blocking 90 percent of the sun's ultraviolet rays and withstanding rain.
"A fringe benefit is that it protects us from falling walnuts, acting like a trampoline," McDermott says. "They also have a stylish, clean look."
McDermott, an architect, has installed the organic-shaped system at clients' homes. When he installed his own five years ago, he bought the cloth himself and searched for his own cables and connectors at a hardware store.
These days, Coolaroo fabric has become so popular that the shade sails are sold with hardware in stores and catalogs for $200 to $350, depending on the size.
McDermott brings in the shade sail for the winter. Before putting it out in summer, he power-washes the fabric.
Solid colors, especially neutrals: //: If traditional striped awning fabric is used on a house, it's typically a rich color combination such as black and caramel.
More fabric choices // : Sunbrella, a solution-dyed acrylic fabric often used outdoors, offers more than 500 patterns.
Clean lines // : Most awning owners are choosing straight edges over the old-school scallops.
Drop-down screens // : These lower from the awnings, blocking out the sun as it sets.
Remote controls // : Awnings should be brought in from the rain. A remote control (up to $300 more) makes it easy because it can be used indoors.
Accent lighting // : Rope lighting integrated into the awning provides ambience.