Category Archives: Residential

Complete Guide to Mow Strips

What is a mow strip?

A mower strip is a small architectural element that lives between the grass of a lawn and another element of your yard. That could be a raised patio, a flower bed or even a large vegetable garden. They can also be used to create a border around a tree so that its roots get better water absorption from the rain. The mow strip can be as simple as a row of economy paving stones to something as complex as a poured concrete trough filled with ornate smooth stone. Regardless of what type you choose, the primary purpose is a functional one, and that is to create a border between where you need to mow and where you don’t. The mow strips create a stylish break between the grass and another element of your landscape. Without them, you are forced to either use a string trimmer or have sloppy poorly cut edges of the lawn. The mow strips are something that can be put in place once that will permanently eliminate the need to use a weed wacker that area. A picture is worth a thousand words so we have included some images of beautiful landscapes.

Why Add a Mow Strip?

There are several niche reasons beyond the obvious one listed above. We will write a small summary of each reason below:

  1. Lower Impact Pet Digging – Dogs, Rabbits and other in home pets can get really excited when they have their outside time, and they often dig holes. Rabbits are especially active hole diggers, and these burrows can cause issues if they are next to your patio or porch. The digging can lead to structural issues if the support around the poles are dug up.
  2. Better Water Drainage – Metal awnings will have gutters; however, fabric awnings especially retractable ones will not have this. When rain rolls off the awning, it will go straight down which can cause the water to pool in certain areas. This can cause erosion adjacent to the porch or patio which can lead to structural problems. By adding mow strips, you are channeling the water away from the load bearing supports. Additionally, you if this is a major reason, you can use a porous material like smooth stones with an absorbent sand at the bottom of a trough.
  3. Add a Pop of Color – This can be a very nice method of adding a uniform and elegant design element to your yard. If you have several matching mow strips that can be placed around various parts of the yard. This will create a nice visual break when someone views your yard. This is best explained by looking at the difference of the two yards below:
  4. Protect your Lighting or Irrigation – I think every homeowner has run over an outdoor light an in-ground irrigation sprayer. When it comes to tree borders or garden boundaries if they can be placed inside.

Are Mow Strips a DIY Project?

The are 100% DIY projects, and the only time I would consider these not a DIY project is if your home is in restrictive Home Owner’s Association (HOA) that prohibits non-licensed professionals from making changes to the outside of the home.

DIY mow strips around a patio is a project that can be completed in a single afternoon. We have included a high-quality YouTube video of someone adding these to their home.

What Supplies Do I Need?

Author:
Marcion Albert

Date Published:
6/15/2017

How to Clean, Polish or Paint an Aluminum Awning

Black_White_Awning_Patio

How to clean an aluminum awning?

One of the biggest advantages that aluminum awnings are that they are both low cost and low maintenance. This makes them perfect for the homeowner on a budget. They can literally last for decades if they are cared for properly, and this includes an annual cleaning.

For all awnings created 1982 and later, you can follow these four steps during the yearly cleaning.

  1. Remove debris such as leaves, tree branches or other foreign material. These often get stuck in the gutters or in the frame so you will want to take the time to be careful. These items are not serious threats to the awning and the reason we start here is that they can become hazards when they are hit by the high-pressure water during the actual cleaning.
  2. Fill a five-gallon bucket with warm water and some standard liquid dish soap. For our outside chores, we personally use standard Ajax as it does a good job cleaning, and it does not have some of the more harsh chemicals of soaps like Lava or the heavy duty detergents. Stir the mixture fully and allow it to weight about 5 minutes while you complete the next step.
  3. If you have a high-pressure cleaner, we recommend using setting the pressure to under 100 PSI. Other guides recommend using a higher setting; however, we’ve seen this cause damage when the water stream hits windows, plants or hummingbird feeders. Using the lower pressure will still do the job; however, you may need to keep the stream on the soiled spot for longer. Once you’ve completely sprayed off the roof so that there are no visible dirt spots, you are ready to move on.
  4. With the roof free of debris and fully rinsed, we recommend using a stiff bristle push broom for the scrubbing. We’ve found that most awnings are reachable from the ground eliminating the need to climb a ladder. Additionally, there are some dedicated awning cleaning brushes for this purpose; however, we’ve found that most of our readers would prefer not to spend money on a tool they are only going to use once a year when a common household item will function almost as well.

    Dip the brush into the bucket of soapy water allowing it to set for 15 seconds to really pick up a lot of the detergent. Stand in front of the awning and place the brush at the peak of the awning, and then pull the brush forward. Take caution not to pull down too hard as you don’t want to scratch the aluminum; however, you can apply mild pressure to help with the scrubbing. Once you reach the front of the awning rinse the brush out in a bucket of clean water. From there, you can simply repeat the process of getting the broom soapy and cleaning one row at a time.
  5. Once you have complete scrubbed the entire surface of the awning, you can then rinse the entire awning with the garden hose from step 2. This is simply to ensure there is no detergent residue left on the roof.


Aluminum Awning FAQ

While the above instructions will help cover the process for most homeowners, we have compiled a brief list of questions that we’ve received on this topic.

  1. I have a spot that just won’t come clean. What can I do?
    For stubborn stains, we suggest getting a shop rag or old washcloth and soak it in a mixture of vinegar and water. We usually use a 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar solution in a small bowl, and then with it completely drenched place it on the stain. Vinegar will react with many compounds to make it less adhesive to the metal. After the vinegar cloth has set on the stain for about 5 minutes, place the brush on top of the cloth and move it back of forth rigorously. You may want to go side to side on this as well.
  2. What are the dry crystal patches? How do I get them off?
    These spots are caused by the uneven oxidation of the metal. The human-friendly cleaners that we’ve explained in our guide will not remove these. These spots can only be removed with either a strong acid or some industrial strength aluminum cleaners. Because these chemicals can cause damage to their user, we are purposely leaving them out of our guide. If you have an oxidized spot that you would like removed, we strongly recommend hiring a professional to clean and polish the awning. The polish is important as it will only add about $25 to the overall cost of the cleaning if the company is onsite, and will greatly decrease the risk of future oxidation spots for years.

  3. What if my awning was made before 1982?
    In 1981 and before, there was a separate chemical process used on the metal. If you are using the soap and water described in our guide, then you are fine. If you are hiring a professional for a clean, you will want to let them know this before they begin as they may choose to use a different type of acid for the cleaning.
  4. My awning is painted and it has uneven fading spots. What should I do?
    You are in luck as we received this question so often, we have written a guide to painting an aluminum awning.

Do you have any further questions about aluminum awning cleaning or maintenance? If so, send us an email through our contact form.

Author:
Marcion Albert

Date Published:
6/2/2017

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Guide to Awning Colors

Black_White_Awning_Patio

Once you have made the decision to add an awning or canopy to your home, the first two questions are “What Color?” and “What Style?”. In this post, we will offer an exhaustive guide to the best colors for awnings.

Choosing the Perfect Shade

Whether the fabric has a pattern or is a solid color, all awnings will be primarily one color, and as the owner, you need to decide whether you want that to be a light or dark color. The key difference is often determined by the reason for the addition to the home. If the central goal is to lower the carbon footprint or to maximize the energy benefits, then you will 100% want to go with a lighter color option. Because the light and heat are reflected at a higher rate, they provide significantly more cooling than the darker alternatives. Some studies have shown that the lighter are more than double the cooling effect over a black material.

One question we hear frequently on this topic is from people who want to maximize their cooling bill, but really don’t want to go with an all white awning. We completely understand this as the solid white is both a challenge to keep looking fresh, and it can clash with many exteriors. Our next section will dive deep into the science, but if you’d prefer to stay high level then you will receive much of the benefits by choosing a pastel.

H2- Science of Light Reflection, Absorption, and Transmission
This portion of the post is designed for those who want to understand the why behind the what. If you are not interested in the physics, then you can simply skip to the next section without missing of our recommendations.

Solar light is composed of all hues far beyond the spectrum that can be seen by the naked eye. At the low end, there is infrared. Above infared, we get into the visible range which includes the ROYGBIV colors, and then we move to the ultraviolet range which is also invisible to humans. All light energy is composed of the same atoms, and the hue is determined by the rate at which it vibrates.

When solar light encounters any substance, one of three things will occur. The first is when it simply passes through the material without changing form. This is called “Transmission”. You can picture this by shining a flashlight through a piece of plastic wrap. The light will appear exactly the same on the other side as the clear wrap will transmit most of the energy. Note that even the nearly transparent material does still block some of the energy, and this can be observed by repeated folding onto itself to make many layers. After 32 layers, there will obvious difference as a great portion of the energy will now be blocked.

The second property a material can exhibit is to absorb the energy. This occurs because all molecules vibrate at a certain frequency. When the energy hits something that is a complimentary frequency, then the light can pass through the material. The light passing through the material creates radiant heat. A completely black material is a compliment of white meaning that it will absorb all light and create the most radiant heat.

The third property a material can exhibit is to reflect the light energy. This occurs when the molecules of an object are vibrating at a frequency. When the solar light encounters molecules in the object at the same hertz they are repelled which reflects the light and most of the energy. This reflected light how humans observe the color.

How do we apply this? If you are going to choose the darker shades then you may want to go with an open style awning with the sides open so the wind and air will flow better to cool the awning. Additionally, you may want a darker color awning slightly higher than a light or pastel awning so the radiant heat has a chance to dissipate before reaching the patio. Another item to consider is installing a solar shade on the windows underneath a dark color awning as a way to still reflect the heat and keep it out of the house.

Thanks for sticking with us after that long scientific explanation. A lot of our visitors are DIY people who really care about the behind the scenes, and I had received so many questions around why the more pale colors were more cost efficient for cooling.

Match the House or Splash of Color?

There are two schools of thought when adding an awning and that is whether to do with a complimentary color or something that is on the opposite side of the color wheel. The latter will lead the eye to that making it a natural visual focal point. If your goal is to create the nice entertaining outside area then we really like the “Splash of Color”. Even if you are going for a less visible feel, we still recommend choosing a color different than your exact home color. We’ve spoken with many buyers who tried to match their house exactly with a custom color only to be disappointed after a few years when the materials wear differently. One of our top tips is to always use a color that is different than your house shade. We’ve built the table with our recommendations of home color with awnings colors that will match. If you’re unsure, many manufacturers will send you free samples so that you can hold the fabric and see how it pairs with your exact house.

Red – This is a great choice for homes that are painted white or pastel yellow siding. All hues of red can be used from the bright ruby red to the deep crimson will create a nice contrast against the siding. Red should always be avoided for the blue stucco homes that are popular in the Southwester states and any home that has green external amenities.

Yellow – This is a lesser selected color that we’ve seen primarily used for patios. It creates an open sunny feel and is perfect around a pool area. This creates a nice contrast for homes with brick exteriors or the dark gray stucco.

Green – Forest Green is one of the more popular choices in the United States. These work especially well with yellow siding homes. They can also work well with the brown and beige stucco homes. We recommend avoiding brick homes and or the light blue stucco homes.

Blue – This is a safe choice that works on the majority of homes. It looks best in a white home, but there are not exteriors that clash horribly.

Brown – This is a great choice for gray or beige homes. The brown can create a nice contrast to the other neutral colors without committing too far to a single color scheme. These can also create a sense of high-end elegance.

White – Overall, we are not fans of white awnings for the home. They can work with brick homes or dark gray stucco homes, and we recommend always avoiding them if you have a white or yellow home.

Black – This color will work with absolutely everything. While it provides the least benefit to cooling, it can instantly frame an area and make the area stand out with a few matching furniture pieces.

Pattern or Solid Color?

There are many patterns available, and we are going to recommend that as a homeowner you ignore most of them. To maximize the resale value of your home you should only consider awnings that are either one solid color or a simple stripe pattern. While we are not fans of the solid white awning, having a red/white stripe pattern is a great way of getting the style elements of the color while some of the energy benefits of white.

Our primary preference if you are getting a stripe pattern is for it to be composed of alternating white and a single color. We have seen some beautiful fabrics that combine multiple colors; however, only consider this if you are using it with a white home.

Another consideration with patterns is the width of the strip. We recommend narrow stripes if you are getting awnings for a window or other small area. This ensures that there will be enough stripes for the pattern to be completely visible and understandable at a distance. If you are covering a larger area such as a porch or patio, we suggest a wide stripe. When you are covering big spaces, the narrow patterns feel busy.

We have created a Pinterest page with some of our favorite awnings if you are looking for inspiration for your next project.

Author:
Marcion Albert

Date Published:
5/31/2017

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Guide to Wind Resistant Awnings

One of the major concerns homeowners and entrepreneurs have with awnings is the concern that they will be damaged due to heavy wind. While both have extremely valid concerns, their core issues are different. We will review our top suggestions for each below.

Scientific Data on Wind Resistant Canopies

A lot of companies toss out the term “Wind Resistant” awning and even cite independent tests, but what does it all really mean? We are not a manufacturer and are here simply to present the information we have learned from our research. All data listed below will be company neutral, and we will not list any specific brands or products. Our goal is simply to share our take on the topic and leave you with some questions that you can ask your salesperson.

When it comes to evaluating an awning, you need to understand what the manufacturer lists for their product. There are four classes of canopies which are:

  • Class 0 – This group has not been tested or and cannot be guaranteed to be wind resistant at all.
  • Class 1 – This group can withstand sustained wind of 12 mph with gusts of 15 mph.
  • Class 2 – This group can withstand sustained wind of 20 mph with gusts of 25 mph.
  • Class 3 – This group can withstand sustained wind of 30 mph with gusts of 38 mph.

If you are really interested in seeing professional wind testing that is done very well, I have embedded a youtube video of the top awning in a wind tunnel test that I have found.

These classes are actual numbers based on how products perform in the real world. Occasionally, we will see companies produce videos of their product in a wind tunnel with 80+ mph wind and come out undamaged. While these videos are impressive from an engineering perspective, the homeowner should not leave their awning up during hurricane force winds simply because one stood up in a video.

The wind tunnel is a controlled example that has the wind hitting the awnings in a specific direction. Additionally, the components are new with fully tightened hardware. Finally, there is no debris flying through the air that would cause incidental contact that leads to a catastrophic collapse. These videos measure the best case scenario of the wind hitting the fabric face on, and the are usually placed with multiple fans that push the air from roughly the same height as the frame.

Strong winds in real life are simply not like this. The wind can swirl and change direction. It can come from the side which will create an immense pressure difference on the fabric, and flying debris is a major reason for one or more arms of the frame to fail. Once of-of the arms breaks, the amount of energy generated by the loose awning grows exponentially. Imagine a set of nunchakus in which one-half the frame is one stick, the awning canvas acts as the chain, and the broken loose pole is able to whip around until the canvas tears.

Best Wind Resistant Awnings for The Home

If you live in an area with considerable wind, then we highly recommend either a metal awning which can withstand wind of 80 mph. We have created a full guide to metal awnings here or get a motorized, retractable awnings. There are two primary types of fabric awnings which are loose frame retractable awnings and permanently closed frame awnings. The close frame canopies have a steel or aluminum metal frame that is covered on all sides with either canvas of vinyl and attached through the grommets in the material. These are the absolute worst option when it comes to being the wind resistance as the wind can get caught under the fabric and putting immense pressure on the joints. The loose frame awnings are superior because they are only connected a the front bar and at the residence. This allows the wind a release at the open sides. The reason we are such fans of motorized, retractable awnings is because many manufacturers offer an automatic wind sensor that will retract the awning when wind speeds hit a predetermined amount. This creates the best case scenario for the homeowner as they can virtually live without fear of having the wind impact their awning. There is some risk even when it’s fully retracted; however, many tests have been done demonstrating no damage even with winds of 100 mph.

Best Wind Resistant Awnings for The Businesses

For retail and commercial establishments with a considerable wind, we have a slightly different recommendation. The reason is that you cannot simply take down the shade if it becomes windy. A restaurant with dining patrons cannot take down the cover halfway through a meal without impacting the dining experience. While most patrons won’t want to be sitting outside during extremely high winds, gusts of 25 mph would be acceptable to many people when they start their meal. It’s, therefore, imperative that any canopy or awning be incredibly wind resistant. A single failure could result in a lawsuit which ould place the entire financial well-being of the establishment at risk.

Our first suggestion for commercial patio covers is to use a galvanized steel awning that is covered with an adhesive vinyl. This will create far more contact points than the simple grommet option that’s used by most residences. Additionally, there are many options that are left completely uncovered with the bare metal simply painted rather than being covered by any fabric.

For the times that a metal cover isn’t an option, we recommend using a sail shade which used vertical metal supports. These can provide the open feel of a loose frame awning while having no customers head except for the canvas. If one of the connectors does fail, there is only a piece of cloth coming down rather than a heavy metal frame.

Insurance Considerations

When you are considering adding an external canopy in a high wind area, we highly recommend using a licensed, insured and bonded contractor. There are specific construction codes for any external shade, and it’s very important to ensure the contractor’s insurance covers projects in this area. Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) in 1995 had a single category for all external shading which was 10530. The 2014 version of the CSI MasterFormat divided these external awning and canopy projects into four categories which we have included below.

  • 10 73 13 – Awnings
  • 10 73 16 – Canopies
  • 10 71 13 – Exterior Sun Control Devices
  • 10 71 13.43 – Fixed Sun Screen.
  • 10 73 00 – Protective Covers (Generic)

When speaking with a potential contractor, I usually ask if they are comfortable if I record their conversation so that I can share it with my spouse later when deciding who to pick. This creates an amazing evidence trail if there are any failures because I always ask about what warranties there are on the work and the product. Another time I video record is the day they complete and I ask them to walk me through the entire project ensuring that I have both the person doing the construction and the finished canopy. This creates a wonderful timestamp that creates irrefutable proof of what it looked like when it was new. You can then use this to demonstrate the impact of wear of weather.

Author:
Marcion Albert

Date Published:
5/10/2017

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Complete Guide to Awning Lighting

Green Commercial Box Awning

What is Awning Lighting?

We are seeing a growing trend in which people are adding lights to their awnings. This is both true for residential patio covers as well as those attached to an RV or camper. Over the past few years, the quality of outdoor lighting has greatly improved. With the growth in consumer demand, we have seen more vendors enter the space and drive down the prices. It’s now possible to purchase a quality system for less than a third of what it cost n 2015.

There are four types of patio or awning lighting. At a high level, there are two categories. The first category is for aesthetic light with a primary purpose of setting a romantic mood. These are used for homes when they want to create soft light or in commercial venues when they want to set the right mood such as wedding venues or restaurants on Valentine’s day.

The second category of lighting is designed first and foremost for functionality. These use LED lights that are incredibly energy efficient, and they are also designed to be quite easily affixed to the area that you wish to illuminate.

We will dive into the benefits and drawbacks of each option. In the end, there isn’t a one size fits all solution as it greatly depends on your main objective.

Aesthetic Outdoor Patio Lighting

Whenever you read about awning lights with no further clarification, this is what most people are thinking about. Both types (large bulb and small bulb) are attached to a long electrical wire. These are usually called “String Lights” because each bulb is connected to the wire at specific intervals.

The large bulb lights feature an internal LED that is surrounded by a globe of glass which is used to diffuse and soften the light. These globes can range from being as small as a ping pong ball to as large as a softball. We have even seen some artistic string lights that had the LED inside a mason jar. While they were incredibly pretty, we were not fans of these mason jar lights as the weight created issues for the wire supporting them. If one of the supports broke, it could cause a chain reaction that led to all the mason jars crashing to the ground. We absolutely recommend sticking with manufactured patio lighting that has reinforced glass.

Each large bulb will produce about 20 lumens which are roughly the same as a soft light 40-watt bulb in your home. The outdoor lights often feature a painted exterior that will cause it to glow rather than beam. This type of outdoor lighting is best used to frame a perimeter or an awning, patio, or pergola. There are some designs that run the wires in parallel across the center; however, the lights need to have some support in the middle if they are strung across an open area.

The “Small Bulb Outdoor Lightning” is very similar to Christmas tree lighting. They feature very small LED bulb that is usually painted white and about the same diameter as a pencil. There is an interval of 4″ to 6″ between each bulb, and each single bulb only produces around 2 lumens. If you’re unfamiliar with the lumen as a measurement term, it’s the amount of light that something generates, and for reference one birthday candle is roughly 1 lumen. Here are our three favorite small bulb patio lights.

Functional Centric Outdoor Lighting

This category of lighting is designed to generate the most amount of lumens for the amount of energy consumed. Many of these are solar powered or designed to run from a battery. These are also designed to be self-contained so that it is easy to add to the overall system.

Our first type of this genre are the LED strip lights. These usually have small flat outward facing LEDS that are attached to a long strip of wire. On the back of the wire, there is an adhesive material that allows it to easily stick to the underside of an awning. Additionally, they can also attach to a solid frame as it doesn’t require grommets. If you are setting up a permanent lighting system for a fixed area, we really recommend these.

One of the main perks of the LED strip lights is that they are often programmable through a remote or on a mobile phone app. They can be set to certain colors if you are simply trying to set the mood for a favorite ball team. They can be set to white for maximum lumens, and they can also be programmed to strobe to create an outdoor disco area. These are also incredibly popular for outdoor RV lighting. We have a video below that illustrates how these can be used in creative areas such as a pillar and how they can be controlled via an iphone app:

The final type is ground stick lights. These are individual batons that are pressed into the ground. They either have a battery in the lower section that powers the bulb or a small solar panel on the top. They also feature a darkness detector that causes them to turn on after the sunsets. On the small end, there are 1-lumen lights that are used to illuminate the border of a path. On the other end of this, there is the directional 120-lumen monster. This has a large LED bulb in the center with a concentric concave reflective cone. The large models are usually on motion detectors that are pointed at driveways or home entry points. These are absolutely amazing for portable lighting options as they can be placed around a popup tent. Additionally, if you are tailgating, these can be affixed to the poles instead of pressed into the ground.

Frame for Awning Light

Author:
Marcion Albert

Date Published:
5/4/2017

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