Nothing beats sitting outside your RV on a warm day, taking in the sights and sounds and simply relaxing. If you have an RV awning, you can take your relaxation to the next level. No melting in the sun or being burned to a crisp. But if you’re not careful, the relaxation can turn into a nightmare. Broken RV awnings can be expensive to repair or replace. So you don’t find yourself in this situation, keep reading to learn how to open an RV awning the right way.
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The Two Main RV Awning Types
There are two types of RV awnings. They work differently and require a different procedure for setting up and taking down. Once you know what type of RV awning you will open, you can jump to the appropriate section. But first, here are the differences between these awning types.
A manual awning, as the name suggests, must be opened manually. This awning functions using a torsion spring and a mechanism to retract and extend the awning. You must apply some pressure to open and close the manual RV awning using an awning lever pole (we’ll get into the details more in the how-to section).
A manual RV awning will also have a series of locks, including travel locks, to prevent the awning from accidentally unrolling when you don’t want it to, such as while driving. This means setup and takedown is a much longer process with a manual versus electric awning.
Older or less expensive rigs have manual awnings as they are more cost-effective. But when operated correctly, they provide the same benefit as electric awnings. In fact, a manual awning has some added flexibility compared to an electric awning. For example, you can have one side of the awning lower than the other to allow for rain runoff, and you can stake your awning legs into the ground to give extra support.
Another plus is you can brace your manual RV awning in a “short” position. This makes it more sturdy in wind or rain while still providing some shelter over the RV entryway.
An electric awning functions with just the touch of a button on the operator’s end. Inside the awning, there is a tube motor that fits inside the roller of your awning. This motor runs off the RV’s 12V DC, so you will need to have the batteries charged to operate the awning correctly. This differs from a manual RV awning, which doesn’t require power (besides human power) to open and close. Most electric awnings provide a manual override, so you can still close the awning in the event of a power outage.
The lightweight awning arms will extend and retract using either gas pistons or a spring tension system. They unfold using elbow joints, similar to how your own elbow bends. These joints allow the arms to tuck in close to the RV when the awning is not in use. Usually, your electric RV awning will have only 2 arms. However, large awnings may have 3 to provide extra support.
How to Open a Manual RV Awning
Now that you know how an RV awning works, let’s learn how to open a manual awning. This is the more difficult type to open and involves several additional steps. But once you get the hang of it, it isn’t too bad.
Step 1: Release the travel arm locks. Your RV awning will have some type of locking system in place to prevent it from opening during driving. It may be a clasp, a handle, or a Velcro strap, depending on your awning. The first thing you need to do is release this lock, or you risk causing damage when opening your RV awning.
Step 2: Switch the awning to “extend” mode. For this step of opening an RV awning, you will need an additional tool called an awning rod or pole. They should include this device with your RV at purchase. It’s just a long metal rod with a hook at one end. On one side of your awning, there is a lever. Use the hook to flip the lever so the awning can open. This can sometimes be tricky if the RV is very tall.
Step 3: Extend the awning. To extend the awning, we will once again use the awning pole. Use the rod to hook the pull strap in the middle of the awning. Then pull slowly while backing up until the awning is completely extended. You need only a slight amount of force for this step. If it feels hard, make sure you didn’t miss step 1 or 2 before continuing. On some awnings, you may need to loosen the support arm knob on the back of the awning arm if it has spun partially closed.
Step 4: Extend the support arms. When you first extend the awning, it will be rather low to the ground and not well supported. This is where the support arms come into play. To complete this step, you will pull the support arms to the top of the awning roller. Once extended, tighten the knobs on the arm to lock these arms into place. Sometimes applying some outward pressure while tightening the knobs will take out excessive play in the system. The pressure applied helps ensure your RV awning does not get whipped around if the wind picks up unexpectedly.
Step 5: Raise the awning. When you first extend the support arms, your manual awning will be low to the ground. To fully open the RV awning, you need to raise it. To do this, unlock the outer arm with the locking handle and raise it to the height you want before locking the arm again. There are handles that are designed to unlock and push up the awning. You must do this on both sides. If you are raising the awning alone, you might want to partially raise one side, then the other, going back and forth until you get it as high as you want.
Optional Step 6: Detach the awning arms and stake into the ground. This is something you can optionally do. Most manual RV awnings have detachable awning arms. This lets you stake them into the ground, so you can walk under the awning without hitting the arms. Be careful when detaching them as you will need to support the entire weight of the awning.
Closing a Manual RV Awning
To close a manual RV awning, you basically complete all of the above steps in reverse. Here’s how to close your RV awning:
Step 1: Lower the awning arm. If you staked your awning arms into the ground, first reinsert them into the body. Then lower the awning arm and lock it into place.
Step 2: Lower the awning and support arms. First, lower the awning to its lowest position using the handles. Now disconnect the support arms and let them slide down. To do this, you’ll need to loosen the knob and slide the arm down. There is also a latch that needs to be pulled near the roller to release the arm.
Step 3: Switch from “extend” to “retract” mode. Remember that lever you had to flip with your awning pole to open the awning? Before you can retract it, you must switch this lever back to “retract mode.” Your awning has a moveable strap at the outer edge. This strap is what you hooked onto to pull the awning out.
Before switching your lever to retract mode, hold on to the strap to prevent the awning from springing to the close position and causing potential damage. If you are working with a partner, you can keep the strap in the middle of the awning. Otherwise, slide it to the side so you can hold the strap and flip the lever at the same time. Then use the awning pole to return the lever to the “retract” position. You may need to put slight extending pressure on the awning to get the lever to move to the retracted position.
Step 4: Retract the awning. Slowly release the strap and the awning will do the rest of the work to roll up as it has a spring inside. Before the strap gets out of your reach, make sure you attach your awning pole to the hook, then allow the awning to roll the rest of the way in.
Step 5: Re-engage the travel locks. As we discussed before, there are several versions of travel locks, including straps, clips, and knobs. Whatever your travel lock, re-engage it once the awning is in the fully retracted position. This will ensure it doesn’t unroll during travel.
How to Open an Electric RV Awning
Compared to a manual awning, opening an electric RV awning is a walk in the park.
Step 1: Release travel locks if necessary. Some electric RV awnings have travel locks, while others don’t. Before extending your awning, make sure you unlock the travel locks to prevent damage to the mechanisms.
Step 2: Push the button to extend the awning. Electric awnings have more flexibility regarding how far you want to extend your awning. If you have a small site, you can opt to extend the awning only part of the way. To open your RV awning, just push and hold the extend button until it is opened as far as you want it. That’s it!
Closing an Electric RV Awning
Step 1: Press the button to retract the awning. Before closing your awning, check for debris and sweep everything off. Then hold down on the retract button until it is completely closed.
Step 2: Secure travel locks if needed. If your electric RV awning has travel locks, re-engage these after closing your awning and before hitting the road. If you don’t have travel locks, then all you have to do is push that button and you’re good to go!
RV Awning Opening Safety Tips
Before opening or closing your RV awning, there are a few things you need to look out for to keep you, your rig, and your awning safe from damage.
Watch out for trees, branches, other RVs, and your RV door: This is pretty self-explanatory but easy to forget. Make sure everything is clear of the awning’s path so you don’t rip your awning as they can be pricey to repair or replace.
Adjusting the angle: With a manual RV awning, there is more flexibility in the angle of your awning. Usually, it is a good idea to have one side slightly lower than the other to allow for rain and debris to slide off. You don’t want too steep of an angle, though, or you risk warping the awning. Therefore, if you only have one person to extend a manual awning, you want to raise each side little by little. Go back and forth rather than totally elevating one side while the other is down all the way.
Wind and inclement weather: Gusts of wind can easily destroy your RV’s awning. In the process, it could cause damage to other parts of the RV as well. That is why we recommend taking the awning down if inclement weather is coming. That way you don’t have to take it down in the middle of a storm. We also recommend retracting the awning when you leave for the day if powerful storms are possible.
Using travel locks or clamps: Travel locks are there for a reason. Be sure you don’t forget to engage them before driving. The last thing you want is for your awning to roll out and be flapping in the breeze as you drive down the highway. Double and triple check your travel locks before hitting the road to avoid any unexpected problems.
Enjoy the Shade!
Opening an RV awning might seem like a laborious task, especially for manual awning operators. But the good news is, it is much simpler than it first appears. If you have an electric RV awning, your job is even easier! By following the steps above to open an RV awning, you can enjoy a shady spot to sit outside on those warm summer days.
Is your RV awning old and worn out? If so, it may be time for a new one. Read our best awning replacement advice here: How Do You Replace An RV Awning?
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