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Canopies & Awnings Defined: What's the Difference and Which is Right for Me?

Canopies & Awnings Defined: What's the Difference and Which is Right for Me?

Awnings and canopies are both lovely additions to the home or backyard for creating shady areas to entertain guests, as well as adding curb appeal. Both are great window treatment options for cultivating a respite from the sun during New Jersey’s hot summer months. However, while they do have some similarities, and the two terms are often used interchangeably, canopies and awnings are two distinct structures with their own unique benefits and uses. Knowing these differences before assessing which is best for your space is key. 

The Design Difference

The main difference between awnings and canopies is their architecture. An awning is made of fabric that is attached to a building over a glass window or door. Meanwhile, a canopy is a freestanding structure that has posts supporting its fabric roof. 

Distinct Uses and Their Benefits

An important factor to consider when deciding between awnings or a canopy is the specific benefits each one will grant your space and which is tailored best to your particular needs. An awning’s functionality stretches beyond simply producing shade underneath its fabric. Attaching awnings to your windows prevents the sun’s harsh light and shadows from entering your home, thus keeping temperatures low and protecting your furniture, flooring and artwork from sun damage. The simple addition of awnings to your home can protect your furniture from fading for years. 

Awnings can also greatly reduce the amount of heat a building receives from direct sunlight which translates to your air conditioner working less hard to cool  your space. According to the Professional Awning Manufacturer’s Association you can save up to 43% on your energy bill by making quality awnings a part of your home. 

In contrast, canopies are the perfect solution if you’re looking for a way to provide shade over a seated area outside a building or your home. Canopies are the ideal solution if you have empty yard space and would like to host guests outdoors but don’t have a patio. They are the ideal spot to set up a table and chairs underneath and host dinner parties, brunches, cocktail parties or any other kind of gathering in the warmer months. Alternatively, you could pack them along for a trip to the beach. 

Sizing Specifications

The size of an awning is limited because it is attached after the building is constructed. It can only be so large before it starts impinging on the structural integrity of the building it is attached to. In most cases, an awning can only extend a few feet from the building it’s connected to. On the other hand, the only limit to canopies is the space available. Some canopies can be so spacious that you can host weddings underneath them. Both Window Trends’ Chatham and Morris Plains locations have a remarkable track record of providing quality awnings and canopies of varying sizes and styles.

Differences in Storage

Keep in mind that fixed awnings are always in place. They cannot be easily removed and stored inside at will. It would take a lot of physical effort to detach and move them. Therefore, they are most often left attached to buildings or homes until they are worn out and need to be fixed or replaced. So, it’s important to be sure of the placement, style and color of your awnings before installing them. However, retractable awnings can be expanded and closed at will, but are still affixed to the building at all times. 

Contrarily, canopies do not need to be set up all the time. They can be folded up and stowed away in the basement or garage when you want your outdoor space to be open or in the colder months when you’re not using it. Setting up a canopy takes about an hour or less. 


Both canopies and awnings are very durable and long lasting. However, a canopy will last longer because it is not always outside, exposed to the elements the way awnings are. Awnings will wear out faster than canopies since they are constantly fielding sun, rain, snow and other inclement weather depending on the season. Meanwhile, canopies spend much of their time safely tucked away when they’re not in use and thus, they wear out slower. This being said, having your canopy replaced or repaired is a very easy fix. 

Choosing the Right Type of Awning for You 

If you decide that awnings are the right fit for your space, it’s time to choose which out of a broad array of stellar awning options works best for you.

Fixed Window Awnings

Fixed awnings, as their name suggests, are always kept open and are commonly used outside of businesses and homes to create shade and keep interiors cool. Their structures are stable, but it’s important to keep in mind that they can be damaged by heavy wind or snowfall. Fixed awnings can vary widely in material, style and dimensions. With many style options to choose from such as dome, elongated dome, eyebrow, concave and waterfall, there’s a suitable design for every space.

Retractable Awnings

This type of awning can be expanded or closed to provide shelter from the sun or the elements when needed. Retractable models are often used on patios or in outdoor seating areas so that people can enjoy being outside in their yards without bright sunlight hitting them. At Window Trends, NJ’s premier window treatment company, we provide sturdy, durable awning options to add flair and increased utility to your home or business. As professional retractable awning manufacturers we take pride in producing custom-built awnings that specially cater to your space, style and budget. 

Solar retractable awnings 

These are a popular option because they require no physical effort to expand and they lower your carbon footprint. This type of awning is battery powered and charged by sunlight using an integrated solar panel. The awning’s solar panel detects sunlight levels which tell it when and how to operate. Another advantage of solar retractable awnings is that they require no electrical wiring making installation a breeze. Since it runs on solar energy, they cost nothing to operate and reduce your carbon footprint. 

Solar Screens 

If you’re looking to add some privacy and a higher level of shade to your outdoor space, solar screens, or solar shades as they’re also called, could be the right choice. Think of these as outdoor blinds screening in your patio or deck. They can be installed along with retractable awnings or attached to the roof of your patio cover or pergola. Not only does this shading solution protect against the sun, it also acts as a barrier separating you from insects, inclement weather and wind. Additionally, they are fully retractable, allowing you to control just how much sunlight you want to let in. 

A Trusted Awning Brand

Sunair, a brand we carry, offers high quality solar retractable awnings, traditional awnings, solar screens and pergolas which can add thousands of dollars of value to your home as well as countless warm afternoons of entertaining or enjoying the shade alone with a good book. Sunair also offers speciality shading systems for sunrooms and restaurants 

Choosing the Right Type of Canopy

The most popular types of canopies are shade canopies, pergolas and portable carports. Selecting the best one for your unique uses is imperative. 

Shade Canopies 

These are the most common type of canopy and are usually constructed of four posts affixed to a panel of fabric. Shade canopies are the perfect retreat from the hot sun in the summer months whether you choose to keep it in our backyard for cookouts and picnics or bring it with you to the lake or a sporting event. You can also use them to sell your goods underneath at farmers markets or craft fairs. Yet another great use of shade canopies is covering a small jungle gym, pool or sandbox for children. 


A pergola is an outdoor shelter composed of columns supporting a roofing grid of beams and rafters. The roofing grid can be left open to let in light or it can be closed to create more shade and a barrier between the elements and the people sitting underneath it. Think of it as the more permanent, architectural version of a shade canopy. Pergolas are commonly made out of weather-resistant wood or vinyl. However, they can also be made of fiberglass or metal. If you’re looking for a long term solution for your outdoor space, then a pergola could be the right choice for you. 

Portable Carport

Portable carports are wonderful for keeping your car out of the hot sun’s damaging rays. Parking your car out in the sun day after day can cause its paint to fade or lose its luster. The portable carport has multiple uses; it could also be utilized as a place to store lumber and building materials on a job site so that they don’t get wet. They come in many styles including a model that is fully covered on the side and the top with one wall that rolls down so you can move your vehicle in and out of it, a model without sides and others with or without door panels. 

Questions to Ask Yourself When Deciding Between Awnings and Canopies

After considering all the different canopy and awning offerings, it’s paramount to consider what is most important to you and which option fits your space best. Some key questions to ask yourself are the following:

  • Are you looking for a permanent option to create shade outside, lower your air conditioning costs and keep your furniture, floors and artwork looking like new?
  • Are you okay with replacing your awnings every ten to twenty years or do you want a more long lasting alternative? 
  • Would a portable solution suit your needs better? Are you looking for some shade at the beach, lake or a sporting event or solely in one location? 
  • Are you seeking privacy in addition to cooler temperatures? Would solar screens make sense for your lifestyle?

A Reputable Name in Awnings and Canopies

Finding the right awning or canopy option can be difficult. Window Trends is your trusted source for outdoor window treatments right here in New Jersey. Our family-owned business takes pride and joy in working with each and every one of our clients to make their exterior design dreams a reality. We offer free in-home consultations to help you find the perfect solution for your unique space, preferences and style. Feel free to stop by our showrooms at our Morris Plains and Chatham locations as well to see our custom window designs in action. 

Rebates Starting at $300 on Energy Efficient Shades

Cool for the Summer Savings Event: May 18–Aug 19, 2024. Hunter Douglas

* Manufacturer’s mail-in rebate offer valid for qualifying purchases made May 18, 2024- August 19, 2024 from participating dealers in the U.S. only. A qualifying purchase is defined as a purchase of any of the product models set forth above in the quantities set forth above. If you purchase less than the specified quantity, you will not be entitled to a rebate. Rebate will be issued in the form of a Virtual Reward Card and emailed within 6 weeks of rebate claim approval. Subject to applicable law, a $3.00 monthly fee will be assessed against card balance 12 months after card issuance and each month thereafter. See complete terms distributed with Virtual Reward Card. Additional limitations may apply. Ask participating dealer for details and rebate form. ©2024 Hunter Douglas. All rights reserved. All trademarks used herein are the property of Hunter Douglas or their respective owners. Orders that have more than 10 shades will only be awarded a rebate for the first 10 shades for a total rebate cap of $750. Orders that have fewer than 4 shades will not be awarded any rebate.