Awnings, slide toppers and related accessories help keep things cool on the patio and inside an RV
Even though the interiors of RVs are great places to hang out, most people enjoy going outside to get some fresh air, socialize and take in the scenery. But sitting outside all day in the broiling sun isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. That’s why patio awnings are one of the most popular accessories for RVs. Think of your RV as a hat, and the awning as the brim that lets you enjoy being outdoors by shading your eyes and preventing a sunburned nose. Plus, with the proper awning, you can still enjoy the outdoors while staying dry on a rainy day.
Slide toppers are also like the brim of a hat, keeping debris and moisture from being dragged inside when the slide is retracted, and they offer an extra layer of protection from the elements.
RV awnings are usually made of acrylic or vinyl. Acrylic is made from tightly woven synthetic strands. It’s tough, so it can take the punishment meted out by debris, dirt, sunlight, wind and water, and come up smiling. It’s water-repellent, and dries quickly, so a passing rain shower won’t leave it sodden and dripping. It’s also mold-, mildew-, UV- and fade-resistant. As a woven fabric, it breathes well. Its water repellency is a result of tension on the surface, so scrubbing the fabric while wet will result in some moisture penetration.
Dry brushing is often all the cleaning acrylic needs, but it can be cleaned with a mild detergent and spot-treated for stains. Because it’s an upholstery fabric, acrylic is available in many colors and patterns, although many manufacturers limit the selection to a few. Acrylic is more expensive and more plush looking.
Vinyl is absolutely waterproof. It resists scratching and fading. Although it’s mildew-resistant, rolling it up while it’s still wet might result in some mold or mildew that shows the next time it’s extended. Once mildew has grown into many vinyls, it can be difficult to remove.
Manufacturers will offer a standard-grade vinyl that is usually white with printing (stripes) on the top side only, glued to a heavier gauge vinyl weather protector that slides into the awning rail on the wall. They will also offer a higher-grade vinyl, which is a heavier gauge, printed on both sides. Often, aluminum or other premium weather shields are available, including a simulated “carbon-fiber”-type shield. Heavy-duty vinyl, offered by some manufacturers, is thicker and usually printed on both sides.
Variations of standard RV awnings include soft fabric and mesh walls that hang down from three sides to form an airy extra room — often called a screen room — on the side of your RV. Many awnings come with an option to add a screen room, which, with the addition of a patio mat, is great for outdoor dining and bug protection, or even sleeping.
In general, awnings are deployed in one of two ways: manually or electrically. The simplest models go up like a tent, with folding arms and legs, and are common on pop-up and truck campers. More expensive awnings, called box awnings or lateral-arm awnings, are deployed with a crank or electrically with 12-volt DC power.
Manual patio awnings are still available on many RVs (and are ubiquitous on legacy RVs), and consist of a roller tube with long arms that are mounted to the side wall of the RV. The awning is pulled out using an awning wand, and secondary arms are slid down the lower arm to secure the fabric. The awning height and tilt are then manually adjusted.
Awnings should be retracted in really bad weather, especially high winds and heavy rain. Some electric awnings are equipped with sensors that detect unfavorable conditions to retract it automatically, so you don’t have to worry about the awning being damaged should a heavy wind kick up while you’re away from your RV. If light rain is forecast, many awnings can be tilted into a rain-runoff position, although in extremely heavy rain, this may not be enough to prevent damage.
While anyone can operate an awning, installing one is another matter. Most require more than two people to install and can have strong and dangerous springs that can cause injury. Electric awnings have the added complication of wiring, which makes the job one best left to professionals.
Replacing an existing awning with the same brand and model is relatively easy, but if you’re switching brands or models, ensure that the existing mounting holes will work with the new awning, especially when it comes to installing the arms, which can vary in length across brands. With any replacement electric awning, make sure the new one has its connections in the same places as the old one and that your RV has the juice to raise it without tripping a circuit breaker.
Measuring instructions vary by brand; if in doubt, check the awning manufacturer’s website or technical department. Most of the awning companies post installation instructions for viewing before diving into the project.
Slide-out toppers slide out over the room when de-ployed. They collect dirt and leaves that would otherwise accumulate on the top of the slide room and be introduced into the interior when retracted. Without a slide topper, debris can be dragged inside, damaging seals and causing leaks. Slide toppers can shed much of the moisture when raining and help keep snow and ice off the slideout roof and out of the seals if the RV is used in snowy locations.
Another advantage of a slide topper is that the inside of the slide stays cooler in hot weather because it’s covered and shaded.
Because toppers are exposed directly to sun, sap and other things, courtesy of Mother Nature, they take a beating and should be cleaned and checked for cracks or tears regularly. Lacking a solid support structure, toppers tend to flap in the wind, which can be annoying if you’re stuck inside during bad weather and the incessant thumping noise overhead becomes intolerable. (See the March 2020 Hands On column regarding Ross RV Innovations’ EZ Slide Topper Support that pushes topper fabric into an uplifted, non-flapping state.)
As with awnings, replacement slide toppers should be measured according to the specific manufacturer’s instructions, and installation will take more than one person.
Awning accessories like lights, fans and speakers can be used with manual awnings with the addition of a power channel, or with electric ones through a power channel built into the awning. While kicking back in the cool night air, with music playing and illuminated by relaxing lighting, you just might find yourself as much at home outside your RV as in it. Just be sure that accessories are not left on when away from the RV. If the wind kicks up and the awning self-retracts, the accessories can damage the awning.
Following is a selection of some of the most popular awnings, slide toppers and awning accessories to protect you and your RV from the elements.
RV Awning Shades ($125.99 to $133.99 in sizes 54-by-120 inches and 54-by-180) are made with a mesh fabric that allows cooling airflow while preventing the “wind sail” effect. They’re easy to install, according to Camco, will fit most RV awnings and are made of a UV- and weather-resistant material. When not in use, they retract like a curtain while still attached to the awning channel.
Camco’s RV Awning Gutter Kit ($133.99 for the 54-by-180-inch model) diverts water away from the sides of the awning. Easily attaching to either side of the awning tube, an included hose channels water up to 20 feet away. The adapter (also included) fits most awning brands.
The Alpine Slideout Cover comes in vinyl ($366 to $800) and features the company’s exclusive Billo-Stop inertia lock that automatically engages when the vinyl fabric starts to billow. The Alpine works on even the longest slide rooms — up to 32 feet — and has larger brackets for better stability and operation, eliminating the need for additional brackets for large slide rooms. It’s available with black or white hardware and vinyl in 14 color choices.
The Ascent Slide Topper in vinyl ($578 to $1,733) or acrylic ($630 to $1,838) is styled to blend smoothly with the RV’s side wall and comes with a weather slat that eliminates billowing. The improved pitch is said to provide better rain runoff, and when the slide is closed no fabric is exposed. According to the company, installation is simple, with integrated deflectors that mount directly to the room and align with the top of the room flange. The full cover is hinged for easy access for cleaning and servicing.
The BT12 Wireless Awning Control System with auto retraction ($149) converts a 12-volt DC Carefree awning to the Carefree Connects wireless control system, with a motion sensor that signals the awning to close automatically if it flaps in the wind. The wireless control module works with an included remote key fob or Apple or Android app, which also allow LED lighting control. The awning automatically extends and retracts with the push of a button, and a replacement power switch panel is included.
The SOKIII Slide Topper is available in acrylic ($504 to $788) or vinyl ($452 to $693) and needs no locks or additional anti-billowing devices. The roller tube and bracket assemblies are aluminum. It has greater mounting flexibility with brackets that can be tailored to fit a variety of flange and awning-rail configurations, according to Carefree. An optional front cover can be easily removed for cleaning and service.
Designed to be lightweight, the Vacation’r Room ($999 to $1,099) fits all brands of traditional and Carefree 12-volt DC awnings. It doesn’t require poles or permanent fasteners to be attached to the RV. Screens can be covered by roll-down privacy panels. Stakes keep the panels secured to the ground, and tall skirting conceals the area under the RV, closing up the room. Available for 10-
to 21-foot awnings.
The wall-mounted 9100 Power Awning ($802 to $985) features one-touch operation. The durable, double-side vinyl or woven-acrylic fabric is easy to clean, and the rain-shed feature prevents water from pooling on the material. A vinyl or metal weather shield also protects the awning during travel. Awning fabric is available in multiple colors, and lengths range from 10 to 21 feet.
The Deluxe Slide Topper ($241 to $501) has a durable vinyl fabric as well as an aluminum or vinyl weather shield to help protect the awning from debris when it’s rolled up. The fabric reflects light to help keep the RV’s interior cool. Available in 60-inch to 198-inch lengths.
Dometic offers a variety of awning accessories including the PowerChannel Floodlight ($55), which has a compact and waterproof metal/polycarbonate housing and an easy-
fastening feature. The PowerChannel Fan ($75.38) has a safety grille and adjustable-speed oscillating operation. The PowerChannel Dual Speaker ($75.38) is Bluetooth enabled and, like other PowerChannel accessories, operates on 12-volt DC power.
Fitting most 10- to 21-foot manual and power awnings, the Solera Screen Room (539.99 to 649.99) adds up to 160 square feet of enclosed space under the RV’s awning. The mesh material comes in a neutral tan tone to block out heat while still allowing for a breeze, for dining alfresco without the bugs. The screen room accommodates RVs with an awning rail-to-ground measurement of up to 130 inches.
The Solera Power Pack fits right inside the 18-volt Solera Universal Power Hardware Kit ($755.95) and comes with everything needed for connection to the motor wire, allowing the use of a 12-volt DC awning on an RV not wired for it. It extends and retracts quickly and operates 22 to 25 times before needing a simple plug-in recharge. The waterproof switch features one-touch operation, and the auto rain-dump feature activates when water pools in the canopy. A 120-volt AC charger kit is included.
The Solera Awnbrella Fabric Support Kit ($107.95) keeps the material on an RV’s awning taut with two adjustable aluminum tension bows. The rust-resistant bows are designed to lift the awning so water runs off and to improve clearance over the entry door.
Solera Slide Toppers ($306.95 to $414.95) are supplied with awning rails and all mounting hardware. Both vinyl and acrylic models are available in multiple colors. The economical toppers fit many slideouts ranging from 66 to 192 inches wide and extending up to 42 inches.
Jerry Smith has been a freelance writer for more than 30 years. He’s not picky about the topic as long as it rolls. If it has two, three, four or more wheels, he’ll write about it. He travels with his editorial assistant and morale officer, a golden retriever named Dickens, from their home base in Oregon to wherever the sun is shining that day.