Make the most of your alfresco RVing experience with everything from awnings and screen rooms to accessories like fans, speakers and lights
When people talk about the Great Outdoors, they’re forgetting that some of the things you find outdoors — like bugs, heat, wind and rain — aren’t that great. But neither is scurrying back into your RV when conditions aren’t perfect. Fortunately, there are ways to regulate how much of the outside environment intrudes into your personal space.
Too hot, or drizzling rain? A patio awning beats back the burning sun and casts a cool shadow to lounge in, or keeps you dry until the clouds pass. Flying creepy-crawlies inviting themselves to lunch, or nosy neighbors eyeballing you during your nap? Add a screen room that lets in the breeze but keeps out the distractions and gives some measure of privacy.
Awnings range in type and design from the very simple to the technologically sophisticated. At the basic end of the spectrum are awnings typically used on pop-up campers, which come with foldable arms and legs and roll up into a bag when not in use. Deploying one is like putting up a partial tent. At the other end of the spectrum are box awnings, also called lateral-arm awnings. They’re deployed either manually with a crank or electrically using 12-volt DC or 120-volt AC power. Most manual awnings incorporate some sort of spring assist to make extending them easier.
Patio awnings are designed to ward off sun and light rain, but when the weather turns, they should be retracted. Some have rain-dump positions, so you can tilt them to improve water runoff, but if you’re caught out in a real frog-strangler, don’t take the chance. There are awnings with sensors that detect excessive motion and automatically retract to prevent damage, good for when you’re away from the RV when a big wind kicks up. If your RV’s awning does not have that feature, the best course of action is to retract it before you leave for an extended time to ensure it doesn’t get damaged if an unexpected wind pops up.
Should you get an acrylic awning or a vinyl one? Acrylic is a woven fabric that allows air to circulate through it, so you’ll be cooler under one on hot days. The colors and designs are woven in, instead of printed or painted on, so they’ll be bright and look like new for a long time. Acrylic isn’t waterproof, but it dries fast, and you can roll it up wet, although that’s not advised.
Vinyl is waterproof, but its lack of breathability makes it hotter underneath. Vinyl awnings are mildew resistant, but if you roll one up wet, especially in a warm and humid climate, you might find mildew the next time you unroll it.
With a handy, retractable roof over your head, you can think about adding walls in the form of a screen room. Most of these attach to the awning by sliding into the accessory rails in the awning tube, with tension rods to hold the side panels against the side of the RV. Side panels are typically made of nylon, with mesh windows. The heaviness, and therefore the durability, of nylon fabric is expressed in its denier count. The higher the count, the tougher the fabric.
A screen room will quickly become a multipurpose room. You can set up a grill and cook outside the room to keep the inside of the RV smelling fresh, while keeping your picnic table inside the room to enjoy bug-free dining. Two doors, one at each end of the screen room, are handy to prevent traffic jams and tailor air circulation, although they also mean twice as many places for bugs to get in.
You can sleep in a screen room on hot nights, but if the weather gets ugly, be prepared to dismantle and stow it quickly. To that end, get one that’s easy to set up and take down. Practice the drill several times before hitting the road.
Here’s a roundup of awnings and related products to help make the outside of your RV more comfortable and fun, from shades that keep the sun and rain off your head to extra rooms to entertain or sleep in. Accessories range from fans to circulate the air, speakers to pipe in music and lights to brighten up your campsite. Don’t be surprised if you find your family spending more time outside the RV than in it.
The 12-Volt Travel’r awning from Carefree mounts flush to the RV, to help the arms blend into the side wall, and uses a 12-volt DC worm-gear motor for easy operation. Its truss-support design provides superior strength and maximum headroom for easy access to the patio area. It’s available in steep-pitch or adjustable-pitch versions.
MSRP: From $1,322 to $2,107. Price varies depending on fabric choice and fabric protection.
Compatible with both power and manual awnings, Dometic’s Veranda Room features a fast hang-up-and-zip setup. The fabric and mesh are durable, quick-drying and nonflammable. The starter kit and additional zippered panels measuring 2, 4 and 8 feet create any size room. Universal attachments fit most patio awnings, and there are models to fit high- and low-profile RVs. The roll-down privacy screens are sewn in, and the doors can be positioned in multiple locations.
MSRP: $575/standard, $583/tall
The 9200 Power Awning from Dometic features a newly designed motor for quiet, one-touch operation. It’s easily set up by one person and comes with an improved manual override in case of power outages. The durable mildew- and moisture-resistant vinyl fabric protects you from the elements. Available lengths range from 8 to 21 feet. Hardware is sold separately.
MSRP: $788 to $889
The Solera Family Room kit from Lippert Components adds up to 160 square feet of enclosed space. It works with 8-foot-extension Solera, Carefree and Dometic awnings from 10 to 20 feet long, and with awning rail-to-ground measurements up to 10 feet, 10 inches. The lightweight gray fabric complements most RV color schemes. Roll-down all-weather panels let you turn the Family Room into a secure sleeping area.
MSRP: Starting at $664.95
The Solera 18-Volt Power Pack makes upgrading to a power awning easy with a rechargeable battery that fits inside the Solera Power Awning arm and comes with everything needed to connect to the motor wire. The universal hardware works with Dometic and Carefree manual or power awnings, and saves up to two hours of additional installation expense because there’s no need to wire it directly into the RV’s power supply. It features independent pitch adjustment, an easy-access manual override and a 120-volt AC charging kit.
Nifty Solera Awnbrella awning bows solve the problem of rainwater puddling on top of the canopy. These aluminum extenders are available in 8- and 10-foot widths and create an arch across the awning to help shed water. The two-bow kits are designed for awnings from 10 to 14 feet, and the three-bow kits handle 14- to 18-foot awnings.
MSRP: 8-foot: $139.95/two-pack, $199.95/three-pack. 10-foot: $159.95/two-pack, $229.95/three-pack
Zip Dee’s Solar Shade does double duty by blocking the sun and providing privacy by allowing you to see out but obstructing the view for others to see in. The company claims the shade, available in coffee-brown or silver-gray, can block up to 85 percent of the sun’s heat and glare. The Solar Shade can fit any brand awning requiring a cord and channel installation. Available in two lengths (10 feet and 15 feet) and two heights (5 feet and 6 feet), the shade comes with all required hardware.
MSRP: Starting at $185
The handcrafted 12-volt DC Relax Awning allows you to customize your shade. According to Zip Dee, which has been in business since 1967, the Relax is the first automatic awning to work on a contoured or flat-sided RV. The awning works in fully or partially open positions and has an automatic tilt feature. It’s tailor-built to an RV’s specifications down to the quarter inch for up to 23 feet in length. An optional remote and wind sensor are available. Hardware is included.
MSRP: Starting at $4,114
The Relax Awning Retrofit Kit can be used to convert a Zip Dee manual awning into an automatic 12-volt DC Relax awning. The kit enables owners to use the main parts of their RV’s manual awning (fabric, roller and case) and change out only the arms and hardware.
Camco Party Lights add a festive touch to awnings with retro travel trailers and other themes such as fuzzy dice or colorful flamingos and palm trees. Each 8-foot strand includes 10 lights and end connectors for hooking strands together. They run on 120-volt AC and include two spare bulbs and a spare fuse.
MSRP: Starting at $17.99
Camping World’s Rope Light Trak creates a holder for rope lights and an accessory track for adding lights, drapes and other accessories. It holds ½-inch rope lights and a sunshade or screen room, and consists of six 3-foot sections.
MSRP: $39.99. Camping World item 54900
The Blue Multi-Purpose LED Light Strip from Camping World comes in a 16.4-foot roll and features 300 SMD diodes and an aggressive 3M tape backing that adheres to any clean surface, according to the manufacturer. The light strips can be cut to specific length requirements in 2-inch increments. They run on 12-volt DC power and are said to last 50,000 hours.
MSRP: $99.99. Camping World item 71614
The Multicolor LED Light Strip Kit puts you at the controls of a 6½-foot length of waterproof LEDs. Like the Blue Multi-Purpose strip, it can be cut in 2-inch increments, and the tape backing adheres to clean surfaces. A wireless remote can be programmed to run 16 different colors. It runs with direct power from a 12-volt DC source or the included 120-volt AC converter and is available from Camping World.
MSRP: $99.99. Camping World item 84463
Give your campsite a colorful or stately look with Globe Lights from Camping World. Available in Multicolor or Bronze, the 6-inch-diameter globes have an etched design that diffuses light to eliminate harsh glare. They’re made for bulbs up to 60 watts (sold separately) and run on 120-volt AC power. The 30-foot coiled cord lets you space out the lights as desired. Replacement globes are $5.99 each.
MSRP: $69.99. Camping World item 82024/Bronze, 82026/Multicolor
For hanging Globe Lights or other decorative light strands, Camping World sells an inexpensive eight-pack of Awning Hooks that slide into the awning’s roller tube.
MSRP: $9.99. Camping World item 69039
Chill out with the PowerChannel Fan from Dometic, which runs on a clever power rail that allows the simultaneous connection of multiple Dometic awning accessories. The rail is an easy retrofit with no visible cables. The fan can be used fixed or oscillating, and has a full safety grille and a long-life motor.
The PowerChannel Bluetooth Speaker attaches effortlessly to Dometic’s 12-volt DC accessory rail. Just pair it to a Bluetooth music device or your phone to add ambient music under the RV’s awning or in the screen room.
The PowerChannel LED Spotlight provides a 600-lumen, four-light array and attaches to Dometic’s accessory rail. Made from waterproof metal and polycarbonate, the spotlight has a 30,000-hour life. Additional PowerChannel accessories will be available soon.
Camco | www.camco.net
Camping World | www.campingworld.com
Carefree of Colorado | www.carefreeofcolorado.com
Dometic | www.dometic.com
Lippert Components (Solera) | www.lci1.com
Zip Dee | www.awningsbyzipdee.com