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Keep house cool with window awnings

When the sun's beating down on your home, finding ways to keep the heat at bay can be essential not only for comfort, but also to lower your utility bill.

Planting a shade tree could help, but it might take a few years to grow.

An alternative is installing window awnings, particularly retractable ones.

Not only can you open them when the sun's shining and close them when the sun goes down, they also can add visual appeal to the exterior of your home, with many colors available.

Stationary awnings can come in many shapes, such as a dome.

The retractable ones come in a few basic types, although both extend sheets of fabric from rollers attached to your home.

The lateral-arm awning extends to provide shade outside as well. The vertical drop awning looks like a curtain and doesn't create an outside shade area. The window awning is essentially a more aesthetic form of the vertical drop.

The lateral arm and window types allow the awning's pitch to be adjusted.

The awnings often are made of acrylic fabric and powder-coated aluminum frames. The fabrics come in solid colors or stripes in multiple colors.

“There were like 15 solids and 10 stripes back in the '60s,” says Kem Bricker, owner of Pacific Tent & Awning in Fresno, Calif.

“Now, there are hundreds of colors. … you can get different combinations of colors.”

There also are a number of valance choices, such as straight-edged and scalloped.

Both basic retractable awning styles come with hand cranks to open them. Optional features, such as adding a motor, can make them more convenient.

Other extras include wireless remote control, and sensors for sun or wind that will open and close the awnings automatically.

The cost of retractable awnings varies upon size, type and options.

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