The sturdiest option and the easiest to maintain, aluminum awnings wear extremely well against rain and heavy snow. Though not available in as many colors and patterns as textiles or plastics, aluminum units with baked-on enamel finishes will last many years without fading or chipping. Some models even feature built-in rain gutters to accommodate run-off.
Textiles can be easily customized to a building's aesthetic -- or a company's logo -- and are inexpensive to install. However, because they don't protect as well from the elements, it's important to look for innovative synthetic fibers that are able to stand up against the rain, like polyvinyl laminates, or offer resistance against sun deterioration, like textiles with fluropolymer.
Polycarbonate, PVC and Acrylic Options
Plastic awnings are virtually indestructible and hard wearing against UV rays. They can be ordered in a large variety of colors and sizes. A more durable alternative to glass, these units are lightweight and can often be installed without the need for a contractor.
For more customized protection against the sun, retractable awnings are available in many different materials. An arm crank usually operates manual units, while automatic versions expand at the touch of a button. Many automatic awnings come with remote controls, which allow the user to change or close the awning from a distance. These types of awnings are especially useful with fabric units that are less-suited to heavy snowfall, as they can be retracted in inclement weather.
Solar Panel Awnings
Photovoltaic awning systems use solar panels to shade the doorway while collecting valuable thermal energy. While such units aren't readily available on the market as of early 2011, prototypes of this nature are in development.