Awnings, eaves and other shading structures have been used to cool buildings for thousands of years across cultures all around the world. Documents of ancient Egypt and Syria make note of woven mats that shaded market stalls and homes. The Colosseum utilized a retractable awning called a velarium. Structures in Japan commonly extended eaves out over decking, adding a space called the engawa. Italianate-style structures are well known for elaborate brackets that extend eaves much further out than other structures of similar age.
Jutting the edge of a roof out even just a few inches not only pushes rain water away from foundations, but also creates shade, and, if sized correctly for the latitude, will keep the structure much cooler through the summer – when designing or retrofitting a structure for passive heating and cooling, controlling the amount of heat from direct sunlight the structure absorbs during summer and winter is one of the most important steps.
Throughout the US, fabric awnings were very popular in many types of structures up until the wide adoption of air conditioning, at which point the use of awnings shifted in nature, from a primary passive form of cooling to a supportive optional addition, often largely less mobile and made of aluminum, that increased the efficiency and length of life of air conditioners.
Today awnings are available in many different types of styles and fabrics. If considering reinstalling fabric awnings on your home, be sure to consult the National Park Service’s Preservation Brief and similar guides to assess the best style of awning for your home. More guides are linked below.