The Awning Goes Up

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I bought, from Costco, one of those Sunsetter retractable awnings. 18 feet long, motorized with remote control and protective cover.

It showed up on Thursday, March 24, in a 19 foot long tube. Not super duper heavy, but definitely not a one-man job. Even if it was light, 19 feet long is far too awkward to manipulate by yourself. I was gonna need help.

My dad and my friend Stu said they’d help, so I decided to plan on putting it up on the next sunny weekend.

It rained the next weekend, so this weekend was it. Not really sunny so much as “not actively raining.”

We got started at about 11:00a, figuring (from the video that Sunsetter distributes and the constant claims that putting up such a thing is an easy task) it’d take us a couple of hours. We pulled the awning out of the tube and set to work.

Problem one: finding the wall studs. Hanging pictures in the house isn’t really a problem for me. I can find the wall studs without any issues. Finding them through the siding and facing for the wall is quite another story. The stud finders we had (two different ones) seemed to be reasonably unreliable. Not only that, but the studs themselves seemed to be sort of haphazardly located - sometimes they were on 16-inch centers (standard for construction around here) and sometimes not. We sort of figured out the builder’s logic by a combination of measuring and trial and error (which meant poking small nail holes in my siding in order to get test to see if we were right about the stud’s position).

Finding the studs took probably two hours. Seriously. It was ridiculous how difficult it was. In some cases we found them via measuring from the last place we confirmed a stud location; in some cases we figured that being near a door or window or light fixture indicated a stud’s location; and in some cases we found the studs from the inside of the house and measured the corresponding distance outside.

Problem two: determining the mounting bracket positions. Less an issue of “where along the length of the awning do the brackets go?” and more “how do we put these huge mothers flat against a house where the siding isn’t flat?”

The awning came with all sorts of helpful things: an installation video (which we did watch), a set of written instructions, hardware to mount the awning to either a masonry or wood frame house, a stud finder, a drill bit the correct size for pre-drilling the holes for the screws in the house… but no shims to level out the brackets being mounted. Also no chalk line to mark along the house where the awning needs to go. Off to Home Depot.

Stu and I picked up some shims and a chalk line. Brought them home to find my parents sleeping on the couch because “we took so long.” Woke my dad up and got back to work.

Dad test-mounted a bracket to see what sort of work we’d need to do with the shims. After some trial and error, we determined a sort of system involving some reasonably complex cutting and drilling of various shim combinations that would yield a level mounting for a single bracket against the house. Stu got on marking up the shims (where to cut/drill) while I cut and drilled and Dad mounted the first bracket. So far, so good.

We got a second bracket up and while Stu was mounting that one I started pre-drilling the rest of the holes for the other brackets (seven total brackets).

Problem three: nails. What are the odds that you find a stud (using the very complex “guessing” system we had) and at the exact spot you want to drill there’s a nail? Turns out, pretty good. That happened to me twice. In all honesty, had it happened a third time, we’d have been screwed - at the place where it was, we were running out of studs to mount the brackets (towards one end of the awning). We’d have had to move all the brackets up or down to compensate for the problem, and then… Actually, let’s not think about it. Not good.

Problem four: rain. We got three or four of the brackets mounted when it started to rain. Not hard, but enough to make it cold and miserable. Enough to probably make it pretty dangerous to be using power tools. And enough to soak down the instruction booklet so it had to be treated like the Dead Sea Scrolls or something.

Dad had long since gone inside, but Stu and I are cut from similar cloth - we weren’t about to get this far and just give up. We needed closure.

We finally got all seven mounting brackets up when the rain stopped.

Dad came out and helped us lift the awning into place on the brackets and screw the retaining bolts in to hold it into place. One of the bolts was a little tricky and reluctant to work, but some persuasion with a hammer and a pair of channel locks did the trick.

We plugged it in and hit the button on the remote: Success! The awning rolled itself out and looked great. It’s big enough to cover almost my whole back porch, finally making it usable in the summer (it’s really hot out there and there’s no shade). It rolled back in just as well. Awesome.

In all, it took us probably six hours to get the thing up and running - much longer than we anticipated. But it works, and we were all very happy about the accomplishment.

We didn’t get the protective cover mounted (it’s a cover that wraps around the awning when it’s retracted and protects it in the winter) but that’s a job for another day. I’d call that trivial in comparison.

And today… I am so sore and stiff it’s not even funny.