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
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
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
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
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.
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.