The Pitch: "Retractable deck awnings and patio awnings offer you unsurpassed shade, protection and quality."
April 2009. SunSetter retractable deck and patio awnings have been heavily advertised and promoted for do-it-yourself installation in TV infomercials. SunSetter patio awnings extend about 9 or 10 feet from the house, and come in assorted widths from 3 to 20 feet. Some of the smaller sizes are available at big-box stores.
To keep costs down, SunSetter deck and patio awnings come in standard sizes, so they're not completely customizable. However, they do come in several styles and colors. Most owners say they're happy with them, but note that it takes two to five helpers to finish the installation, depending on the width of the awning.
Although the fabric is waterproof, SunSetter retractable awnings are supposed to be retracted during a rainstorm, since water can pool and create too much weight for the supports. Wind can also damage the awnings -- or rip them off the house. This means that the awnings should be retracted any time there's any chance of rain or a storm. Owners say the frequent retractions make the more expensive motorized option worth considering, especially if the awning is wide. On the other hand, we found quite a few complaints about the motors breaking down and not being promptly replaced.
We found quite a few reports of SunSetter retractable deck and patio awnings breaking down, even during the warranty period -- though some owners report good durability for up to eight years. The five-year warranty isn't as wonderful as it sounds. Owner-written reviews note that the warranty is pro-rated by the month, so that toward the end of the five years, it's not worth much in refund or credit. Replacement parts carry no guarantee at all, and we found quite a few reports of problems with customer service. If a breakage is due to rain or wind, it's not covered at all. One plus is that SunSetter has an excellent rating with the Better Business Bureau (many as-seen-on-TV companies don't).
Since SunSetter offers affiliate deals to bloggers and other websites, many of the online "reviews" of SunSetter patio awnings are really just ads. A purported review at YouTube by "Harry's Smart Deals," for example, just shows the viewer how to sign up to get information at the SunSetter site. We found quite a few owner-written reviews based on actual experience, however, at ConsumerAffairs.com, in discussions at TheStuccoCompany.com and at Viewpoints.com.
Good Housekeeping verifies that SunSetter retractable awnings are covered by their seal -- which provides a separate two-year guarantee. A Reader's Digest buyer's guide to patio shades, republished from Family Handyman magazine, recommends SunSetter awnings but notes some drawbacks and suggests alternatives. News articles in The New York Times and in The Boston Business Journal also help position SunSetter retractable awnings within the whole array of options.
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Over 30 owners comment here on their experiences with SunSetter retractable deck and patio awnings. The reviews aren't consolidated in any way, but clearly the awnings get quite mixed reviews. Some owners report great satisfaction over several years of use, while others complain about the framework breaking and about having to pay shipping to replace defective parts. One owner reports that the company doesn't guarantee any replacement parts, and that the newer support arms seem to be flimsier than the original ones.
Review: Sunsetter, Contributors to ConsumerAffairs.com
Answering posted questions about SunSetter retractable awnings, a user confirms that they work well, saying "it is as good as advertised." He does say the brackets must be installed exactly right, and recommends having three or four people help with the installation, at least for an awning 18 feet wide. Several other threads on this forum also discuss SunSetter patio awnings, as well as other brands. One owner notes that the warranty is only valid for the original seller; another points out that it's prorated, so that toward the end of the warranty period an awning failure only brings a small refund or credit toward a new awning. Owners also say the awnings should be retracted any time there's a chance of a storm, making the motorized type worth considering -- especially if the awning is wide.
Review: Anybody Else Here Have a SunSetter Retractable Patio Awning, Contributors to TheStuccoCompany.com, Oct. 2007
The sole owner-written review here at the time of our report gives a hearty thumbs-up to the SunSetter outdoor awning. This Florida resident has used the manually-retractable version for four years, and says it makes the summer heat feel 15 to 20 degrees cooler. The only drawback is that it takes two people to install -- and at least twice as long to do it than the two hours advertised on the TV infomercial.
Review: Sun Setter Outdoor Awning Review, Sept. 10, 2007
4. Good Housekeeping
This page confirms that the SunSetter rectractable awning earns the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Good Housekeeping says this means the magazine guarantees the awning for two years against defects -- or will replace it or issue a refund.
Review: SunSetter -- Building & Exterior Products, Editors of Good Housekeeping
5. Reader's Digest / Family Handyman
This buyer's guide to shade for decks and patios covers several brands, including SunSetter retractable awnings. Writer Brett Martin discusses the brand's shortcomings, such as their vulnerability to storms. He also discusses alternatives to retractable awnings like the Sunsetter, but says they have drawbacks as well.
Review: How to Shade Your Deck or Patio, Brett Martin, March 2007
6. The New York Times
This article doesn't test retractable awnings, but helps to position the SunSetter awning and its features in the whole array of what's available. The SunSetter retractable awning is one of the least expensive options, but some other companies make awnings that are sturdier (out of metal rather than cloth) and more convenient -- for example, with a sensor that automatically retracts the awning in case a storm comes up. Of course these features make the price a lot higher.
Review: Before You Install a Retractable Awning, Jay Romano, July 15, 2007
7. The Boston Business Journal
This is another newspaper article that helps position SunSetter awnings within the industry. The reporter notes that SunSetter is aimed at do-it-yourselfers and at contractors who serve middle-income homeowners. This article is more a soft feature on the company than a critical review of their products.
Review: Made in the Shade: Awning Co. Grows with Contractors, Sheri Qualters, Journal Staff, March 3, 2006
This "review" is one of many examples we found that's just an ad. This video doesn't even cover the features of the awning (referring the viewer instead to the video on the SunSetter deck and patio awning site). Instead, it just shows how to sign up for the instructional DVD and the $200 discount -- via the video maker's affiliate link. (The discount and DVD are also available to anyone at the SunSetter site.)
Review: SunSetter Awning Review, Harry's Smart Deals, April 6, 2009