Clear tent tops and sidewalls require more care
Clear-topped tents have grown in popularity over the years and, as event rental companies continue to expand, the question becomes whether to get into clear tent tops or stay with white tent tops, not to mention the options of clear sidewalls.
The answer usually comes from the customer and the appeal is clear in the views above. However, it’s the rental store that gets all the work. Manufacturers say that clear tent tops are an entirely different product and one that requires more care than a white vinyl tent top.
“The clear top material is typically an unreinforced clear PVC material, so it is not a strong fabric that can withstand a lot of stress,” says Allan Bruns, engineering, Celina Tent, Celina, Ohio. “The clear material is not reinforced, so it is unstable and will tend to stretch with heat or become brittle and crack when cold.”
In general, Bruns says, “a clear top is going to be significantly more expensive and is not going to last near as long as a solid white tent. You are spending a lot more money for the atmosphere of being able to see the clouds and sky during the day, stars at night, skyline or horizon from inside the tent. The biggest mistake people make when considering a clear top is the fact that this tent is essentially a green house on a sunny day. You will get a tremendous amount of solar heat coming through the clear tent top. You need to take this into consideration and plan for it. If you are using climate control units, such as air conditioning, you will need extra capacity to handle the solar heat load during the daylight hours as compared to a solid white tent top. Everything becomes more expensive with a clear top.”
When handling a clear tent top, extreme care is vital, all say. “Clear is not the same as white vinyl. It’s a specialty item,” says Chad Struthers, vice president, Warner Shelter Systems, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
“Clear tent tops are like women’s stockings. You can wreck them in seconds. Care and attention needs to be taken with clear tops. You can’t pull them or drag them, and you have to install them properly. This is where you need to use your drop cloths, cover any corners or clips and watch for sharp edges. This isn’t a two-person job, so you might need to send more people to the site. You want the minimal exposure to the ground and the frame,” Struthers says.
Jenny Cole, sales/marketing manager, Charnecke Tents, Rosholt, Wis., agrees. “Clear material with scrim is generally lighter weight. It is definitely not as durable as the heavier weight white vinyl and the scrim is not as close together. When installing clear tops you must be more careful because it can damage easier. Always use dropcloths. Do not drag material.”
Alex Kouzmanoff, vice president, Aztec Tents, Torrance, Calif., agrees. “It has been my experience that most of the wear on a fabric tent top is actually done during the installation or removal process. For most rental tent installations that are only up in the air for a few days, there is very little ultraviolet damage to the fabric in this short amount of time. Most of the cycling damage is caused by abrasion and physically causes small, often microscopic, scratching to the membrane,” Kouzmanoff says.
“It is this scratching that changes the surface gloss of the fabric that will affect how the fabric holds soiling in the future and how easy it will be to clean. This is where you will see a major difference of the lifespan when you compare traditional white vinyl to a clear membrane,” he says.
“Over time the white vinyl may become less glossy, thus easier to get dirty, and then harder to clean, but from a distance, the small amount of abrasion damage is not really visible. With a clear membrane, as the surface becomes abraded, even on the microscopic level, the material will become less transparent after every rental cycle. Here is where you will see the lifespan difference between the products,” Kouzmanoff says.
Maintenance of clear material also is different than white vinyl. “It is very important not to use any solvent or aggressive type cleaners on the clear fabric. The opacity of the clear will become foggy or frosted looking when using aggressive cleaners on the clear fabric, so it is very import to consult with your manufacturer as to best practices for cleaning any type of clear fabric,” Bruns says.
The one thing that doesn’t discriminate between clear and white tent fabric is mold, says David MacArthur, national sales manager, Losberger US, Frederick, Md.
“Be sure all fabric sections, either white or clear, are stored in a cool, dry place and on a raised shelf or pallet — not directly on a concrete floor,” MacArthur says. “They must be completely dry before long-term storage or mold will grow in the folds of the fabric where moisture has been trapped. Large swings in temperature can cause condensation inside the tent top bundle, so try to warehouse fabric sections in a temperature-controlled warehouse to avoid those large swings in temperature.”
Also, take care when storing and transporting the tent fabric, says Nathan Posey, sales representative, Anchor Industries, Evansville, Ind. “Other than using a drop cloth and keeping the tops in their respective bags, it is important to cautiously fold/roll any clear materials. A rough fold can result in a sharp ‘point’ in the fabric, which can lead to faster wear and tear or, in cold weather, could lead to a complete break in the clear material,” Posey says.
Michael Tharpe, director of sales, TopTec Products, Moore, S.C., agrees. “Storage temperatures for all tops should be anywhere between 40 degrees and 90 degrees to prevent damage. The issue with clear arises when temperatures drop below 40 degrees as they can start to cold crack, especially around the folds,” Tharpe says.
“Care must be taken when placed into use at these temperatures as well. Without the stabilizing scrim, clear tops will shrink and extra steps must be taken during the installation process. You might have to place them in a heated area to bring them up to a more viable temperature level before they are installed. Likewise, in the heat these tops also will stretch and could pond water during the sudden thunder showers that come up on hot, humid days,” Tharpe says.
When items do suffer damage, white vinyl is easier to fix, but both clear and white tent fabric can be repaired, all say. The question is whether the repair can be visible for your customer or not. Jason O’Neil, also a sales representative for Anchor Industries, says rental owners can use liquid vinyl or vinyl ink for pinholes.
“Anything larger and you have two options: Self-adhesive patching or welding vinyl over the holes in the top. For clear tops, there is a clear tape called Tear-Aid® that does a nice job of holding the clear fabrics together and will prevent the tears from spreading. Cosmetically, once clear fabric rips, there is no real ‘fix,’” O’Neil says.
Tharpe agrees. “The question here is, ‘Do you want to see the repair or does it matter?’ There are a couple ways of doing this, but the best way is to replace the entire panel.”