When installing fabric structures, it’s important to consider the conditions.
By Bruce N. Wright, AIA
There are some basic no-nos when it comes to installing a fabric structure, and temperature and weather conditions are right up there at the top. “Don’t install fabrics in high winds or under 50 degrees Fahrenheit because the behavior of the fabric or foil changes,” warns Nicholas Goldsmith, FAIA, LEED AP, senior principal of FTL Design Engineering Studio, New York, N.Y.
“When we are installing in hot climates such as Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, we cannot use PVC filler in keder strips, given that the temperature turns it soft and the fabric can pull out,” says Jason Smith, business development manager with tensile structure fabricators Architen Landrell, Chepstow, Monmouthshire, U.K. “As a result, we use an EPDM filler for keder. When we are installing structures near the coast or over a swimming pool, in an area with high levels of chlorine, we always use high-grade stainless steel or better coatings/higher spec because of the corrosion factor. We never install tensile fabric structures in high winds. With that said, we install year around in rain, snow and light wind.”
“Severe weather makes installs difficult,” says Charles Duvall, principal of Duvall Design, West Rockport, Maine. “Even in good weather we typically pre-rig the pieces so the rigging installed initially is later removed but holds the pieces safely in place and allows initial fundamental adjustments. Typically, we design the pole attachments to allow for come-a-longs to be installed in a way that does not interfere with actual final rigging. So initial rigging is provided for in the pole and bracket design. This is critical for dismantle and reassembly.”
Mark Welander, MFC of Fabricon LLC, whose company is based in Missoula, Mont., is familiar with cold-climate projects and their unique requirements: “When it drops below 10-degrees above zero, we generally don’t head outside to work. However, on a project in Fairbanks, Alaska, we did an installation on Fort Wainwright at 35 below (without windchill!),” he says. “It was silly to even attempt it. Although the PVC fabric was designed for sub-zero weather and kept its flexibility, it probably took 10 times as long to install (between jumping back in a running truck every 15 minutes to warm up). The cold was a major distraction mentally as well as physically. It can be done, but it requires vigilance in keeping workers safe from frostbite and a good deliberate plan.”