Tent – A tent is a temporary structure composed of a covering made of a pliable membrane or fabric, supported by such mechanical means as poles, metal frames, beams, columns, arches, ropes and/or cables.  Also referred to as a marquee, canopy or pavilion.

Tensile Structure – A permanent fabric structure that relies on the tensioning of the fabric roof for its structural integrity and shape.  Also referred to as a tension structure or tensioned-membrane structure.

Tensile tent – A temporary fabric structure that shares some characteristics with the pole-supported tent, but relies more on the tensioning of the fabric roof for its structural integrity and shape.  The use of tensioned fabric to resist applied loads and to shape the fabric membrane means less of a traditional support structure is needed to maintain it.

Temporary structure – Any structure such as a tent which will be in place for less than 180 consecutive days.  Definition may vary according to individual building codes.

Marquee – A marquee is a canopy projecting over an entrance or doorway or a connecting canopy between two tents.

Canopy – An architectural fabric projection that provides weather protection, identity, and/or decoration and is ground-supported in addition to being supported by the building to which the canopy is attached. The term also can refer to a small tent, a tent without sidewalls or an awning.

Pole-supported tents

A tent that features a set of individual poles arranged beneath the fabric roof to support and define the shape of the structure. The fabric roof is tensioned over the poles and attached to ropes and/or cables at designated spots around the fabric’s edges. The ropes/cables are anchored to the ground using stakes, augers or weights around the perimeter of the tent. Pole-supported tents are the grandfather of the tent industry, and were once the only type of tent available. Though they have lost ground to newer designs, pole-supported tents remain popular in the United States and are still considered an important part of most tent rental inventories.

Pipe frame-supported

A tent with an assembled framework made of aluminum or steel pipes that supports the fabric roof and defines the shape of the structure. The rigid framework allows the tent to be free standing without additional support, but requires the same rope or cable anchoring system as a pole-supported tent to hold it in place, as specified by applicable fire or building codes. Pipe frame-supported tents are popular for events that require smaller tents. Most manufacturers make units as small as 10 feet by 10 feet that are easy to set up and tear down. They are also suitable for smaller events that require few, if any interior obstruction since the frame system makes interior supports unnecessary. Pipe frame-supported tents are available in a wide variety of styles and sizes.


Box-beam frame-supported tent (clearspan)
A type of tent that features an assembled framework of box beam (or I-beam) arches that support the fabric roof and define the shape of the structure in much the same way as a pipe frame-supported tent. The stronger construction of the aluminum or steelbox-beam frame makes these tents suitable for larger or longer-term applications than other types of tents. The box-beam framework also allows for large areas of unobstructed “clear span” space beneath the fabric roof. The larger structures require heavy equipment because of the size and weight of their parts. Popular in Europe, these tents come in widths ranging from 40-200 feet wide.

Tensile tent

A type of tent that shares some characteristics with the pole-supported tent, but which relies more on the tensioning of the fabric roof for its structural integrity and shape. The use of tensioned fabric to resist applied loads and shape the fabric membrane means less of a traditional support structure is needed to maintain it. One of the more modern tent designs, tensile tents tend to be more curvilinear and sculpted in appearance than traditional tents. This type of tent can be mass-produced or custom-designed as needed.

The decision to buy or rent a tent has many variables. If the tent will be used for 3 or 4 times each year, it is probably better to rent the tent. The experts in your area will be better prepared with the necessary training and expertise to safely install the tent. Professionals also have the tools, washing facilities, and storage areas to maintain the tent when it is not in use. Your local rental professional often has long-standing relationships with the fire marshal, code enforcement officials, and other regulatory officials, which can make renting the preferred choice. Renting will also allow you to vary the color or size of tent according to your specific need. Of course if you will be using the tent frequently or for long periods of time, it may be wise to purchase a tent.

A person must first determine tent usage. If a tent is being used for dining purposes and round tables are being used allow 10-12 square feet per person. If banquet style tables are being used allow 8-10 square feet per person. If cathedral type seating is being used and there are rows of chairs, allow 6 square feet per person. If aisles and a speaker area are also needed allow 8 square feet per person. If the purpose is for cocktail service allow five to six square feet per person. Contact your tent renter’s special event planner for all your specific questions. Click here for more information on tent types.
  1. First determine the number of guests you are inviting.
  2. Determine the type of activity you will be having:  dancing, sit down meal, buffet service, !2 piece band or a DJ?
  3. Determine the location for the tent.
  4. Calculate for dance floor – 2-4 square feet per person.  For a 200 person wedding an average dance floor size is 20’ x 20’.
  5. Calculate for seating:  10 foot round table = 100 square feet, 8 foot table = 80 square feet, theater style seating = six square feet per person
  6. Calculate for entertainment:  Four piece band = 12’ x 20’ stage. DJ = 10-‘ x 10’ space.
  7. Calculate for food – A served meal takes less space inside a tent but you must think about preparation/service area that a caterer will need.  If you are planning a buffet, make sure you allow for the tables, any aisle space on either side and an area for line-up.  Don’t forget space for the head table.
One should always consider options for lighting, flooring, staging, fabric liners and climate control. For additional information visit a qualified tent expert found in the online membership directory.

A site survey or evaluation is the first of many important steps in the total organization of any safe tent rental function or event. The major purposes of the site survey are to gather all pertinent information regarding the proposed function or event, be certain that the correct equipment is used and is suited both to the location and function, organize this information so that it becomes an effective means of clear communication for all parties involved and serve as a permanent record of the entire transaction.

The site survey should be completed by a qualified professional such as a sales consultant or job foreman and passed onto those responsible for the installation. Here’s what to look for and do at a site survey:

  • Look up for power lines or other overhead obstructions
  • Draw a simple layout and label distances
  • Consider the space needed for a tent- 10 ’ either side for a pole tent or frame tent.
  • Is there room for staking? Or will it be weighted? Is there room?
  • Look for any access issues to get poles, weights, etc in? Or a straight load-in?
  • Equipment they’ll need – forklift?
  • How will it be staked or weighted? Will it be attached to something?
  • Is there room to do it? What are the means to do it?
  • What is advantageous or difficult about the site, or noteworthy? Things to ask the client contact:
    • How many people in the tent?
    • What will they be doing?
    • Sit down dining?
    • Round or banquet table seating?
    • Buffet line tables? Bar? Dance floor? Auction –item tables?
    • Stage, podium, etc?
  • Double check set up timeframe and tear down time
  • If the tent meets up to a doorway, may need to use 8’ legs.
  • Wheel or tape measure
  • Phone order pad- for details
  • Camera to take pictures of site/room
  • Photos the client may want to see of tents, other inventory, other events
  • Directions to site
  • Locate sheet for Call before You Dig.
  • File with contact information and any other customer information

When observing or assessing safety conditions, be sure to ask these six questions:

  1. Are employees in the right area?
  2. Are people paying attention?
  3. Are people using PPE?
  4. Are they using correct equipment?
  5. Is equipment working properly?
  6. Are there other obvious hazards?
Frame or clearspan tents require minimum staking and have no center poles. Traditional push/pole tents require more extensive staking and have a center pole.
To account for certain uncertainties that occur in design, manufacture, installation and use of tents or structures of all kinds, safety factors (1.5 to 2.0) must be used.  There is always a chance that the loads imposed on a tent stake (or tent anchor) will exceed its ability to resist that load.  Tent installers must always plan for high winds, heavy rain, and the beer guy that unties a rope and reties it with the wrong tension, poor soil conditions and adverse weather conditions.
  1. Frame tents must be anchored to hold them down.
  2. Pole tents must be anchored to shape them and hold them up.
  3. Tents (whether frame or pole) will not remain erect unless it is properly anchored to the ground on which it sits.

In today’s world of tenting, demand for high-end decorating is at an all time high. Many renters are asked by the decorator, light company or audio company, “How much weight can I hang in the tent?” The response should include both how much weight can be hung and how it can be hung safely. This is based on the type of tent being used. Is it a conventional rope and pole tent, engineered structure, tension structure, trac-system or frame tent?

The process for determining the loads for engineered structures or trac-systems is driven by structural evaluations. For engineered structures, the amount of weight allowed and the exact attachment points are specifically stated. Normally these suspension points are at the ridge and at equal points on either side of the ridge. While the predetermined weight can be hung from specific points, it can also be uniformly distributed along the length of the rafter. The loads can vary from 500 to 1,000 pounds at the ridge and from 250 to 500 pounds at the other two points. The concentrated load could be higher or lower depending on the manufacturer.

Trac-systems are slightly different in that they are a bit of a hybrid. They have characteristics of both an engineered structure and a typical frame tent. Where you suspend the load will be similar to that of an engineered structure, but the load itself tends to be less. These loads can be from 50 to 100 pounds at each location.

Tension pole structures have a different characteristic all together. When suspending the concentrated load independently from each pole, you create an axial load. So long as the connection point maintains the proper sheer and the weight is uniformly distributed, the load could be anywhere from 100 to 3,000 pounds. It is simply a measure of allowable load minus design load. When creating a truss rigidly between two of the center poles, there is a positive/negative effect. Typically the center poles are designed to move independently. By adding the truss you are creating a moment at this location. It’s similar to holding a sledgehammer close to the head with your arm extended in front of you. Now move your hand to the opposite end of the hammer—you can feel the dramatic load shift.

Remember, it is ultimately the responsibility of the tent installer to contact the manufacturer and get the proper information on engineering to ensure the safest installation possible.

The American Society of Civil Engineers sets up this guideline.  These are often referred to as ASCE 7 – 93 or ASCE 7 – 02.   Wind used to be measured over a mile (ASCE 7 – 93) and now it is measured in 3 second gusts (ASCE 7 – 02).

A 70 mph wind takes about 52 seconds to cover a mile  (A 60 mph wind takes a minute to cover a mile, a faster wind will take less than a minute to cover the same distance.)

Now let’s take a look at something called impulse.  Impulse is roughly defined as force times time.  Wind load is kind of an impulse. Technically this is not correct;  but, close enough for this discussion.  Think of the impulse as the action required to knock- down your building.

Impulse = Force x Time

Lets look at it in the simple numbers. Say “Impulse” was a number such as 50 .  Then 50 can be expressed in two different ways:

50 Impulses = 5 force units x 10 time units
50 Impulses = 10 force units x 5 time units

So the same tent can withstand either 5 or 10 Impulses depending on how many time units you allow.  Nothing has changed, just the way things are interpreted and written down.

The time to be most alert to the potential of heat stress among outside workers is in the springtime when temperatures can suddenly jump 20 or 30 degrees from day to day. The human body needs several days to adjust to temperature changes, so abrupt changes can put people at significant risk of heat problems.  Heat stroke has a spiraling effect. Once it affects the central nervous system, it gets worse and worse, and trying to cool off in the shade really won’t help. Get the worker emergency medical attention ASAP.
OSHA has specific standards that govern this. But as a rule of thumb, when you have to raise your voice to talk to someone at arm’s length, it’s too loud. If you leave a place with ringing in your ears, it’s too loud. Use hearing protection in these instances.
Length of exposure to the electricity makes the biggest difference – not necessarily the voltage. Long exposures to low voltages can be just as dangerous as a short exposure to high voltages.
Heavy lifting has ruined more backs than anything else. Along with stretching, it’s helpful to try to stay fit and in generally good physical condition.

The importance of safety as related to the site survey cannot be over-emphasized. Considerations should be given to obstructions, location, weather, wind exposure, access, exit and anchoring stability.

All tent installers must be aware of and adhere to applicable building codes and fire regulations.

Finally, a complete quality checklist would assist in completing a safe installation and should be developed by each individual company.

Additional information on “site survey” is available in The IFAI Procedural Handbook for the Safe Installation and Maintenance of Tentage.

The staking study data is available at no cost to members of The Tent Rental Division.  The study is contained in the IFAI Procedural Handbook for the Safe Installation and Maintenance of Tentage in Chapter 2.2.  The study is sent to members on a CD, ready for members to print desired pages. Additional copies are available through the IFAI Bookstore.

Non members may purchase the handbook, #26601 by visiting theIFAI Bookstore or calling +1 800 207 0729.  Cost to nonmember companies is $385.