Friday 28 September 2012

Renting a Tent: Frame or Pole?

It's all fine and dandy that you want a tent. Unfortunately, tenting is not as simple as picking tonight's dinner. You must be prepared to plan well in advance, few tents will work out on their own the way you envisioned.

The best way to start is by asking questions. What type of event are you hosting? How many people are coming? When will it be? What is your budget? How much space do you have? Where do you plan to hold it? All questions a solid rental company is sure to ask and you should be prepared to answer.

Cost and Companies. The following graph shows Happenings pole and frame prices (non-exhaustive). Walls are included in this figure, but add-ons like lighting, dance floors and heaters are not. (Your rental company of choice will have similar pricing trends.) You can clearly see the differences in price between tent sizes and types.
Happenings Tent Prices
Putting a dollar value on options helps ease the decision process. Lets say I want a 30x30 tent, but I would prefer an aisle down the center of my tent so my bride will be able to walk gracefully to the alter. The pole tent is cheaper, but the center pole will sit right on top of my aisle. And unless my bride plans to swing  around the poles on the way to the alter, this may take away from the ceremony. So now I can ask questions like "Is having center pole gone worth $300 to me?" or "How badly do I want a center aisle?"

Take a look at 20x20s of each type. Virtually the same in price, I can base my decision on aesthetics or availability. Be sure to compare across multiple tent companies pricing, services and products. Try to find out what your dollars are really buying.

Know your company. Inexpensive tent companies can afford to be cheaper by investing less in inventory updates and maintenance. Cheaper tents will be rented more often, and tents, like anything else, wear and tear over time. Ask around, check the webs, even call them up and ask about the specifics of their products and services. Playing only the price game can be risky. Company A may be cheaper than Company B, but company B may be leagues better in quality and service. Research now can prevent leaks and drips from dampening the fire on your dance floor when rain pours down on your dime-deal tent.

Aesthetics and the Crowd. 
If the only time anyone will be looking up at the tent is if your guests are stumbling to their back after their latest keg stand, then your money might be better off spent on an extra keg or two. Generally, a pole tent is your best option here. They are easy to transport and assemble. Thus, cheaper for the company in labour costs, translating into more space for your dollar. They also have a reasonably attractive interior and exterior for the bare bones (no add-ons).

Arching vinyl tops

A look at the vinyl interior
If your party is catered, open bar, and a formal event. The pole tent may not provide the prestigious look your aiming for.

Frame tents skip the view-blocking center poles by reinforcing their vinyl with an internal metal structure that shapes the vinyl top into a boxy look. Alas, the frame allows for more customization. Installing a liner will clean up the interior with a puffy, cloud-like addition (not available for pole tents).

No liner, metal frame.

Nice liner and pole drapes!

Our customers tend to use this expensive liner for up-scale corporate events and elaborate weddings. When price has little influence over the ideal event as the fee can be quite hefty.

Size. Most tents are determined by event attendance and the nights festivities. Is there a lot of guests? Is there a dance floor? Two or even three bars? Is there a seated dinner? Is dinner a buffet? Every yes to the above questions will push the size of your tent wider and/or longer. The determined size requirements of your event may then restrict what style you can get.

Locally, the smallest pole tent you can get is a 20x20 and at Happenings the largest frame you can get is a 40'x110'. So if you were planning smaller than 20'x20' or larger than 40'x110', then you've already pigeon-holed yourself to frame or pole, respectively. Check your company of choice ahead of time for tent sizes.

In rural Ontario, it's always a good idea to remember that event rental stores are limited by inventory and work load. A company may only have 2 tents of each type without involving other local companies. This means competition can be fierce when it comes to tent preferences, especially during the busy season. Further, in busy season you can count on the rental company to have their labour force booked solid for consecutive weeks or months. They may be able to squeeze you in, but there may be extra costs involved. You can bypass these issues by ordering as soon as possible. Procrastinators beware this will likely mean planning out your entire event equally well in advance.

Below and around your tent. Is your event on a tennis court? Is it on bedrock? Is the lawn congested with septic beds, water lines and hydro? If you answered yes to any of these, its likely that your going to have to go for a frame.

For a pole tent to maintain its tension it is strapped to stakes pounded around the tent's perimeter. Each stake, 3.5 to 4 feet long tent, is graded for about 2000lbs of weight and placed 5 feet from the perimeter (see below). In cases of loose soil or sand, screw anchors can be used to accomplish the same goal.

However, penetrating the surface can be undesirable. Tents on pristine golf course lawns, laid brick, new asphalt or unmarked yards packed with underground utilities cannot be staked or screwed. Instead massive concrete blocks must be used.

This 30x45 Navi-Track Frame is belted to 1000lbs blocks at each fitting. At half the weight of what a stake is graded for, and in spite of their bulky size, I would be paranoid about tightening and securing a pole tent with only these. If for whatever reason spiking the ground is forbidden, you'll likely find yourself under a frame on the big day.

Luckily for rental companies, outside companies can be hired (free of charge) to mark out underground utilities. With accurate measurements and clearly marked ground, stakes can be easily placed in safe zones without problem. Note that locates does not cover sprinklers, sometimes septic beds and other privately installed underground services. When the tent guys show up the day before your event, know your back yard.

Above your tent. It's not leap of logic to realize that putting tents under power lines is dangerous business. I would never recommend it. But non-fatal height restrictions can be eased with the use of a frame tent. They have much smaller peaks so they can squeeze into the same space with more room to play than their pole tent equivalents.

Now lets say you wanted to put a tent inside your school's gymnasium. A frame tent is perfect, while a pole is impossible! Frame tents use their internal metal structure (not stake weight) to lift the vinyl, and since you don't have to worry about wind, you can skip the stakes all together. Your welcome, your fort party just got easier :).

Organizing a caterer, decorators, inviting your guests, balancing funds and having a good time can be a manager's nightmare. A rental company that cares about maintaining your vision will ask you detailed questions about your event, the guests, the property, your budget and your expectations. The better you can translate your situation, the better they can accommodate you. When it comes time to decide on your tent be prepared so your rental company can help make your vision a reality.


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