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We are often asked to explain why we never call our fabric structure buildings “tents” and what the differences are between tension fabric structures (TFS) and tent design. Here are a few of the ways these two products are different and serve different needs.

All-Weather Durability of Tension Fabric Structures

Allsite TFS fabric building installed in remote mountainous and snowy locationIf we had to explain the difference between fabric structure buildings and tents in a single phrase, we would probably say “built to last”. Our fully engineered, expertly designed and professionally installed multipurpose structures fulfill many of the needs of permanent structures with the added convenience of speed, versatility, portability and value that regular buildings cannot offer. While tents have some of these characteristics, they mainly provide short-term shelter with few other characteristics that a regular building provides.

Unlike most tent structures that depend on favorable location and light activity for successful performance, TFS withstand site, climate and weather conditions that most tents cannot. Tension fabric structures provide an interior environment that works for a variety of challenging projects sites. So, they have many uses in industrial, environmental, mining and aviation applications, among others.

Strength and Stability: Tents vs Fabric Structure Buildings

Tent Structure Design: Built for Convenient, Short-Term Use

Tents are designed for fast, convenient and inexpensive installation and usage. They are not engineered for long-term installation, and are generally advised for use in good weather since their quick assembly-style installation does not equip them to resist high winds, snowstorms or heavy rains without damage or danger to occupants. Tents are not generally equipped for efficient heating and cooling of the interior, so they are best used during comfortable weather. For these reason, tents typically are rented for short term use in the summer season for activities like weddings, fairs, or similar weekend gatherings.

Tension Fabric Structures: Stability and Strength Similar to Permanent Buildings

Tension fabric structures, on the other hand, feature exterior Allsite fabric structure with open bay doors and retractable cargo doorstrength and stability as well as offer a spacious, comfortable interior environment, making them excellent choices for long-term, multi-seasonal use. Allsite TFS are built around a lightweight, engineered, aluminum alloy frame that is easily transportable to the work location. When installed, they provide, without the need of a concrete foundation, a semi-permanent, solid frame that holds the long-lasting tensile fabric in place. The resulting enclosure enjoys its own internal environmental controls and can supplemented with options such as a roll-up cargo door, skylights or lighting.

Installation Process Key to Structural Strength and Durability

Tent Installation: Fast and Easy for Convenient Short-Term Use

Tent companies use unskilled labor and perform installation without OSHA and equipment certifications required in professional construction. They also work fairly quickly, completing several tent installations daily, a factor also driven by their revenue cycle which tends to be seasonal.

Tents are built to serve mainly as very temporary shelter structures. The installation techniques used reflect their lighter-use purpose and the short-term nature of the installation. Tents are typically not fastened to the ground. They use ratchet straps to pull down the fabric to smooth wrinkles and hold the fabric in place.  For larger tents, installers will typically lift all the arches or a good portion before adding any fabric, or they may install the fabric with frame on the ground and lift the legs and peak which function with a hinge system. These techniques make for quick and inexpensive installations, but in terms of structural integrity, the tent will rattle and move around. Therefore, tents are most suited for short-term, single event use, and are not designed or installed to withstand the stresses of time, weather or heavy-duty usage.

Fabric Structure Installation: A Professional Construction Project

As a fabric structure company, Allsite considers itself more in line with traditional construction companies.  Installation of our TFS construction enclosure framingstructures requires heavy equipment, requiring skilled and certified heavy equipment operators. We must meet all OSHA requirements for certifications and site safety procedures. An Allsite fabric structure installation typically takes multiple days, if not weeks, to complete.

Before construction of the fabric structure begins, “pull tests” are carried out to test the uplift strength of a baseplate pinned into the ground of the structure location. This tests how solid the ground content is for holding the structure in place and ensures the structure cannot free up from the ground in a high wind situation.

During the installation, the construction crew raises the first 2 aluminum arches and then immediately installs the fabric, which allows them to tension the building horizontally.  They then add cables for strength and stability before lifting other arches. Fabric structures are engineered using a longer MRI (mean recurrence interval) in calculating winds and other pressures that the structure may experience, whereas tents, intended for use mainly for a day or a weekend event, are generally not subjected to the same long MRI standards.

Fabric Structures Engineered for Building Codes

While tents typically have a generic one size fits all installation package that is not specific to site or location, fabric structure fabric structure designed for VA and isntalled on siteinstallation guidelines are specific to the required building code for the area, category, occupancy, MRI, etc. for the project. Tents generally go through no permit process or a simple fire inspection permit whereas Allsite fabric structures will meet the building code requirements of local permitting departments.

Size and Structure Differences between Tents and Fabric Structures

While tents can come in all sizes and can be similar in width to Allsite fabric structures, the design and construction differ significantly. A fabric tension structure uses a very large extrusion, approximately 6” x 15”, whose extra strength provides superior stability. Each bay of fabric is fed through a track, and both horizontally and vertically tensioned, whereas tent fabric is pulled toward and fastened to the ground, and the fabric itself is not part of the structural integrity.

Tents and Fabric Structures: Diverse Solutions for Diverse Uses

Tents: Single Event and Short Term Solutions

Tent solutions generally are great for single day or short term event use where climate and weather concerns are minimized, and the tent’s purpose is principally to provide shelter for a short-term activity. You’ll find short-term event tent rentals are popular for summer weddings, golf events, outdoor festivals and parties, for example.

Tension Fabric Structures: A Solution to Long-Term, Challenging Building Structure Needs

Tension Fabric Structures are designed and built to serve a variety of industrial purposes, often in challenging locales and environments. Applications that are commonly suitable for TFS use include aviation, mining, environmental remediation projects, construction sites, maintenance and warehousing. Our fabric structure buildings also serve as solutions for more general purposes, such as temporary to permanent structures for conventions and trade shows, or as indoor homes for sports teams, including training facilities and playing structures.

Author Jason Cromwell

Jason Cromwell is the General Manager of Allsite Structure Rentals. He has a degree in Business Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Jason is a 12 year veteran in all matters related to Tension Fabric Structures with Allsite Structure Rentals and has over 20 years of sales, operations, and management experience. Read more about Jason and the rest of our team at

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