By Holly O’Dell
Determining how much air conditioning you need for a tented event is as much of an art form as it is a science.
Art Behnke of AirPac says that as a rule of thumb, one ton of air conditioning can cool about 125 square feet of a tent, but it’s also important to consider the number of people in the tent. “Depending on the activities of the event, such as dancing, you should add 550 BTUs per hour per person,” he suggests.
Adds Tony Tauer, American Event Services, “There are computer programs out there that will tell you how much air conditioning you should put in a tent, but they cannot take into account all of the variables.” Such factors include the tent’s size, style, color and use of blackout fabric. For instance, clearspan structures tend to be more tightly sealed than pole tents. What’s more, says Tauer, customers who choose clear vinyl tents should plan to double the amount of air conditioning used versus a traditional white vinyl tent.
How to heat things up
Tent rental companies have access to several heating options that can help extend the tent-event season. The most basic heating method is a forced-air heater that uses propane to create the heat and a blower motor to force air into the tent, says Bryan Trecek of Gulf Coast Tent Rentals. However, challenges arise with the use of propane at a tent event site. “Some areas require a ‘fire watch’ if there are flames of any kind,” he says, adding that the propane tank and heating unit need to stay outside the tent for safety reasons. “Each city has a slightly different requirement on how far the units need to be from the tent, so it is always best to ask the fire department if you do not know.”
Tent rental companies can choose from direct or indirect heating, though the latter is gaining favor in the industry, says Wade Sorenson, president of Flagro USA Inc. in Burnsville, Minn. The indirect-fired heaters have a heat exchanger. The air from the fan of the unit blows air across that heat exchanger, blowing the hot air into the space from the outside through ductwork. The indirect-fired heaters operate on heating oil,Â diesel, propane or natural gas. “It’s a cleaner and safer heat than the direct-fired box-style heaters,” he explains. With direct-fired heaters, “all of the products of combustion end up inside of the space you are heating since there is no heat exchanger. Fire marshals are cracking down and making a lot of the tent industry move to the use of the indirect fired-style heaters.”
Some situations call for electric heat. “Gas heat is always warmer than electric heat, but smaller heaters have a hard time keeping up with bigger tent structures,” notes Tauer. “You need something with a higher CFM [Cubic Feet per Minute] capacity, and electric resistance heat is generally used in those situations. With electric heat, you don’t have to worry about where to put a 1,000-gallon propane tank.”
Additional tips for comfort
- Maximize air conditioning efficiency by using bottom sidewall bars and keeping doors closed as much as possible.
- Because heat rises, use tents with vents at the top of the structure so heat can escape.
- Turn on the A/C a few hours before the event starts. Not only is the tent cool for guests, but the moisture is removed from the tent before people arrive.