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Chill out with the right cooling system

Features, On the Job | August 1, 2012 | By:

The right cooling device, appropriately placed, allows guests to focus on the event—not their discomfort.

Many event-tent renters place a priority on the look of the tent and its interior decor, but the feel—i.e., temperature—of the event also plays an important role. After all, if guests are sweltering inside a tent in the dead of summer, they may not necessarily care about the nuanced applique on the tablecloths. Here, air conditioning and tent rental pros discuss the types of cooling available, placement considerations and tips for keeping guests comfortable.

Options for cooling

Rental companies have access to several types of air conditioning systems, most of which are powered by diesel or biodiesel generators. One method uses vertical units that are flush-mounted into the sidewalls of tents and provide cooling via direct exchange of air within the tent structure.

“This method is a very efficient way to cool tents as there is no temperature loss due to supplying and returning the air through ductwork,” explains Nate Albers, owner of TentLogix Tenting Solutions & Event Rentals in Stuart, Fla. “Vertical units also are very easy to install and clamp to the walls of a tent structure for a tight and finished appearance.” One downside of these units—which typically come in 10-, 15-, 20-, 25- and 30-ton sizes—is that “they can be a bit louder due to the compressor and fans being located at the walls of the tent,” Albers says.

AirPac Inc., a company in Front Royal, Va., that rents and sells air conditioning units, developed a series of portable systems called PortaPac, with 5-, 8- and 10-ton capacities to better distribute cold air. Like their larger counterparts, the units can sit directly in the sidewall of the tent. “We built the units in small modules so that they could be positioned around the perimeter of a tent and have better air distribution versus taking a 30- or 40-ton air handler at the end of the tent and blowing all the air conditioning in from one end of the tent and not conditioning any of it,” says Art Behnke, president of AirPac.

The smaller size also allows for quieter operation, according to Behnke. “We wanted to provide units that offered a high-quality environment and would keep the noise level down so it didn’t interfere with the event taking place in the tent itself.”

Another common cooling method is to air condition tents via ductwork. There are three ways to utilize ductwork in a tent, Albers says. Units can be ducted into tent walls by way of vinyl port walls or hard walls with duct collars, which allow the ductwork to connect to the sides of the tent. HVAC, air handler and chilled water units also can use poly-ducting, which is an inflatable tube with perforations hung from the tent’s ceiling to provide an even cooling effect. (The tubes are available in clear, white and a variety of colors, Albers notes.) The third ducting method delivers air via gates located in the floor of a tent structure that’s using an elevated flooring system.

With the ductwork system, the units can be placed farther away from the tent walls, reducing noise. However, the biggest drawback of this method is cooling loss due to the supply and return air traveling via the vinyl ducts, which are exposed to the outside temperature. The longer the ducts, the greater the potential for cooling loss.

Some customers are apprehensive about including ductwork from an aesthetic standpoint, Behnke says. “Many people are adding false ceilings, netting, chandeliers and elaborate lighting systems, and if you mix that with ductwork, it’s not too attractive,” he says.

As a cost measure, tent rental customers may forgo air conditioning in favor of fans. These can include drum fans, pedestal fans, pole-mount fans, gable vent fans, misting fans and ceiling fans. Bryan Trecek, owner of Gulf Coast Tent Rentals in Harahan, La., is receiving more requests for misting fans than a few years ago. “I find that if you do not purchase the correct ones, people just become wet versus cooled off,” he says. “The fans need to have a very fine mist to work properly, and the less expensive units spray larger droplets that do not cool as efficiently.” Trecek also notes that the higher the humidity, the less effective the misting fans.

Form meets function

Placement of air conditioning units needs to be functional yet satisfy the aesthetic requirements of the event. “You want the air conditioner to be in the back of the house as much as possible,” says Tony Tauer, president of American Event Services in Danville, Ill.
“If there is no room for that, then you will have to look for other ways, [such as] putting them on the ends of the tent or a couple on each side.”

Tauer notes that challenges
can arise, however, when an event planner or decorator says that certain parts of the tent are off limits for air conditioning. “It is the duty of the air conditioning professional to step up and say, ‘This isn’t going to work,’” he says. “If the air conditioner wasn’t placed right, and if only one end of the tent is cool, you are going to get yelled at. But we always look for another option.”

Placing units evenly along the long side of the tent allows the airflow to be efficiently dispersed, Trecek notes. “For example, if you have a 60-by-200-foot tent, the most efficient placement is along the 200-foot side. If you try to push all of your cooling from the one 60-foot side, it will never get 200 feet to the other side.”

Another consideration is knowing where to direct the hot air blowing outside the air conditioning unit. “You want to make sure it’s in an area where people won’t be walking,” Behnke says. “You also don’t want the hot air being discharged near parked vehicles or a wall because it will bounce back into the unit and cause it to malfunction.”

In the end, a good air conditioning system is one that does its job without intruding on the event. “Just like a generator and power distribution equipment, the air conditioning should be invisible,” Tauer says. “It should just be magically cool inside the tent and nobody knows how or why; it just is.”

Holly O’Dell is a freelance writer based in Pine City, Minn.

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