How Do Fabric Structures Handle Cold Weather?

How Do Fabric Structures Handle Cold Weather?

A quality fabric structure will consist of a stretched membrane that is securely fastened over a steel frame, and structurally engineered to shed wind forces, accumulated snow, and handle live movement inside. When you invest in a fabric structure for business, recreation, or entertainment, various elements are built into the structure to enable year round usage through windy, rainy seasons, and cold, harsh weather.

Benefits of Hot Dip Galvanized Steel Frames

Any building is only as sound as its underlying structural frame. In the case of fabric covered structures, the interaction between the frame and the material at critical pressure or connection points can lead to fabric wear, fabric penetration, and cold air infiltration if not specifically designed to prevent these issues. A hot dip galvanized (HDG) steel frame has a protective zinc coating that reduces the chemical reaction between metal, fabric, and moisture, and serves as a passive corrosion protection system for the building’s framework. This same HDG layer also acts to reduce friction between cover and frame to prevent snagging when the cover is installed or during normal movement of the structure.

Expect a fabric building to handle cold weather better when the beams, steel posts, trusses, and other steel members are hot dip galvanized. HDG protects the inner and outer surfaces of framing members, making it stronger and more durable versus inline galvanization. This process offers triple the protection against corrosion, rust, and preventing cold and moisture infiltration.

Thermal Properties of the Fabric

One analogy to the way engineered fabrics act as thermal conductors (that is, they allow less transfer of cold from one surface to the next) is to consider the difference when walking on a tiled bathroom floor in the winter, versus walking on carpet. Steel, stone, and concrete will transfer heat more rapidly than the HDPE and PVC fabrics used in quality fabric covers. The covering on fabric buildings allow more warm air to stay inside and reduces the ability of cold air to transfer into the interior.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is a thermoplastic fabric and can mitigate or dampen shock waves better. The inherent thermal properties of HDPE fabrics allow fabric buildings to stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. HDPE fabric works to regulate interior temperatures by moderating the transfer of heat energy between interior and exterior environments. The fabric’s non-conductive thermal properties helps to prevent cold outdoor air from radiating into the structure’s interior. The energy efficiency of HDPE coverings make it a cost-effective solution that also provides UV resistance and the ability to withstand temperatures between -148 to 176 degrees fahrenheit. Other material properties of HDPE membranes include being a highly dense material without holes (or pores), maintains it physical and mechanical properties at high and low temperatures, has good resistance to stress cracks, and excellent strength against deformation properties.

Insulation and Liners to Handle Cold Weather

To increase the heat retention of fabric structures, insulation and liners are available to fully or partially insulate the structure and assist in the efficient operation of climate-control systems. In climates where winters are colder or winds are stronger, insulating the structure will help create an ideal interior environment. Always consult with a reputable fabric structure manufacturer to select the right types of insulation for your application, such as batten fiberglass insulation. Fiberglass insulation is used to increase the structure’s performance in maintaining consistent interior temperatures, while at the same time improving the building’s acoustics for a quieter environment. Typically, a liner can be installed to secure the batten in place and provide a tidy ceiling aesthetic. This same liner will also work to increase interior ambient light by reflecting natural light back into the structure.

HVAC and Ventilation Options for Winter Weather

Interior temperatures of a fabric covered building can be up to 20 degrees warmer than outdoor temperatures, simply by nature of the fabric. When your geographical location features colder winter temperatures, fabric buildings can be fitted with a range of heating or ventilation products to increase interior comfort during critical winter months. Climate-controlled options range from natural gas or propane heaters, radiant tube ventilation, and passive and active wall vents to warm up interior space.

When additional heat is required, ducted and vented forced-air heating systems can be added to the fabric building to provide a dependable option for heat during public events. Depending on the size of your structure and its application, ridge vents and make-up air systems can be installed to improve the quality of interior air and assist in moving warm air from the upper spaces into lower areas that are occupied.

If you live in a colder region and are considering a fabric building, there are passive properties of fabric membranes that increase the thermal efficiency of interior spaces in addition to active climate control options to increase occupant comfort.

You might also want to read about how Winter is No Match for Durable Fabric Structures.