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Do's and Don'ts for Tents

Whether you're planning a backyard bash in a pole tent or an elegant event in a giant clear-span structure, careful planning is key. Here, five tent experts cover the basics.

SAFE AND SOUND For starters, do make sure it's safe to put a tent on the chosen site.

"One of the most important things for the event planner is to bring the tent company out to do a site survey," says Maury Rice, president of Los Angeles-based Academy Tent and Canvas. Once there, professionals should "check for underground and overhead utilities, figure out access to the site, find out if the property owner will allow you to stake and so forth."

Once you have assessed the site, don't be swayed by unreasonable clients, says Jay Ellis, president of Ellis Tents & Events, a tent rental company based in Bloomington, Ind. "People will ask you to do the impossible. I've been asked to put tents on top of buildings and then use water barrels instead of stakes." Ellis' advice: Don't do it. "Stay with the manufacturer's specifications," he says, "even if the client asks you not to."

READY FOR RAIN Take it from Ted Ewing, president and owner of Skyway Event Services, an event rental firm in Minneapolis: Do respect the elements.

When asked to build a clear-span structure over a street for a black-tie fund-raiser, Ewing suggested building "a raised floor beneath the structure, to keep people's feet dry in case of rain and to protect the new carpet we had purchased for the event. The event planner decided against the floor and-sure enough-it rained."

Skyway billed the planner for the damaged carpet; the client had to pay guests for ruined shoes. "The event certainly turned out memorable," says Ewing, "but for all the wrong reasons."

LOCAL CUSTOMS Besides familiarizing yourself with the site, do find out about the local fire and safety rules. Regulations-from what kind of lighting or fuel is allowed to how many fire extinguishers are needed-vary from place to place.

"Contact the fire marshal and/or the building inspection department of the town," advises Spencer Etzel, owner of Olympic Tent/SEC Sales Group, based in Wilsonville, Ore. "In addition to the model code, many places have their own regulations when it comes to tents."

To ensure that everyone is on the same page, Academy distributes site drawings. "We draw up detailed site plans and tent layouts, which we submit to fire and safety departments for their blessing," says Rice. He also passes the drawings on to the planners and designers "so they'll know where they can hang the lights and how to decorate the tent."

NEW AND IMPROVED "We constantly build tents a little bit better," says Etzel. He cites using real doors as a more effective way to keep the heat or cold in for tented events that use climate control.

According to Kurt Warner, president of Warner Shelter Systems, based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, sliding walls are gaining popularity. "They attach to the upper portion of a tent frame. To get rid of one, you just push it aside, like a shower curtain. It's more practical than unclipping it and letting it crumple up in the corner."

Ellis says to look for more solid walls on frame tents, where the frame axle side fits in the same track as the frame itself, providing more stability. "They've been doing that in Europe for a long time, and it's becoming more and more popular in North America."

Resources: Academy Tent and Canvas, 800/228-3687, 323/277-8368;; Ellis Tents & Events, 812/333-7731; Olympic Tent/SEC Sales Group, 800/621-2495, 503/570-8700; www.; Skyway Event Services, 888-7SKYWAY, 612/789-5152;; Warner Shelter Systems, 800/661-6155, 403/279-7662;

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