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The new Tent Ballasting Tool fulfills a long awaited need

By Connie Lannan

April 17, 2023

The new American Rental Association (ARA) Tent Ballasting Tool

The new ARA Tent Ballasting Tool

The new American Rental Association (ARA) Tent Ballasting Tool, which was unveiled at The ARA Show™ 2023 in Orlando this past February, is something those in the event industry have been wanting for a long time because there has not been a designated best practice or standard for the proper ballasting of non-engineered tents.

Michael Tharpe, who retired in January from Rainier Industries, Tukwila, Wash., has been on the ground floor of helping bring this tool to fruition.

Tharpe, who has served as associate member director on the ARA Board of Directors and on the Exhibitor Advisory Council, also served for 16 years on the steering committee, with the past three years as the chair, of the Tent Rental Division of the Advanced Textiles Association (ATA), formerly known as the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI). In his roles at ATA and Rainier, he was in the original group that visited back in 2008 with those at Clemson University, Clemson, S.C., to start the first tent ballasting study for engineered tents.

“We worked with Clemson on the development of the original tent ballasting tool, which was introduced in 2012. This tool required information for the original manufacturer’s documents to be entered into the tool, which converted the anchoring requirements into the amount of required ballast needed to meet those requirements and still maintain the engineered specs as designed by the manufacturer,” he says.

While this tool was designed for engineered tents and structures, Tharpe and other members of the ATA’s Tent Rental Division Steering Committee “had the frank realization that 75 percent of the rental companies were using nonengineered products. That is where all the disconnect from the original tool came into play. You can only do engineered products with the original tool,” he says.

So, in 2014, he and the team developed the criteria and sent requests for quotes to various entities to do a non-engineered tent ballasting study. “In 2016, Clemson University was contracted to work on this study. Due to all the different styles and sizes of non-engineered products, it took a while to develop the parameters and criteria to consider when using this tool. Then, from 2020 to 2021, the nation was involved with COVID-19. Clemson was closed for much of that time, so we couldn’t have any face-to-face meetings, discussions or planning in order to advance this tool toward its completion,” Tharpe says.

In 2022, ARA became a partner in this effort. With ARA taking a prominent role, working with ATA and Clemson, the new Tent Ballasting Tool for nonengineered tents and structures was completed — a feat that Tharpe is elated to finally have achieved.

“I am proud that we — ARA and ATA — now have the non-engineered tool for tents and structures completed. It was a goal of mine because it was a project initiated a long time ago and never got carried through because of other issues that kept coming up. The pandemic put us way behind in getting it done. Now it is here and available for use,” he says.

The new American Rental Association (ARA) Tent Ballasting ToolThe importance of this tool to the industry cannot be overstated, Tharpe notes. “Basically, what it does is assist members in determining the hold-down power required to safely ballast tents and structures, which have not been certified by engineering. The tool itself uses generic geometry and load assumptions to provide a best estimate of reaction factors to hold down non-engineered tent/structure models safely at a given wind speed. We recommend concrete ballasts unless it is appropriate to use staking. Concrete ballasts provide a consistent weight as compared with water barrels that can be very inconsistent and can easily tip over,” he says.

“This is not an engineering document, but we have found that most code authorities having jurisdiction will take this calculation sheet into consideration when a permit is being sought. It is becoming an industry standard and will be the industry standard in the future,” he adds.

Tharpe says that from a rental store standpoint, “people can take this tool, key all the parameters in, come up with a calculation of the rate required and then they can determine their load list and give that figure to their customer base. They can do it upfront instead of after the fact. Also, depending on the product used, it helps them determine the ballast sizes they need for future reference,” he says.

However, it is not just the event rental operation that benefits from the tool. It also helps tent manufacturers.

“This tool gives manufacturers a guideline to take tents that are very common in the marketplace and give the correct ballast recommendations to hold it down without all the expense of engineering the product. It gives it a range that is acceptable without going through the engineering process,” Tharpe says.

However, “it does not do away with the engineering if the local code requires it,” he says. “If the coding process requires it, then you need to go to an outside engineering firm for sight-specific engineering.”

Tharpe recommends that event rental operators “always refer to your manufacturer’s recommendations for the safe installation of the tent in all anchoring and/or ballasting recommendations — and use the new Tent Ballasting Tool. The tool, along with the other resources ARA has available, not only can make safer installations for public and private events, but they also can reduce your liability, so use them,” he says.

A Safe Tenting Webinar

This webinar offers an in-depth demonstration of how to use the new Tent Ballasting Tool, and reviews the ballasting diagrams and tenting resources.

Access a recording of the webinar by typing in “Tent Ballasting Tool Webinar” in the search bar on RentalU for answers to your tent installation questions.