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The walls and roof of a fabric structure are made out of fabric rather than out of wood, metal or stone. The fabric is usually a durable, fire retardant material such as polyester, fiberglass, spandex or other material. A fabric structure is ideal when used as a temporary building, but it also might be a permanent structure, because the fabric can last 15-25 years and is easily repaired or replaced. Despite their delicate appearance, fabric structures can withstand strong winds and heavy snow loads. Some jurisdictions require a property owner to get a permit before erecting a fabric structure.
Fabric structures are not tents and should not be confused with tents. A tent is a metal or wooden frame covered with fabric. The fabric simply drapes over the frame, providing flexible walls. Tents are temporary and portable, and they can be taken down and moved quickly, usually in a matter of hours. Most tents can not handle extreme weather such as snow or strong wind.
The difference between a tent and a fabric structure is tension. The fabric of a fabric structure is under strong tension, allowing it to create ridged walls and ceilings that do not flap in the wind or buckle under snow. The fabric is stretched over a strong steel or aluminum frame. Both the frame and fabric can generally withstand winds up to 120 miles (193 km) per hour. They also can support as much as 40 pounds per square foot (195 kg/m2).
A fabric structure can be erected quickly, and smaller structures require no foundation or footers. This makes fabric structures ideal for temporary structures. They are often used by military organizations or as temporary warehouses or workspaces during construction. The entertainment, sports and recreation industries also use fabric structures. They generally have replaced inflatable structures because a tear or puncture in the surface of a fabric structure does not compromise the structural integrity of the entire building.
The temporary nature of fabric structures is why they often fall into a gray area of building permit laws. In many places, a builder does not need a permit if the structure is temporary. Fabric structures can be permanent or temporary, so they are not easily categorized. A property owner who plans on erecting a fabric structure should work closely with local building officials to make sure that the laws are being followed.
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