Air Supported or Frame Fabric Structures for Covered Sports: Which is Best?

by Streetspace Group in Sports Clubs | 4 comments

If you have a commercial outdoor sports area that you want to use year-round, then you will probably have looked into the possibilities for covering these. There are three basic design types that sports organisations will usually consider and these are air supported structures, frame fabric structures and traditional buildings.

Each design provides the constant cover required for your venue to remain open throughout the year, generating consistent income, and of course, they can each be used for all types of sport, including tennis, football, hockey and more.

But which type of sports cover is best? Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of air supported structures and frame fabric structures.

Air supported structures

Commonly known as air domes, these structures are designed to be supported by air that is continuously pumped in so that the resulting level of air pressure keeps the cover inflated and raised above the playing area.

Air supported structures have a low initial cost and are relatively cheap to install. The translucency of the cover material provides good light levels, allowing play to go ahead during the day without the need for additional lighting.

When it comes to the drawbacks, air supported structures can be expensive to maintain. They not only require ongoing costs to power the air pumps, but there can be maintenance costs too. Single skin domes only have a life expectancy of around eight years, so you will need to factor in the cost of replacing the fabric within this timeframe.

In warmer weather, air supported structures can become stuffy and many prefer to take them down in the summer. The labour costs to take down and then re-erect, along with potential storage costs, do need to be considered together with those typical British summer days of rain, where you could miss out on custom if your tennis courts or football pitches aren’t covered. Temperature control is less of an issue where a double skin membrane has been specified though this is a more expensive option.

Due to their curved profile, air domes will typically occupy considerably more space around the pitch area than a frame supported structure and this may well preclude the design from certain venues.

A critical factor to consider is the fact that air supported structures will not provide the operational durability that a fabric frame structures will and these can be vulnerable to damage without a secure perimeter fence to protect the fabric from vandalism.

Where you might be planning to use your sports facilities during the darker evenings, you will likely require external lighting. With air supported structures being lit from the outside of the fabric membrane using floodlights, the additional light pollution in your area will need to be considered. Floodlights are typically subject to planning permission and light pollution guidelines, and you may find your plans blocked by local residents or businesses.

Frame fabric structuresAll-Weather Sports Canopy Lighting

Frame fabric structure design consists of a one-piece PVC tensile membrane fabric tensioned over a steel or glulam timber framework. These will often have fabric façade panels to the canopy elevations, providing an excellent combination of airflow and weather protection.

Though heavy on initial outlay, long-term the frame fabric structure design has very low maintenance costs. There are no joins in the fabric that can trap dirt or moisture and the membrane’s coating provides exceptional dirt resistance, so they stay cleaner for longer. When cleaning and maintenance is required, it’s a relatively simple and quick operation.

Another benefit of frame fabric structures is that they look great! We’re possibly a bit biased here, but we think that all-weather sports canopies look stunning. They can really enhance a space architecturally with clean flowing lines, whereas an air dome may be considered something of a bulbous eyesore!

Like air supported structures, frame fabric structures also have excellent natural light levels. But where lighting will be installed for evening events and activity these will be designed within the canopy framework, allowing much greater cost efficiency and reduced light pollution.

The inherent free ventilation provides a cool and pleasant environment throughout the warmer months of the year and the addition of façade panels to elevations provides even greater levels of playability year-round.

Frame fabric structures offer excellent acoustic benefits, with the canopy fabric design absorbing a considerable level of noise generated by play. This is a benefit to consider alongside external noise pollution where residential areas are in close proximity.

State of the art architectural PVC tensile fabrics block harmful UV radiation with minimal reduction in light transmission into the canopy structure.

Perhaps the only drawback of frame fabric structures is the higher initial outlay over air supported structures. Proven lifetime costs of a frame fabric structure design demonstrate cost savings over the long term due their low maintenance demand, the absence of on-going energy costs for the air-supply and a long-life guaranteed tensile membrane that is not classed as semi-permanent.

So which is best?

The choice of air supported structure or a frame fabric will likely come down to the initial outlay, but the benefits of the latter proposal will always outweigh air supported over the long term and with finance packages available this significant factor can be offset with payments spread over a number of years.

If you want to guarantee that your tennis court or football pitch is open and ready for business every day of the year – including the 100 or so rainy days that we have in the UK – then a frame fabric sports cover is clearly a great investment.

If you are looking for information on the best type of structure to cover your club and advice on building a business case download our free guide:

A Guide to Covering Your Sports Courts

Article Comments

  1. Robin says:

    Hi, looking at rough cost of framed structure to cover two courts

    • Streetspace Group says:

      Good afternoon Robin, I have passed your request onto one of our team who will be in touch with you.

  2. Carol Fontius says:

    Great articles are clear, detailed and informative — just like this one! Frame fabric sports cover does sound like a good investment with all the details you’ve placed about them. Thank you for the tips and guide!

  3. Carol Fontius says:

    Thank you for such an informative post, this clears out things better and helps in making the best decision on which type would be best to utilize.

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