The MakMax TensoSport Sports Canopy is designed to provide protection to large-court sporting facilities, such as tennis or basketball (shown here). The canopies are fabricated with high-translucency architectural-grade PVC fabric with PVDF coating, or with high-translucency, long-life PTFE woven fiberglass with fluropolymer coating. Photo: MakMax Australia Pty. Ltd; photographer: Grant Kennedy, We Shoot Buildings.

Broiling summers, harsh winters, drought, fires, hurricanes—climate change is making life harder, more fraught and dangerous for people across the globe. While political leaders and governments argue over policies and regulations, the specialty fabrics industry is stepping up to devise products to help mitigate the affects of a changing climate. Here we highlight companies whose products are experiencing increased climate-driven demand.

Providing natural illumination

Extreme climate patterns and a greater demand for protection from harsh weather have contributed to interest in engineered fabric structures, says Deanna Hope, marketing manager for Calhoun Super Structure. Other factors boosting demand include funding from the new Biden administration for infrastructure projects as well as corporate operations requiring new structures for storing equipment and housing livestock. Hope says the pandemic contributed as well, upping the clamor for large, covered and airy temporary fabric solutions. 

Located in Tara, Ontario, Canada, Calhoun designs, engineers and manufactures fabric structures for the agriculture, municipal, commercial, industrial, residential, recreational, equestrian and fertilizer markets. Its structures range from 16 to 250 feet wide and can be constructed for any length. 

Calhoun manufactures custom engineered fabric structures up to 250 feet wide and for any length. Shown here is the company’s CC Series product, a traditional hoop aesthetic that affords greater design capacity compared to a wood or steel structure. The fabric on the structures ranges from 16 to 19 percent translucency. Photo: Calhoun Super Structure.

Included in the company’s lineup is the CC Series, offering a hoop aesthetic and greater design capacity than wood or steel; the VP Series, with cathedral-style peaks and flexibility of design; and the HT Series for customers seeking additional height.

Two of Calhoun’s newest profiles are the SE Series, with a 45-foot-wide opening side-width and height ranging from 10 to 35 feet, and the GB Series, which has standard 10-foot-high side walls and makes efficient use of floor space. Both use gable brackets for construction efficiencies.  

“Calhoun currently uses engineered high-density polyethylene [HDPE] fabric manufactured into a woven sheet-form and coated on both sides with a specialized, thick protective layer that aids in protecting against UV damage,” says Hope. “The fabric covers offer up to 16 percent translucency for non-fire-retardant [non-FR] fabric and 19 percent translucency for fire-retardant [FR] fabric.”

Allowing in natural daylight reduces electrical usage and saves costs. At night, these structures typically require one-third of the lighting, since the underside of the fabric roof reflects and disperses any artificial lighting used (additional energy cost reductions can be achieved through adding solar panels).

The VP Series from Calhoun features cathedral-style peaks and abundant design flexibility. The company manufactures fabric structures for any application including storage of fertilizer, equipment and salt and sand, as shown here. The structures are also used for livestock housing, indoor training grounds, and recreational and gym facilities. Photo: Calhoun Super Structure.

“The natural illumination of either fabric [non-FR or FR] fills the building interiors during the day so to maintain an outdoor atmosphere for animals,” Hope explains. “The thermally nonconductive properties of our fabric ensure a warmer interior during colder months and a cooler interior during warmer months, keeping the animals comfortable year-round.”

In addition to sheltering livestock, Calhoun structures are also used to provide indoor training grounds, retail outlets and markets, recreational sports and gym facilities, and for storing equipment, salt and sand, waste and fertilizer, or for warehousing products.

Calhoun’s structures utilize NovaShield® fabric from Intertape Polymer Group (IPG) of Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

“NovaShield is the first membrane structure fabric in the world to achieve Cradle to Cradle Bronze-level certification,” says Hope. “Additionally, NovaShield’s membrane structure fabric has achieved Cool Roof Rating Council [CRRC] designation. Here, the fabric reflects and emits the sun’s solar energy back to the sky instead of absorbing and transferring heat to the building.”

Carey Ewanik, product manager for IPG, says the C2C certification is revolutionary.

“This certification now allows companies and owners to have a building solution with a significant sustainable component,” he explains. “With [this] certification, NovaShield offers LEED credits that further benefit the sustainability of the structure.”

Reflecting, storing heat

A consequence of climate change is temperature extremes, resulting in buildings that are harder to cool or warm, says Deris Jeannette, founder, product designer and owner of ClearDome Solar Thermal, located in Temecula, Calif. The effort to keep interiors comfortable uses up a lot of energy and is expensive as well.

“More new buildings these days are better insulated,” he says. “But in many situations, especially with older buildings, adding highly reflective materials to roofs or walls is an excellent way to reduce energy costs considerably and make the space more liveable.”

ClearDome’s first products were solar cookers using clear plastic or glass domes. Reflectors gathered and trapped heat from sunlight, allowing for the cooking of most foods, Jeannette explains. That idea evolved into solar forced-air heaters for homes and various solar-reflective or solar heat-absorbing fabrics designed to keep buildings cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

ClearDome Solar Thermal makes a variety of tarps and fabrics designed to facilitate heating or cooling. The Snow White CoolTarp (top left) is approximately 85 percent reflective and can be used on the outside roof or walls of a building. The Thermal Barrier Fabric (top right) is 75 percent reflective, 70 percent metallized and can be used indoors or outdoors to warm or cool. The SolaReflexx CoolTarp (bottom left) is 95 percent reflective and the company’s Solar Heating Drape (bottom right) can be installed on the inside of large, unshaded windows to warm a room and reduce energy usage. Photos: ClearDome Solar Thermal.

The company’s most popular products are the CoolTarps, solar thermal reflective tarps sold in standard cut sheets or rolls. The product line includes the Snow White CoolTarp, which is about 85 percent reflective, and the SolaReflexx CoolTarp, which is about 95 percent reflective. Both are nontoxic and are used outside, typically on the roofs or walls of unshaded, sunlit buildings, where they reflect the sun’s light and heat away from the surface, keeping the interior much cooler. 

“Snow White is seven times thicker and stronger than SolaReflexx CoolTarp, will last longer in continual outdoor use and is the preferred roof covering on hot summer days,” he says. “SolaReflexx CoolTarp is lighter and more flexible. It’s better for temporary use like over tents or protective boxes where excessive heat is a problem.”

Another product is the 75 percent reflective Thermal Barrier Fabric. Nontoxic, UV-resistant and designed to warm or cool, the fabric is constructed with a weave of tough HDPE plastic that is 70 percent metallized on both sides. It will allow 30 percent of the sunlight to pass through. 

“It can be used in summer and winter, indoors and outdoors, to restrict the natural flow of heat radiating inside when it’s warm or trying to flow out of a window when it’s cold,” says Jeannette. “Room air temps will rise as much as 10 degrees in the winter with the same amount of heat indoors when all windows in a room are covered.”

It can also serve as a windbreak when hung vertically, reducing a 30-mph wind to under 5 mph. It can also be used for camping or placed over plants to reduce the damaging effects of heat, light and frost (the barrier allows rain to pass through). 

Jeannette says product demand has remained steady over the years. He anticipates this climbing as people become more aware of their benefits.

“Energy costs will continue rising, so using our passive thermal products can reduce these costs while adding comfort,” he says. “Creating lighter-weight, more durable, thermal-related products can expand the marketplace into new areas because of portability, extended use and innovative applications. As more uses are found for thermal-related products and they become more popular, we expect the demand to increase.” 

In Australia, clear or patterned ETFE foil for custom architectural structures is growing in popularity. MakMax uses a two-layer construction system, creating air-filled cushions that sit within a lightweight aluminum frame. The cushions create a natural insulation layer, helping to reduce costs associated with heating/cooling, also alleviating the need for additional building materials. Installed on the Macquarie University Arts Precinct, Sydney NSW.

Sun-smart solutions

With Australian summers growing longer and hotter, interest in shade structures designed to help the country’s citizens cope is intensifying, says Martin Eddleston, director of engineering for MakMax Australia Pty. Ltd. 

Headquartered in Brisbane, the company designs, engineers, fabricates and installs custom architectural membrane structures. Specializing in lightweight tensile membrane structures utilizing architectural fabrics like polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), MakMax provides commercial shade solutions like stadium roofing, car-park shade covers, commercial umbrellas, bowling green covers and more. 

Markets include schools, sports and recreation facilities, retail and commercial developments, hospitality and entertainment venues, and community spaces, among others. The company also designs structures for the country’s tropical regions that are experiencing a growing number of cyclones, says Eddleston, explaining that MakMax can engineer steel frames to withstand almost any weather event.

“The two market segments where we’ve seen the strongest growth have been in schools and sporting applications,” says Eddleston. “MakMax has worked with schools and universities to create tensile membrane structures, offering a range of architectural umbrellas, modular shade structures and school COLAs [covered outdoor learning areas]. 

“Australians love their sports,” he continues. “With a growing need for sun-smart solutions for spectators and players, MakMax has witnessed a developing trend to incorporate shade structures for both.”

Recently developed by MakMax, the Velarium Variable Shade System, shown here installed at the St. Margaret’s Anglican Girls School Sports Precinct, consists of a series of motorized retractable shade panels, offering sun protection at will without permanently enclosing the sporting surface. The system is recommended for swimming pools or grass playing surfaces. Photo: MakMax Australia Pty Ltd.

Lawn bowling clubs represent the company’s “strongest single market,” says Eddleston, adding that in an effort to offer enhanced sun protection, many clubs are seeking funding opportunities and government grants for shade infrastructure development.

The MakMax Sports and School Shade Solutions are a range of barrel-vault canopies available in various shapes, sizes and designs, fabricated either with architectural-grade PVC fabric with polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) coating or with high-translucency, long-life PTFE woven fiberglass with fluoropolymer coating. Included are the TensoCola™ School Canopy, TensoSport™ Sports Canopy, and the TensoSport-MAX™ Tennis & Bowling Green Range. 

Also directed to the sports market is the company’s Custom Fabric Roofing for stadiums and large sporting venues. The custom stadium canopies combine PTFE with ETFE foil and embrace a growing global trend for iconic sporting infrastructure.

In addition to their other features, like blocking UV rays while still allowing light through, tensile membrane structures are more eco-friendly compared to conventional roofing, says Eddleston.

“The lightweight nature of the fabric cladding requires far less supporting structural steelwork than traditional roofing materials, meaning a tensile roof will automatically provide a much lower level of embodied energy in a project compared to cladding with materials like sheet metal or glazing,” he explains. “[And] our PVC range is recyclable at the end of its usable life. We purchase through a number of European PVC providers who all have rigorous recycling programs.”

Looking toward future sports shade projects, MakMax Australia has recently developed the Velarium Variable Shade System, a series of shade panels that can be drawn and retracted via a motorized cable system. The system can add sun protection at will, without permanently enclosing the sporting surface, ideal for swimming pools or grass playing surfaces.

Eddleston is also “greatly excited” about membranes incorporating photovoltaic technology.

“The Taiyo Kogyo Group has already created a number of projects in Japan incorporating see-through solar glass,” he says. “As we look to create more and more shade structures and smart buildings, being able to harvest clean energy through roofing materials to make buildings even more energy self-sufficient and carbon neutral would be a great advantage in Australia’s sunny climate.” 

Pamela Mills-Senn is a writer based in Seal Beach, Calif.

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