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August 17, 2015

ETFE & Tensile Fabric Structure Maintenance

For many people ETFE & Tensile Structure Fabric Maintenance isn’t even thought of during the procurement phase, after all, why should it be? When you see the artistic architectural renderings showing crisp white fabric roofs and sharp conical shaped canopies piercing perfect blue skies, it’s hard to think of what the structure might look like during the dull winter months, or in a couple of years after its built.  Then again, tensile fabric architecture is often ‘wrongly’ sold as a maintenance free project, or, the end client simply does not understand the implications of not maintaining their fabric structure or structures. Unfortunately we have to inform you that tensile fabric architecture is not a maintenance free product, nor can you afford to look at this way. ETFE & Tensile Fabric Structure Maintenance needs to be thought of from the very outset of the tendering stage.


Tensile Fabric Cleaning

Sorry if this may sound a little bullish but there is nothing worst then seeing a poorly maintained tensioned fabric structure. To us it not only impacts on the overall look and feel of the building it’s associated with, but also how tensile architecture is perceived by others thereafter.

As a tensile architectural company Shade Sculpture is passionate about our industry and how tensile fabric structures can be incorporated to enhance a building’s design, creating a more functional welcoming space.   As with any external fabric or construction material, tensile fabric structures accumulate dirt, pollution and grime over time; however, due to tensile fabrics structures primarily being produced in whites and other light colours, they tend to stick out more when they are not cleaned and maintained regularly. This is even more so noticeable when the structures are located in the centre of busy traffic pollution areas, such as central town and city locations.

The way the tensioned membrane is fabricated also impacts on where and how dirt and grime accumulates. This is why at Shade Sculpture we always look at the way our fabrication and design impacts on the structures maintenance and cleaning regime; ensuring our structures have optimum access for both maintenance and programmed cleaning schedules. To demonstrate; if a membrane seam is horizontal and close to the edge, it will collect dirt quickly and become extremely noticeable in a short period of time, as rain water pushes dirt downwards and into the ridge of the seam. However, if you try to ensure seams are kept vertical and edges are flattened off, dirt and grime find it much harder to become trapped. As such they look fresher for longer. This still does not negate the need for Tensile Fabric Cleaning.

As with all tensioned fabric projects Tensile Fabric Cleaning should be incorporated into the buildings maintenance cycle. As standard, cleaning should be programmed as least twice a year and more for buildings in town and city centres.

Benefits of Maintenance and Cleaning of Tensile Fabric Architecture

There are many Benefits of Maintenance and Cleaning of Tensile Fabric Architecture. If not only to ensure the fabric structure maintains its fresh and vibrant appeal, Benefits of Maintenance and Cleaning of Tensile Fabric Architecture include increasing the structures operational lifespan, but also ensuring you adhere to all forms of fabric and structural warranty conditions presented by the supplying party.

If you do not maintain your tensile fabric structure, you will be running the risk of invalidating any warranty which is offered, regardless of what it actually covers.

Although many clients like to see their tensioned fabric structures looking clean, they don’t necessarily understand that membrane fabrics also need to be re-tensioned regularly; ensuring the designs shape is maintained and that the structure is cables of taking wind and snow loadings over the years ahead. Lose or unstressed membrane fabrics attract more wind and snow loadings than the structure would have been designed for, putting increased stress loads on the fabric itself and connecting steelworks / bracketing. Additionally, small punctures in the fabric can be made by birds pecking on the roofing ‘especially by Sea Gulls on ETEF roofing’ or by flying or falling Sharpe objects, which can damage the integrity of the membrane, weakening the overall structure. As such maintenance is vitally important for health and safety as well as warranty, visual impact and operational lifespan.

Tensile Maintenance & Cleaning Offerings

At Shade Sculpture we understand that Tensile Maintenance & Cleaning Offerings are not necessarily going to be the same for each customer, and nor can they be provided the same way for each customer. This is because every tensioned membrane structure has its own challenges and specific requirements. For instance, if the structure is in the proximity of trees or dense vegetation, the structures gutting will have be cleaned more regularly. If the structure is located in a known windy and blustery location, tensioning will need to be checked more often. Additionally, choice of fabrics used also impacts on the maintenance and cleaning cycle approach. For example, PTFE’s (Polytetrafluoroethene) – Coated Glass fibre fabrics’ have a gel coat which can be prone to cracking in areas when constant flexing is occurring, as such, panel replacements may be needed more often than other fabrics.  ETFE cushions layer formations and ETFE foils have self-cleaning properties. Although they still are required to be cleaned, they do not need to be cleaned as regularly as other forms of tensioned membrane fabrics; however, they may require more in the way of patch repair as tiny puncture holes can be made by larger birds such as Sea Gulls whom are known to use the surface to peck away at their food.

At Shade Sculpture, we ensure all our Tensile Maintenance & Cleaning teams have access to all our fabrication drawings, allowing them to understand the specific challenges and requirements of the membrane structure before attending site.  For projects which are not our own, or for customers unable to provide us with fabrication drawings, we carry out an initial site survey and input details into our own CMMS and asset management software programme, ensuring all aspects are documented and can be tracked.

With certified maintenance engineers, specialised in all forms of Fabrics and ‘Working at Height, Fall Protection, Building Maintenance and High Level Cleaning’ we are able to cater for National and International Tensile Fabric Maintenance and Cleaning on every type of tensile membrane structure or project imaginable.

To finding out more about Shade Sculpture’s Tensile Fabric Maintenance and Cleaning capabilities, or if you are interested in finding out more about Shade Sculpture and our tensile design and engineering offerings, simply call us on +44 (0)1249 848649 or email us at

We look forwards to hearing from you.