Feature Article - March 2007
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A Plan Four All Seasons

Four-season design for recreational enclosures

By Kelli Anderson



Consider This

Qualities to look for when trying to decide what four-season structure is right for you vary greatly depending on climate, programming needs and the all-important budget. Here are the top five factors to consider before taking the plunge into the revenue-generating adventure of four-season design:

1. BUDGET

Smaller air-supported "bubbles" are a traditional first step in expanding a limited programming season to one that can operate year-round. These smaller structures are usually among the most affordable and can help increase revenues, which often leads to the creation of large, more permanent structures. ETFE-foil from the lightweight structure family or panel-and-frame structures, which tend to be on the higher end of the cost spectrum, are still cheaper than their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Budget should also factor in long-term costs of material replacement over time, utility costs required to maintain the structure and necessary operating equipment. Utility costs for heating, cooling and lighting the structure are commonly offset by features particular to many four-season designs, including natural light and solar energy from transparent or translucent structural material and retractable roofs, doors or openings. In the case of aquatic spaces, the necessary mechanical systems needed to properly manage air quality need to be part of the enclosure purchase question.

2. LIGHTING

The appeal of almost every four-season design is its ability to flood an interior space with natural light. Depending on the structure's material, insulation needs may have to sacrifice the amount of light or quality of light a structure can provide. Some fabrics need to be doubled to provide greater insulation, thereby allowing less light to filter through. Some panels with superior insulation quality let in good light, but are not transparent. Some panels are transparent, but do not insulate as well and will result in higher energy bills. And some materials let in the full spectrum of light, including dangerous UV rays.

Be sure to balance your energy-efficiency needs with the atmospheric quality you are looking for.

3. MAINTENANCE

While almost all four-season designs are virtually maintenance-free, some do require more than others. Some panel-and-frame systems require occasional cleaning. Smaller bubble structures can take quite a bit of manpower and several days to assemble or dismantle the enclosure for the season. Air-supported structures—especially the larger ones—require additional personnel to run equipment needed to constantly monitor weather conditions and air-pressure regulation.

4. AESTHETICS

As more and more four-season structures are part of larger, complex facilities, consider the aesthetic flexibility of the structure and whether its look will add to, blend in or detract from the overall facility appearance.

5. LOCATION

Geographic zones with properties of cold/moist, hot/arid or hot/moist all require different elements to keep recreational users comfortable and healthy. Cold/moist zones typically need insulation, good translucency for solar gain and an understanding of how to remove moisture. Hot/arid zones need structures that can provide shade and UV protection, and are able to accommodate the extreme temperature differences that occur between night and day. Hot/moist zones need good air circulation.