Fabric fascination

For modern agriculture, the nostalgic red, hip-roof barn is rarely a first choice for new construction. Barns have long been modified to account for farm size, new technologies, increased efficiency and specific farm needs.

An alternative to conventional buildings, fabric tensioned membrane structures are popping up throughout Michigan. They are touted for supplying natural light and increased air movement. The fabric is attached to steel framing, which is anchored to steel or cement foundations.

Key Points

Several companies offer fabric structures as an alternative to conventional buildings.

Material supports several tons; buildings can be designed for specific uses.

A.K. Equipment offers a 16-year prorated warranty; life expectancy is 25 years.


A.K. Equipment, founded in Zeeland by Al Kaptein in 1986, is one of many distributors of these fabric structures and is Michigan’s authorized Cover-All Building dealer. Cover-All Building Systems is the largest manufacturer of tensioned membrane structures in the world, utilizing Duraweave II, which a strong, woven polyethylene material, says Terry Kaptein, Al’s son and vice president of the company.

How strong is it?

Terry says he’s never seen one tear. “A 10-foot-by-10-foot piece of this material can support 14 tons,” he says. “Sure, we’ve had people puncture them with a skid steer, but it’s not going to take off on you. And if you do puncture it, it’s easy to fix with a patch.”

A.K. Equipment began offering the structures in 1986, and they are now its primary business. “We have put up about 800 of these buildings in Michigan, and about 65% of them have been for agriculture, mostly dairy,” Terry says.

The buildings come with a 16-year, pro-rated warranty, and the life expectancy is 25 years, Terry says.

A.K. Equipment’s buildings range from 20 by 30 feet to as large as 200 feet wide with unlimited length. “The average cost is about $8.50 a square foot,” Terry says.

One of the largest buildings the company erected is the new Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers plant in Ashley, spanning 140 by 380 feet.

Buildings are engineered specifically for their site and use, and meet building codes for wind and snow loads. “These buildings are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter,” Terry says.

Ventilation can be controlled by ridge vents, adjustable side curtains and eaves.

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SOLD ON FABRIC: Calvin Lindberg and his family put up another fabric tensioned membrane barn this summer — the biggest one on their farm yet. The family dairy is using a compost system in two of the barns.

This article published in the October, 2011 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.