Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Balloons and the Great Outdoors

Outdoor Numbers by David Mahoney of Balloons Everyday,
Carrollton, TX, U.S.A.
Making outdoor decor is not the easiest job. It can bring all sorts of challenges —rain, wind, dirt, heat, 
cold, plus many other potential obstacles. With a little care and planning, we can overcome most of these.

There have been a number of great articles written about this subject in Images magazine and on Balloon HQ. We also discussed outdoor decor as part of a Round Table session at the 2016 World Balloon Convention, with some great information and tips being shared amongst the group. I was particularly drawn to comments and advice given in an article featured some years ago on Balloon HQ by Wynn Bell, CBA. I first met Wynn and his lovely wife Lindy at International Balloon Arts Convention (IBAC) 1997.  Their work was absolutely breathtaking,  they subsequently went on to win a number of 1st place awards for their large sculpture entries at successive IBACs. Wynn and Lindy’s inspired designs and elegant decor are regularly featured in Images magazine, even though Wynn has since retired from the balloon industry. I also received some great advice from David Mahoney of Balloons Everyday, Carrollton, TX, U.S.A. David and his team regularly install decor outside in all weather!

Wynn’s gives great advice by telling us who’s in charge:
“First of all, being hired to produce outdoor decor puts you, the balloon artist, in the driver’s seat, so to speak. No matter what the customer wants, the job is going to be directed by you and what you can produce with balloons, and what will work with balloons. Most customers have no idea about what colours will work outdoors, or that helium balloons may not achieve the look they are looking for. They also don’t understand that by air filling balloons and attaching them to frames, they can have extremely stable decor with colours that blend well with nature and all its neat colours and textures. DO NOT be afraid or be put off doing outdoor balloon decor! Respect nature but don’t be afraid of it. Learn to accent the outdoor environment. And take control of the job, and lead the client in the direction that will best serve their decor needs.”

David shares his experience when working outside:
‟I find controlling customers expectations is key to outside work. If it is hot, we tell them generally what we feel it will last. We always hedge out numbers on the low side... If we see things lasting 3 days we would say 1 to 2, if we see balloons lasting 2 days, we say 1. If we see balloons lasting 1 day, we tell them that first thing before we get too far into the order process. We rig a lot of our outside work and that helps a lot when it comes to supporting the structures in the wind. Again, we tell people this up-front and we also charge for that. I have to incur more to make sure it performs the best the balloons can, therefore the client has to pay more for that to happen. I am providing an outstanding service... It is more than just balloons. Rain is the same, control expectations... If it is going to rain, we contact the client as soon as possible. We want to be helpful, but we also don't want a client to be upset. If they need to cancel (before any balloons are blown,) we will add a credit on their account with us for next time or just take them off and do nothing. More times than not, we will use the balloons again. We communicate with clients once balloons are blown, that they owe us for the full job. So if they cancel after that, they will pay. We will go as far as to follow up and make sure they are still ok with us proceeding forward.”

Sun & Heat

When planning to position balloon decor outside on hot sunny days, you need to be aware of several factors. 
  • Balloons will swell/ expand in the heat.
  • Darker balloon colours will absorb heat and pop faster.
  • Balloons will oxidise and lose their clarity.

To combat these issues, follow these rules:
  • Firstly, use quality balloons such as Qualatex®; quality makes a huge difference. 
  • Use much larger balloons than required. 
    • Work with 16¨ latex balloons instead of 11¨, and under-inflated them. A 16¨ balloon should not be inflated greater than 12¨. This will allow the balloons to expand with the heat. If using 11¨ balloons, these should not be inflated any bigger than 7.5¨.  
      • Always fully inflate balloons to their maximum size and then deflate until you reach the desired size. NOTE: Just under-inflating a balloon will make little difference. The idea is to stretch the balloon to its limit and then let it down to size. This will make the balloon more durable and less likely to pop in the heat.
  • Use light coloured balloons and avoid using dark colours. Use accent elements such as ribbons to introduce the darker colours into the decor.
  • Plan for the balloons to oxidise. This is not a bad thing, it merely changes the visual texture of the balloon. You can tell your clients that the balloons will look more “velvety” and acquire a rich, matte finish.
  • Use white balloons as much as possible; they reflect the sun and fade less.
  • When working with framework and poles, ensure that you cover these in white duct tape or wrap with white modelling balloons. This will help to keep the framework and poles from getting too hot.
  • If working with helium-filled balloons, keep in mind that extreme heat speeds up the balloon osmosis process. So, in high temperatures, helium will escape much faster than normal, drastically reducing float time. If you can find a way to provide shade for the balloons, it can slow the process.
  • Do not use water to cool down balloons. As the water dries on the latex, it becomes slightly sticky. The balloons can stick together causing them to pop as they expand in the heat or move with the wind.
  • Use Qualatex Bubbles® and Deco Bubbles whenever possible as they can withstand the sun, rain, and wind, making them much more reliable for outdoor decor.
David gives his top tips when working in the sun:
‟One trick we find helps, is that when it gets hot we double stuff all the balloons on the top of an arch, number, etc... This helps the entire design to somewhat implode at the same rate. The top of any design is what is hit first with UV rays and the double stuffed balloons generally give you some time to allow the design to accomplish what a client needs. Last thing we do that helps with outside work; WE DO NOT GIVE ANY GUARANTEES. You can't do it with outside work. We are upfront and very clear on this with clients. Most times clients are OK with it. We state it as a matter of fact, not that balloons suck, or that we are unprofessional, or for some reason we have done something wrong.”


Here is Wynn’s advice on balloons getting wet:

“Wetness can come from dew (condensation) as well as rain. Setting out your decor during night-time hours will allow condensation to collect on the balloons. If they have a chance to dry, they will many times stick together as if glued. This is still OK, unless the sun comes out and heats them up. If two adjacent balloons that are stuck together expand in the heat at a different rate, one of the balloons will probably break. And if it happens to one balloon, it will happen to many others. If you have time to wipe Balloon Shine™ between each balloon, you can usually get around this problem.”

Arches withstand most weather conditions pretty well. Once the balloons are on the frame, the weight of the water makes very little difference. And because the arch is not moving, the chance of the balloons pulling apart is not as great. The AeröPole System™ was designed to make huge arches and columns for both outdoors and indoors, without helium. The poles made from a composite fibreglass material are so flexible they do not break in strong winds; they can bend so dramatically the balloons appear to be filled with helium.


If you are creating an arch, make sure that your framework is strong enough that it does not bend out of shape. As mentioned previously, the AeröPole system was designed for this purpose, it naturally bends and moves in the wind and will maintain its shape.

Helium-filled arches really do not work well outside. However, if you need to use helium because of the width of the arch, it is recommended that you build two 8’ air-filled columns (minimum height) on strong, heavy poles and bases and then secure your helium-filled balloon arch to these. Then it is only the top part of the arch that can blow. 

David Saker, of shares his experience and recommendations for working with balloons outside:

Race starting arch by David Saker of
‟For race start arches and fun runs, I insist the client invests in scaffolding structures because I work with helium. I refuse to install an arch without the scaffolding for health and safety reasons. With scaffolding on either side of the road or start-line, the balloons are kept way above head height. I don’t build an arch shape. I try to make it more of a horizontal arc — that way if it rains heavily or the wind flips the arch up and down it can never touch a runner's head. I use 500 lb nylon line for theses arches.”

Remember, for outdoor decor, ALWAYS use sufficient weight to hold your arches, columns, and balloons securely. Consider how much damage a wind-blown arch or column could cause.

Grass & Pavements.

The most important thing to ensure is that the “footprint” of your base is large enough to protect your balloons from these hazards. Your base must be smooth and must extend past the edge of the column or arch to protect your balloons. Use balloons bigger than you would normally use and work with them under-inflated to make them stronger and more robust, especially at the base of your arches and columns.

Insurance and Contracts

It goes without saying that you should have good public liability insurance. Anyone who runs a balloon business needs to be fully covered by a comprehensive insurance policy. 

A contract is an essential part of your business. When installing balloon decor outside, it is very important that you ensure that your clients are aware that weather can affect balloons and balloon decor. Honesty is the best policy; we should not make any guarantees that we may not be able to keep, especially in bad weather.

It might be advisable to add in a clause like the one shown below:

‟Balloons are, by nature, temporary items: Although ‘your company name’ uses only the finest quality balloons, some balloons will occasionally deflate sooner than expected and will also be adversely affected by the wind, rain, rough handling, sunlight, and other uncontrollable factors.”

David's final words on this subject:
‟We as an industry have to accept that what we do does not fit every situation, and that it is not the perfect solution for everyone. So many are worried about getting work that they never consider the cost of getting 'the wrong work.' We love outside work but that is because most of the time we have controlled expectations and clients are generally happy.”

I would like to thank David Mahoney and David Saker for sharing such great information and valuable tips, and to Wynn Bell for giving me permission to republish sections of his article, "A Look at Outside Balloon Decor."

Happy Ballooning! 



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