Strong weather is another cause for concern if the tipis are left unattended. This happened to Stephanie in Texas. She sent us this picture of a three-year-old tipi, wondering what went wrong. The tipi was left alone for a while and it looks like strong wind from the left side of the tipi had shifted the poles. This can happen if the poles are not put up in the correct order or if the cover rope is not wrapped tightly enough around the poles. Also the smoke flaps had not been closed, giving the wind a chance to push the cover from the inside. Whenever you leave your tipi alone for a bit, be sure to close the smoke flaps securely, as pictured in our set-up instructions.
Leaving your tipi up over the winter without tending to it can cause snow to build up on the canvas. In wet climates, the snow gets heavy and will eventually stretch the canvas. The constant exposure to moisture will also cause the tipi to mold once the weather gets warmer. As much as possible, try to get snow off your tipi, especially around the bottom.
Also make frequent fires in your tipi, which will dry the canvas. For this, it is important that you remove the snow around the bottom of the tipi, so the air can flow underneath the bottom of the tipi and move up behind the liner. Dean in Canada left this tipi up all winter unattended and had mold issues in the spring. (He closed his smoke flaps well, though.) If you don’t have a choice and cannot take your tipi down if not in use in the winter, be sure to treat it every fall with 303 Fabric Guard to protect your canvas.
The most common set-up mistake is not to read and follow the set-up instructions. The second most common mistake is to leave the set-up to a self-proclaimed ‘expert’ who feels it is not necessary to read the set-up instructions. PLEASE – take the time to read the manual that comes with every tipi. You can also access it on our website: tipi set up instructions
One common oversight that new tipi owners make is forgetting to cut their smoke flap poles to the proper length. The proper length is 2ft longer than the stated size of your tipi. So, for an 18ft tipi, the two smoke flap poles should be cut to 20ft in length. For a 20ft tipi, the smoke flap pole length should be 22ft, etc. Choose the two thinnest poles for your smoke flap poles. Cut your two poles in such a manner that the small end that goes into the smoke flap pocket is 1.25” – 1.5” in diameter.
Here is one of those beautifully set up tipis, but the smoke flap poles are much too long … although we have to admit, Homer has taken great care of his lodge otherwise: He bought the tipi in 1983 and sent us the picture in 2009 -a 26 year old teepee.
Another mistake is not using smoke flap poles at all. This way the smoke flaps will lie on the canvas and create a damp, dark place where mold can easily thrive. Please use your smoke flap poles and also tie a 1/4" rope to the smoke flap loops to help hold them taut to the tie stake in front of the tipi.
There is a direct relationship between the way you care for your tipi and the years of enjoyment you will get out of it. With good care, you can get five to eight years or more out of one cover. On the contrary, if you set your tipi up on a piece of land, stay in it a few weekends in the fall and then come back to it in the spring, you might find that after two or three years, it looks old and worn. Here are the main factors that contribute to premature aging of your tipi cover:
Our tipi covers are made out of 100% cotton. They are treated with a Sunforger finish that includes a mold and mildew protector. With constant exposure to sun, wind, rain and snow, this treatment will wear off over time. A tipi left out in constant humidity might start molding after six months. If the tipi has the chance to dry out in between rains, it might take one to two years until the first signs of mold appear. Tipis in dryer climates may never mold. The tipi on the top of this page has been standing year-around at our shop in Central Oregon, a High Desert climate at 4000 ft altitude, for eight years now. We did not treat the canvas once it was set up. You can see discoloration from UV exposure on the south side, and some fading of the paint. The overall compromised integrity of the canvas creates the wrinkles and it is now time to replace this cover.
We recommend that in wet and humid climates, you re-treat the outer canvas with a protective finish once a year. The same applies for locations with high UV radiation; applying a protective finish each year will prolong the life of your canvas significantly. Below are some links and tips for the care of your tipi in the U.S. For our international teepee friends, we recommend that you do an Internet search in your language for fabric protection products that are used in the boating industry.
If mold has already formed, you first need to clean your canvas before applying the new protective finish. Here is what we recommend:
Before mold and mildew even appear, you can protect your canvas with Agua-Tite, a finish that makes your fabric highly water repellent, yet it is still breathable.
Locations above 3000 ft in elevation and places with a depleting ozone layer have very strong UV radiation that affects the fabric.
A very effective protective finish is 303 Fabric Guard, which will protect your canvas against UV radiation, oil based stains (bird droppings, tree sap), and impedes mildew formation. $85/gallon.
Sometimes tipis are left alone for months on a remote piece of property. When the owners come back for their weekend get-away, surprises can await them. It is not uncommon for tree branches to fall onto the canvas and rip it. With some foresight, this can be prevented by choosing the tipi location carefully and cutting branches that are dangerously close. Another surprise comes with roaming animals. We have heard of deer poking their antlers into the cover or stepping on it, bears ripping tipis apart because they smelled some food leftovers, or coyotes making their way through the door in pursuit of the chipmunks – not to mention havoc that rodents can cause. If you have rips in your tipi cover, send a picture to firstname.lastname@example.org and call us at 1-541-389.3980 to discuss the damage, we are happy to give advice and send you a repair kit.