Renting Inflatable Structures

There’s something about summer parties that lingers on in the memory long after the coolers have been emptied and the tiki torches extinguished. The combination of warm weather, longer days, and laughter always manages to take us back to childhood, when summer vacation meant unlimited freedom.

We like to make the most of our summer backyard get-togethers with an inflatable slide rental or bounce castle—or better yet, an inflatable water slide. It’s truly amazing how these inflatables can transform an ordinary gathering into an instant grand slam, especially for young kids. If you’re hosting a child’s summer birthday party, an inflatable slide will take the event to a whole new level.

Fun with inflatable bounce houses doesn’t have to be limited to the kids and birthday parties. We’ve found our adult guests enjoy them just as much, and bounce houses can add that something extra to events like Labor Day picnics.

If you’ve never rented an inflatable structure for a backyard party, we’re here to fill you in on all the pertinent details, from the planning stage to the particulars. We’ve weighed the pros and cons of purchasing your own versus renting for those of you who host summer events on a regular basis. Read on for the full skinny on how to rent a bounce house or inflatable slide—and delight your guests at your next gathering.

Understanding the Different Inflatable Structures

Before you decide which structure might be right for you, you should understand the difference between the most commonly rented inflatables.

Bounce Castle or House

When most people think of inflatable structures, bounce castles and houses leap—pun intended—immediately to mind. Usually constructed of PVC or heavy-duty vinyl, they feature four tall pillars (often shaped like turrets, if it’s the castle variety) and a flat, springy surface for bouncing. In essence, a bounce house is a fancy trampoline with extra eye appeal and fewer safety concerns (see Safety Tips, below). With a bounce castle like this one, kids can clamber in and out via a slide that’s composed of the same material as the rest of the structure.

You’ve probably seen a bounce castle or house at your local fair or neighborhood block party. What you might not have realized is that the event organizers likely rented the structure from a nearby retailer—and you can, too.

Inflatable Slide

This is a step up from the basic bounce house or castle—a tall blow up slide, sometimes with a water feature like this Little Tikes Slam Curve Slide. If you’re not sure whether you want the hassle of a water slide, most can be used dry or wet. These are a great choice if the weather forecast looks iffy for the day of your party—it’s completely up to you whether to fill the attached pool or not.

Inflatable Water Slide

In our opinion, the blow up water slide like this one is one of the single greatest inventions of all time. Who hasn’t dreamed of having their very own water slide right in their backyard? With an inflatable rental, you can make that dream come true, if only for an afternoon.

If you opt to go this route, make sure someone is available to keep an eye on younger kids at all times. Even though the pools aren’t very deep, accidents can happen faster than you might imagine. See Safety Tips below for more information.

Combo

Some structures offer the best of both worlds—an inflatable water slide and a bounce house all in one. They’re sometimes referred to as a “Sun’n’Splash Combo,” like this one from Banzai. These can be fun, but also very expensive (see Do your research, below, to learn more about rental costs). If the cost seems low, be sure to check the unit’s dimensions—it’s probably a tiny structure, suitable only for small children.

Ball Pit

A ball pit is exactly what it sounds like—a pit consisting of four walls containing a large number of round plastic balls. Little kids love to clambor around in ball pits, burying themselves in the small colorful spheres. Adults (at least the sober ones) tend to find ball pits less appealing probably due to the idea of little ones sneezing, coughing or otherwise soiling the plastic balls.

Ball pits are relatively inexpensive, so we recommend purchasing your own over renting if you have a more than a few tykes in your inner circle. Setup is easy, and it will pay for itself in no time. As a bonus, you won’t have to worry about disinfecting each individual ball, as you might be tempted to do with a rental.

Obstacle Course

Sprawling and complex, obstacle courses like this one represent the pinnacle of inflatable entertainment. With a variety of nooks, crannies, tunnels, climbing walls and hurdles, obstacle inflatables add an element of competition for all ages.
If you really want to get into the competitive spirit, consider setting up brackets for guests to compete. You could even invest in some place ribbons or trophies and turn your party into a “Field Day” event.

Be forewarned that inflatable obstacle courses are usually gigantic, which means you’ll need a large yard to set one up. Because they’re so large and complex, you can count on the price tag being higher, too. Finally, make sure to set aside enough time for the setup and takedown (see below), as obstacle course inflatables will take longer than any of the other aforementioned inflatables.

Pros and Cons of Renting Inflatable Structures

Pros:

  • Provides fun, eye-catching entertainment
  • Gives children and adults the opportunity to burn off energy during the party
  • Great form of exercise
  • Stress reliever
  • Can be used to foster team-building
  • Could provide a theme for the party

Cons:

  • Poses a safety hazard
  • Can be expensive, depending on the type of structure you decide to rent
  • Possible hygiene issues, especially with ball pits
  • Time constraints on the fun
  • Risk of existing damage when the structure arrives at your house

How To Rent an Inflatable Water Slide, Bounce House, or Ball Pit

1. Consider the guest list.

Before you decide to take the plunge (pun intended), determine whether your guests are at an appropriate age to safely play on an inflatable structure. Really little kids—say, 4 and under—would be better off in a smaller bounce house or ball pit. These are inexpensive enough that you might consider purchasing over renting (see Should I Rent or Buy? below). Older kids would be more impressed by an inflatable slide, especially if there’s a water feature included.

You will also need to consider the age range of your guests. While adults can go in most bounce houses, it can be dangerous for them to bounce at the same time as smaller kids. The weight discrepancy can cause smaller kids to bounce too high leading to injury. It might be a good idea to draft a list of safety rules beforehand and post it clearly in the vicinity of the inflatable, so that everyone can see them and understand.

2. Map out your zone.

Not all yards are cut out for the inflatable experience. You’ll need an area that’s both level and large enough to accommodate the footprint of the structure, ideally with no tall trees or other hindrances in the immediate vicinity. Most inflatables can be set up on either grass, asphalt, or concrete, but not mulch, gravel, mud, or sand. You should also clear the area to make sure there’s nothing sharp hidden beneath the grass.

One aspect to setting up an inflatable that we’ve sometimes overlooked (to our regret) is the power source. Your designated spot will need to be within 50 feet of a standard electrical outlet, so it can be blown up once it’s in place. The outlet can be inside the house, as long as you have an indoor/outdoor extension cord that’s long enough to get the job done. We prefer using an outdoor outlet whenever possible, but if that’s not an option for you, make sure to choose a spot that’s fairly close to the house.

Finally, remember that if the inflatable has a water feature, you’ll need to make sure there’s a hose and a working spigot within 50 feet as well. The last thing you want is to get the slide all set up, only to realize that you’ll have to lug buckets of water by hand in order to fill it.

3. Do your research.

Usually, a quick internet search will tell you how much local companies are charging for the rental of inflatable structures. The typical hourly rate for a bounce house is around $30 to $50 per hour, but some mom-and-pop outfits might charge slightly less. On the other hand, high-end, big-box companies can charge as much as $80 per hour. You can expect to spend more on complex structures like an inflatable water slides or obstacle courses.

Make sure you understand the length of the rental before you make a reservation. You will want to ensure you have the inflatable for the duration of your party. Many companies rent standard bounce houses in four-hour increments, but you can find some that allow you to keep the rental for the entire day.

To be safe, you should check out the company’s licensing and insurance information. Not all party suppliers are created equal, and you don’t want to rent from an outfit that might not adhere to basic safety regulations. For this reason, it’s a good idea to use a retailer you’ve worked with before, if that’s possible. If you’re completely new to party planning, ask friends or relatives if there are any local companies that they trust and recommend.

Essentially, it is a good idea to shop around before you make a final decision on your inflatable rental. Even in small communities, there can be large discrepancies in rental costs from company to company. One year, we were prepared to shell out over $500 for a water slide rental, only to find out that a nearby party supplier was offering a similar model for just $300. It pays to be flexible and to check out all your available options.

Choosing the Best Inflatable Bounce House or Water Slide

Now that you know the difference between a standard bounce house, slide, water slide and obstacle course inflatables, it’s time to further narrow down your choices. There are inflatables available in nearly all themes, with different characters and loads of bright, cheerful colors. As we mentioned, do your research, you aren’t bound to choosing the first inflatable that catches your eye. There might be a better option available from another retailer.

Consider the criteria you used when initially deciding what type of structure to rent. Are you simply looking to amuse young party-goers, or would you prefer a sturdier model that guests of all ages can enjoy? For the wee ones, opt for a flashy but smaller inflatable—maybe with a pirate ship theme, animals or princess castle. We’ve even seen water slides that come with a large inflatable monkey hanging out on top. If you’re trying to entertain older guests, opt for a more mature theme—a tropical water slide or a traditional, yet colorful bounce house.

No matter what type you choose, an inflatable structure in your yard or driveway is eye-catching. Be prepared for neighbors and passersby to approach and make jovial comments. In fact, you might want to have extra food and drink on hand. You never know how many people might turn up to find out what the special occasion is!

Setting Up the Inflatable Structure

Once you’ve found an area of your yard that’s suitable for setup, make sure to clear it of all debris. Obviously sharp objects like rocks and sticks are capable of damaging the inflatable, but you also want to steer clear of setting up atop things like toys and animal droppings. It is also important to make sure there are no low-hanging powerlines or tree branches in the vicinity.

We recommend laying a tarp down before the company arrives with your inflatable structure. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it provides a spot for people to take off their shoes before entering the inflatable. This keeps debris inside the bounce house to a minimum.

If you are renting an inflatable, the company should take care of the set up. However, this isn’t always the case, so then you must place the yet-to-be inflated structure atop the tarp making sure the entrance and slide, if applicable, are in convenient locations. It would be quite awkward if your entrance or slide ended up directly next to your fence. You will also need to make sure there is enough room if your inflatable has a pool.

Locate the inflatable tube and use it to hook up the blower. Next, find the zipper on the back of the structure and make sure that it’s closed. Otherwise, the air will simply blow out the other end.

Plug the blower’s cord into your designated outlet. Make sure your cord isn’t a trip hazard to other members of the household while you’re working on the set up. Once you’ve determined that the zipper is secure, switch on the blower. The structure should inflate within minutes, but expect oversized water slides or obstacle courses to take longer.

When the structure has fully inflated, we recommend using steel stakes to secure it to the ground. You might want to check with the company in advance to determine whether these are included with the rental, or if you’ll need to buy your own. Since kids will probably be running around the structure, the stakes and tie-down lines should be inconspicuous to avoid tripping and injuries. Sandbags and cement blocks can sometimes be useful alternatives to stakes.

Different inflatables may require additional steps at this point. Fill water slides with water once inflated. Since hose water can be glacially cold even in the dead of summer, filling up before your gathering is highly recommended. Likewise, obstacle courses could include some extra attachments such as knotted ropes or grommets for climbing walls. Always double check with the inflatable supplier before they leave to make sure you have everything.

Takedown

Ideally, your party will be over prior to having to take down the inflatable, but this isn’t always the case. This is one difference between renting and buying an inflatable: taking down the structure and returning it or taking it down and storing it. Fortunately, taking down your inflatable doesn’t take long, especially if you know what you’re doing. Essentially, you will need to reverse your set up steps.

First, be certain the structure is empty of people and any toys. Then, turn off and unplug the blower. The bounce house will begin to collapse to the ground, so stay back.

Once collapsed, remove the blower tube and open the zipper at the rear of the structure. You will need to help push the remaining air out of the inflatable. This can be accomplished by walking along the surface of the inflatable. The kids will enjoy helping with this task, making it easier for you.
The next step is to fold the structure as you might fold a quilt, section by section while pressing the air out with every fold. Pull out the inflatable tube when you reach it. The side opposite the blower tube should have an end fold that lines up with the side that holds the deflation zipper. Once this fold has been made, the last third of the structure can be folded over to meet the opposite side.

You should now have a long, narrow structure that can be rolled up like a sleeping bag. Start rolling from the end opposite the inflatable tube opening. This will allow you to continue to push the air out as you roll. Once you’ve rolled it up, tie down the straps to secure the package.

The deflated structure is now ready for transport. Don’t be a hero and attempt to move it by hand. It’s super heavy, and you might damage the material by dragging it across the ground. The rental company should have all the equipment they need to transfer the unit safely. If you’ve opted to buy a bounce house or inflatable water slide instead of renting it, you should also invest in a hand truck or similar device for transporting the structure.

Tips and Tricks

Safety Tips

  • Check the rental company’s reviews to determine whether they’re reputable. Low-rated outfits might not take care of their structures properly, which could potentially put you and your guests in danger.
  • Ensure that your power source and water supply are equipped to handle the unit.
  • Keep an eye on the weather, and call kids off the structure if there’s a storm approaching.
  • Make sure young children have adult supervision at all times.
  • Don’t allow small children and adults to bounce at the same time.
  • Keep all children and adults away from the structure as it deflates.
  • Make sure that neither the power cord nor the anchoring devices present tripping hazards.

How To Keep Your Grass Green

The first time we set up a bounce castle, we were mortified at what it did to our lawn. It was totally worth it, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat, but it inspired us to look into steps we could take to keep our grass from becoming a casualty of our good time.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the pressure of the bouncing itself that kills the grass—it’s the heat. Since bounce houses and similar structures are usually set up on hot summer days, the heat from the sun gets trapped beneath them, thereby burning the vegetation below. As you might imagine, using a dark-colored tarp, as we’ve recommended, only exacerbates the problem.

You can alleviate the issue somewhat by putting up your inflatable structure earlier or later in the day. Because the sun is at its peak between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, the temperatures are more likely to destroy the grass during this period. Putting the unit in a shadier spot—say, in the shadow of a house or barn—might also keep the grass from suffering too much damage. Whatever you do, be sure to remove the tarp from your lawn as soon as the structure has been deflated.

If you do end up with fried brown grass after your day of bouncing, don’t despair. We’ve found that the grass perks up quickly enough after a couple of days of heavy watering and a boost of fertilizer. Even so, we try to keep the structure in an area of the yard that doesn’t ordinarily see a lot of traffic. If you go this route, take extra care to make sure the kids are well-supervised during play.

Should I Rent or Buy?

While renting an inflatable structure can be a great option for first-timers, you might want to look into purchasing one for the long haul. Here are a few of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether to rent or buy.

Theme

As we’ve determined, there are plenty of options out there when it comes to bounce house themes. When you’re buying an inflatable, it’s essential to choose a model that the family won’t tire of in a year or two. If you’re having a hard time narrowing it down, make it a group decision by allowing each family member to vote on their favorite.

Age

If you’re looking for a basic inflatable or ball pit for young children, you can probably find a great deal online like with this one from Amazon. The cost might be only slightly higher than what you’d spend on a daily rental, meaning the unit could pay for itself in as few as two or three uses. If you can see yourself using an inflatable for more than one occasion, purchasing one only makes sense.

On the other end of the spectrum, large industrial-style models could still end up costing less to buy if they’re used often enough. If you want the structure to be enjoyed by older children and adults, you should look into one of these more sophisticated versions. Since they cost a great deal more—usually in the four-figure range—it will take you longer to recoup your investment, they can last a lifetime with the proper care.

Portability

When you own a bounce castle, you’ll be able to bring it with you if another friend or family member happens to be hosting a party. Remember, the more use you get out of it, the more worthwhile your investment will be.

Potential Income

Even though the initial cost might seem staggering, don’t overlook the possibility of starting a side business with your inflatable unit. If you decide to buy instead of rent, you might consider renting it to your friends, family, and neighbors when you’re not using it. As we mentioned earlier, these are eye-catching structures that garner a great deal of attention, giving you a built-in opportunity to attract potential customers.

As with any business, especially one that involves potential liability issues, you’ll want to check with your state and municipal agencies about licensing and certification requirements. The Inflatable Safety Institute offers loads of valuable information if starting an inflatable rental side gig sounds appealing. You will also need to let your insurance company know that you plan to rent out your inflatable as additional coverage might be required.

Potential for a Future Sale

Don’t forget that even if you own the unit, you can always sell it at some point down the road. That means that even after you’ve recouped your initial investment, you can liquidate the asset into cold hard cash.

In Conclusion

Anyone who’s ever taken a turn on a bounce house or inflatable water slide can tell you how much fun they are. They are colorful and entertaining even for adults. Whether you’re renting a basic ball pit for young kids or investing in a 25-foot water slide that the whole family can enjoy, the rewards will be well worth the effort involved.

Although they cost a bit more and require more effort, we’d recommend going the water slide route, especially if it’s your first time. Not only do they provide a great way to cool off on a hot summer day, but they also tend to keep kids busy for longer periods of time than basic bounce houses do. Even adults who aren’t interested in splish-splashing down the slide can relax on the sidelines with a cold beverage and their feet in the water.

As we learned when we were younger, summer only lasts so long. However, the memories we’ve gathered through hours of bouncing, sliding, and diving headfirst down inflatable slides will stay with us forever. If you want to give your closest friends and family a taste of these experiences, you should look into renting or buying an inflatable structure for your next backyard gathering.

Cheers!