Through the years, I have done a number of at home weddings. Those weddings that take place at the couple's house, a relative's house, or maybe just a piece of property of someone they know. Their is something special about them. They can feel a little more intimate and one may not have some of the restrictions that one would have at a typical wedding venue. However, there are concerns and logistics to consider when planning a wedding on private property. Here I created a list of those things to figure out if you are leaning towards your own at home celebration. Along the way I will share some pictures of some of the weddings I have done through the years that took place outdoors.
Please know these are all at home weddings in the sense of them being outside, under a tent. I have done a few where the property had a barn or building to use on the private property, but that is not typical. Also this is geared at weddings, but these suggestions may apply to other similar occasions.
The first thing is to confirm you have a large enough outdoor space for a tent that will hold your total number of guests. Typically you want an area that is flat and open. That means you don't have things like trees or telephone poles that may get in the way of a tent. Take a tape measurement to get some rough estimates. However, still talk to an expert before you continue or book anything. Contact a local rental company that specializes in tent rentals and have them come view the property. They will know more and can guide you if the space will work, and how big of a tent you can fit.
I know some may be thinking, I don't want or need a tent. I want an all outdoor wedding! Don't get me wrong I've seen pictures of stunning outdoor events held under trees with string lights. I would love to do something like that! Unless you are reading this from paradise where it never rains and is always 70 degrees, the weather is unpredictable. That bodes especially true for us in Pennsylvania. As I write this post, we just had a heavy downpour of rain, that lasted about 20 minutes. The forecast yesterday, said there would be no rain.
Not only protection from rain, tents can offer your guests shade on a hot summer day. Please note that a tent rental for most rental companies is non-refundable. You may think I will put one on reserve just in case of bad weather, and then cancel it if not needed. Well you can do that, but you will still be paying full price for it. If you are thinking, I'll hold off until closer time; just know that can backfire as well. Tent rentals can book way in advance and be hard to get last minute. Bottom line, just rent the darn tent!
Pictures below are from a wedding at the bride's parents house. The weather was nice, so ceremony was in the yard . The second picture was taken of the tent where the reception was held.
Local Laws and Neighbors
Next please make sure you look into local laws surrounding at home events. Double check if you need any sort of permit, or other laws that could affect the day. The biggest thing is to look into noise ordinances. Wedding can be loud, especially when the music and dancing starts. See if there are times where loud noises must cease. Most cities or townships have these and even some wedding venues have to follow these rules.
If anyone is going to call the police on your celebration that day, chances are it will be a a neighbor. Make sure to alert any neighbors well in advance about the wedding. Share with them the expected start and ending time so they can be prepared. Some clients have even invited the neighbors as guests, or told them to stop by after dinner for dancing and drinks.
Parking and Accessibility
Make sure you have a spot where guests an park their cars. Many couples arrange shuttle service these days for their guests. Typically its out of town guests and to and from the hotel. Even with that, chances are good that there will still be people who need to drive themselves. I recommend testing out any parking area to get an idea of how many cars can fit and if you foresee issues in cars getting stuck. Like a dirt field with lots of dips, that gets super muddy in the rain may not be a god idea.
Parking along the street in a more residential area can also be problematic and cause issues with your neighbors. Again look into local laws and talk to your neighbors. Don't forget, your vendors need a place to park. Some, like your caterer, usually need to be pretty close to the tent location for ease of moving food around. Others, just may need a spot to unload their equipment and then can move their vehicles.
Think about the accessibility of all your wedding locations. If the parking area is a good distance from the festivities; I would rent golf carts or something similar to shuttle guests around. Don't make your guests hike up a steep mountain, or walk a mile to reach the reception. Be especially mindful of older or disabled guests. Even a small hills can be a challenge to some. You can have a gorgeous wedding with fabulous food and entertainment. However, if you make your guests get an unexpected workout, that will be all they remember about your wedding.
Guest will need to use the restroom and need a place to wash their hands. Unless you are having a small event, (think less than 30 people) I recommend renting a restroom. If you have a house on the property save the indoor bathrooms for the bridal party or immediate family. If you let anyone use the house bathroom you risk things like clogged toilets, septic tank issues, damage to the house, and household items disappearing.
The most cost effective portable restroom is the typical outhouse and those separate hand wash stations. Don't worry they come clean and unused! If that is not appealing there are really nice restroom trailers that you can rent. Those are like a traditional restroom and some are nicer than the bathroom in my house. Some of those trailers need a water source, and some can come with a prefilled tank. Same thing with electric. Some come with a generator and some need to be plugged into a power source. Just make sure you know which you are getting ahead of time. If its self-sufficient (meaning water tank and generator) make sure they are aware of how many will be using the facilities and how long it may last. I've had issues with both running out.
That brings me to the next big thing, utilities. Its not just portable restrooms you have to think about when it comes to electric and water. Caterer's typically need a water source for to prepare, server, and clean up the food.
Electricity. Chances are the event will go into the night and if that is the case you will need to make sure the any area a guest may be is well lit. You don't want someone hurting themselves on your property cause they can't see. Typically a band, DJ, or photobooth needs electricity as well. Their equipment can sometimes require more power than your every day outlet. Make sure you talk with them ahead of time about their needs. Most couple's will look into generators as they don't want to risk running electricity from their houses. Though some have done it successfully from an building on the property. I'm no expert on electricity, I would recommend talking to an electrician ahead of time. Get the info your vendors need and share it with them to make sure it will work.
Garbage is often overlooked. Events can produce a lot of trash. Make sure you have plenty of trash cans around and get the heavy duty garbage bags. Make sure you have someone who will keep an eye on changing the bags and a central location to place a full bag. Most couple's will rent a dumpster. If not a dumpster, keep in mind the collection location for the full bags. If outside (especially in the country), animals can be a concern if left out overnight.
Finally, don't forget about storage for things that need to be kept cold. Some things like certain alcohol and food items need to be kept chilled until needed. Ice is a big one at any wedding, especially if you are getting married outside in the summer. You are going to needs lots of it, so if its not provided by a vendor you hire, make sure you have a place to put. I had couple one time clear out the family deep freezer and fill it with bags of ice. There are also portable freezers an refrigerators you can rent.
Included this picture below from a tent wedding I did. You can see lots of seating outside the tent but tables under the tent. Also note the ice storage.
As mentioned with the tent, weather is unpredictable. When renting a tent, also rent sides panels to help protect from things like rain and wind. Just know that they can't 100% prevent weather from getting in the tent and affecting things. Wind can still make movement, so you may want to not have guest tables directly up against the walls. Rain may not be hitting the tent directly but that moisture will get in and make the ground wet. I've seen it happen all the time. One couple had some area rugs put down to help. They got muddy as well but it did help. I also recommend having umbrella's handy for guests to use if its raining.
This couple didn't let rain ruin their outdoor wedding and had umbrella's like these available for guests. Picture by Savita Sittler Photography.
If its the middle of summer plan for heat. Have lots of water handy and consider investing in some electric fans to place around the rent. Get some hand held fans and put in a basket for guests, or do a fan wedding program. In spring and fall, the temperature can drop once the sun goes down. Most rental companies have the heaters you can rent. Also look into having blankets or hand warmers for your guests. I also find when the weather is cold hot drinks such as coffee and cocoa are super popular.
Picture below of a space heater, note all the lights as well. Photos also by Savita Sittler Photography.
This couple for their outdoor summer wedding had koozies as favors. One was placed at each seat for guests to help keep their drinks chilled.
Make sure your guests are aware that things will be outside as well. Whether you tell them verbally, put it on a wedding website, or an information card with the invite. Giving them a head's up so they can be prepared. Just say something along the lines, "The reception will be held under a tent outside. Please plan accordingly for the weather."
Most wedding venues require some sort of event liability insurance and I strongly recommend you get it for your wedding. Talk to your insurance agent to see what your home owners may already cover. Keep in mind you are going to have people on your property where you could held liable should they injure themselves. To help avoid that, inspect the entire grounds carefully for safety hazards. Look for small unexpected holes, ditches, rocks, etc.; anything that someone cause someone to fall. Try to address any potential hazards that you can in advance. If there are hazards that can't be easily fixed make sure they are blocked off and put up warning signs.
Picture below from J&A Photo. Consider renting a dance floor like this couple. It will give your guests a smooth surface for dancing.
Don't forget liquor liability if you are serving alcohol. If you hire a certified bartender most come with this insurance, but look into protecting yourself.
Final thing, some thing that an at home wedding can save them money. In some cases that is true and in some case that is not. Depending on what all you have to rent and bring to the site, it sometimes ends up costing more.
If you are considering a wedding at home, I say its worth exploring. They can be a lot of fun. I hope this list didn't deter you, as most of these concerns are usually easily addressed. Just make sure you are covering your bases!
One final picture, an advantage to the outdoor setting, was this bride and groom got to make a fun entrance!