Rainscreen Cladding System: Everything You Need to Know

Sadly, we are all too familiar with the British weather. With a combination of the whipping wind and the rain angling in (and perhaps even the sun if we’re lucky), the permanent state of flux between wet and dry can leave lasting damage on the fabric of buildings and structures. Add the disadvantage of wet exterior walls contributing to heat energy loss and it’s easy to see why rainscreen cladding systems have been widely used since the 1950s.

Many new buildings are built with a system in place, but re-cladding or overcladding is a common practice in the overhaul and refurbishment of existing buildings in need of a performance and aesthetic improvement.

A rainscreen cladding system has many principal functions: one of the less immediately obvious is its performance benefits.

The rear cavity between the reverse of the cladding panel and the exterior face of the building creates a permanently ventilated space. Fundamentally, the circulation of air forces any moisture in the cladding system away, before it permeates into the structure.

Damp, wet or saturated exterior walls result in a loss of heat energy just as our skin does when we sweat - the water evaporates, providing a cooling effect to the surface. This is great as a human to keep our core temperature level, but a building needs to retain heat in order to drive down energy costs.

Weather corrosion and the permanent movement between wet, damp, and dry conditions causes a dramatic decaying of the building composition. Masonry work can suffer from efflorescence, spalling and flaking, rendering the building unattractive and dilapidated.

Prevention of this decaying is the second major function of a rainscreen cladding system, providing aesthetic improvement and asset protection qualities.

Another is to completely renovate the look and feel of a structure. They now provide a valuable role in our modern architectural landscape by transforming new and old buildings.

A rainscreen cladding system incorporated onto an older building has the potential to portray it as an entirely new build, without the cost, disruption and energy required of one.

Modern cladding materials such back painted glass, ceramics and a myriad of metal finishes arm architects with a vast repertoire when producing stunning designs to stand out from the rest. Copper alloys, coloured stainless steels and dyed zinc metals all can provide a blend of modern and classic tones, some of which can remain timeless due to their patina effect.

The system relies on an aluminium frame situated within the cavity, anchored with brackets and primary fixings to the main structure. A thorough set of fixing solutions are available, and bespoke systems can be designed with the building lines in mind. The minimum cavity offset stands at 38mm to make certain the air flow creates the desired drainage and ventilation.

Condensation is managed effectively by the installation of a vapour permeable insulation and fabric membrane. This prevents the ‘suffocation’ of the building, and allows it to breathe healthily. Any moisture formed from the thermal mass of a structure is dissipated through the ventilated cavity.

Merging performance benefits, modern and flexible design improvements and minimal structural disruption, it’s easy to see why many architects are using a rainscreen cladding system to improve old - and design new - buildings. For buildings to equate to a success, they should look great in their environment and perform well - these systems offer exactly that with just a few simple adaptations.
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