What materials can be used on rainscreen cladding systems?

Rainscreen cladding is installed to protect a building’s walls from moisture and other damage-causing environmental elements.

In a nutshell: 

  • Aluminium is the most popular material for rainscreen cladding
  • Aluminium is strong and lightweight, non-combustible and sustainable – and easily applied with coloured coatings
  • Wood has aesthetic qualities but is expensive, labour intensive to install and requires specialist treatments
  • Other metals, such as zinc, steel and copper, as well as terracotta, fibre cement, stone and glass are also used for rainscreen cladding
  • Talk to a rainscreen cladding specialist about the many options

It’s also increasingly popular due to its ability to transform the aesthetic of a new or existing building. Look around our towns and cities, and the design possibilities seem endless. But when it comes to selecting the right material for a rainscreen cladding project, where do you start?

At first glance, it looks like aluminium all the way – but there are lots of other options.

Aluminium rainscreens

Aluminium rainscreen cladding is seen as the go-to material by architects. Not only has it got limited environmental impact, it also offers excellent strength-to-weight-ratio and corrosion resistance – and is classified as non-combustible. It offers endless possibilities for coloured powder-coating and anodising, helping architects stamp their unique design mark on our urban landscape.

Terracotta cladding

Think pottery workshops on a giant scale. Terracotta panels are created by pressing or extruding clay, and then firing it. If desired, the panels can be glazed and fired again. As a result, panels can come in a range of dimensions, patterns and textures – but at a cost. They’re also heavy and require robust brackets and fixings to anchor them to the building. 

Fibre cement panels

Fibre cement is a composite material made from cement, cellulose and mineral materials, reinforced by a visible matrix. It’s lightweight and cost-effective and offers high levels of fire, acoustic and thermal performance. A wide range of colours and textures are available

Ceramics, stone and glass

Stone is associated with traditional city buildings but is also available as thin ‘tiles’ or lightweight rainscreen panels to blend in (it’s even possible to have thin panels with hidden fixings that look like brick). As an alternative, ceramic granite is a hard-wearing cladding material that looks like stone. Coloured and patterned glass is increasingly popular and can weatherproof buildings while still allowing natural light.

Timber rainscreens

While the natural look of western red cedar, Siberian larch, accoya or American white oak may suit some situations, it won’t always provide the sleek finish some architects desire. Prices are also rising sharply, and timber is heavy - making it more labour intensive and expensive to install. It also needs specialist treatment to extend its life (increasing the cost further) and won’t ever have a fire rating of higher than A2.

Other metals

Zinc, steel and copper are becoming increasingly common. Zinc is extremely durable, and is resistant to UV but is often associated with agricultural buildings. Stainless steel is expensive, while galvanised steel can offer an interesting aesthetic. However, for a Corten effect, why not consider a specialist (and cheaper) powder-coating that makes aluminium look like rusted steel?

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