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AIA CES class: The rainscreen approach to a better building envelope

AIA CES class: The rainscreen approach to a better building envelope

Building envelope expert Bradley Carmichael of Hoffmann Architects explains how rainscreen wall systems work and evaluates the effectiveness of various rain-control methods.

By Bradley Carmichael, PE, Project Engineer, Hoffmann Architects | January 28, 2016
Installation of a facade panel system that uses a rainscreen approach to control
Installation of a facade panel system that uses a rainscreen approach to control moisture in the building envelope. Photo: Hoffm
This article first appeared in the BD+C February 2013 issue of BD+C.


Most buildings rely on a limited set of strategies for keeping water out. This course describes the rainscreen approach, which has six elements: cladding, cavity, thermal layer (insulation), air barrier, moisture barrier, and supporting wall.

When properly designed and detailed, the rainscreen approach can protect the wall from moisture damage, even in climates prone to heavy rainfall. This is because the rainscreen approach does not depend on any one element to provide perfect waterproofing protection, but instead relies on a multi-component strategy.

Take this free AIA/CES course at BD+C University


Course Learning Objectives
Based on the information presented in this course, you should be able to:

  • Identify conditions that lead to water infiltration, as well as the forces by which water moves into buildings, so as to develop a comprehensive water management strategy that protects the building and enhances indoor environmental quality for occupants.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of various rain control methods, including mass walls, perfect barriers, and masonry veneers, and apply the rainscreen approach to enhance the performance and durability of the building envelope for improved IEQ and occupant health and welfare.
  • Explain how the multiple elements of a rainscreen wall system work in concert to manage moisture and extend the lifespan of building materials, while identifying potential sources of error and premature deterioration that must be dealt with to prevent degradation to indoor environmental quality and occupant/visitor health and welfare.
  • Explore the environmental and health implications of catastrophic exterior wall failure, using the examples of the Pacific Northwest condominium debacle, the failure of early EIFS cladding, and the subsequent improvement of EIFS systems.

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