The external appearance of rainscreen systems and insulated panels can look very similar once installed. There are, however, significant differences in the design, fixing and functional performance of both options.  This blog aims to help clarify the difference between the two.

What is a ‘rainscreen’ façade?

A rainscreen façade is what it sounds like – it is a non-structural, aesthetic layer or thin panel on the outer skin of the building that protects everything inside it from the external weather elements. These panels can be made of a wide range of materials, including metal (eg. aluminium, steel, zinc), timber, glass, ceramic, laminates, and composite panels.

There are three distinct main elements to a rainscreen cladding system as a whole:

  • the protective outer skin (which is the rainscreen façade);
  • a supporting frame on which the outer skin is structurally fixed;
  • and water-resistant internal materials which includes a layer of insulation and a vapour barrier.

A key feature of rainscreen systems is the cavity between the inner and outer layers. This is designed to prevent moisture from entering the main building structure by ventilating the cavity.

The various Polyethylene (PE) cored Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) systems being tested by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) during July and August 2017, sometimes also referred to as an Aluminium Composite Panel (ACP) are not ‘insulated panels’. PE is included to provide strength and rigidity to the ACM and is not designed for, nor does it offer any, insulation properties.

What is an insulated panel?

Metal-faced insulated panels, sometimes called ‘composite’ or ‘sandwich panels’, can have a very similar aesthetic appearance to rainscreen façade systems when viewed from the external facing façade. However, unlike the built-up construction of a rainscreen façade cladding system, insulated panels are robust, factory engineered products that are fixed directly to the structural frame. There is no cavity within this solid, single unit design.

Insulated panels manufactured by EPIC members feature a thermosetting rigid insulation core which is auto-adhesively bonded to the metal facings to provide a strong, durable unit. In addition, all insulated panels produced by EPIC member companies can meet the rigorous testing of the insurance industry fire performance standards Loss Prevention Standard LPS 1181 and/or Factory Mutual FM 4880/4881/4471 which can provide performance over and above the requirements of UK Building Regulations.

Insulated panels have been used to clad buildings for over 40 years and are regularly used in the retail, leisure, education and health sectors. They are one of the most widely-tested and thoroughly-researched construction products available, and are provided to specifiers, designers/engineers and architects with extensive independent technical literature and test results proving their fire performance. As such, they can be, and are, specified worldwide with confidence.

You can read more about working with insulated panels via the benefits of insulated panels page.

To download our free guides, visit our guides page.