The Difference Between Rainscreen Cladding & Curtain Walling

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Peter Overton
WRITTEN BY
PETER OVERTON

Accompanied by over 30 years of experience within the external construction sector, my skill set extends to many areas.

Rainscreen cladding and curtain walling appear to be similar, if not the same thing, but what’s the truth? Are they the same thing, or are there differences which make them suitable for different types of projects? In this article, we answer this question and more so that you feel confident when purchasing rainscreen cladding or curtain walling.

So, what is the difference between rainscreen cladding and curtain walling? Rainscreen cladding and curtain walling are very similar, and offer similar benefits (moisture and UV protection, as well as thermal insulation), however, the main difference is that curtain walling envelops the whole building, whereas rainscreen cladding is only the outermost protective layer.

Read on to learn more about the differences between rainscreen cladding systems and curtain wall systems.

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What is the Difference Between Rainscreen Cladding & Curtain Walling?

There is very little difference between rainscreen cladding and curtain walling, both systems work to keep water out and prevent moisture from penetrating the building walls, whilst also offering other benefits such as thermal insulation and UV protection. 

The main difference between the two is that curtain wall systems usually envelop the whole building, whereas rainscreen cladding systems are just the outermost protective layer. 

This doesn’t mean that a curtain wall system is more beneficial than just a rainscreen cladding system. The ultimate decision should be based upon specific design and functional requirements, as well as climate conditions.

What is a Rainscreen Cladding System?

A rainscreen cladding system, installed with a rainscreen support system, is a type of external cladding that delivers on two needs; aesthetic/design, and protection from the elements.  


Whilst looking like regular cladding, or a curtain wall system, rainscreen cladding systems have the additional benefits of protecting the building from the moisture of rain, snow, and ice, and adds an extra layer of insulation which should deliver improved thermal performance. What’s more, a rainscreen cladding system can also offer enhanced shading and UV protection.

How Does a Rainscreen Work?

Rainscreen cladding systems are multi-layer, high-performance assemblies which feature an outer cladding layer, a cavity, and an air and vapour barrier. 

The outer cladding layer is primarily concerned with protecting against water penetration, and aesthetic design. It is often referred to as a “rainscreen”. This layer takes the brunt of weather conditions, and is designed to protect against the majority of water that strikes it, however, it is not effective without the cavity and vapour barrier. 

The cavity layer is a well-ventilated air cavity that is essential to the performance of the entire rainscreen system. Air circulates through the cavity, picking up any moisture and venting it outside, as well as deterring moisture away from the air and vapour barrier. This cavity should be a minimum of 20-50mm deep, and metal flashing must be installed for the system to work properly. 

The air and vapour barrier is the final layer of the rainscreen cladding system, and prevents any moisture from penetrating the building walls. For this to work sufficiently, you must ensure that any holes and punctures are well sealed. 

Full cladding system

What is a Curtain Walling System?

A curtain wall is usually described as a thin, aluminium-framed wall that contains panels of glass, metal, or thin stone. 

Curtain wall systems are non-structural cladding systems that are typically used on large, multi-story buildings. They are not load-bearing, except for that of their own weight but do offer some thermal and weather protection.

There are two categories of curtain walling; stick systems and unitised/modular systems. In stick systems, the frame and panels are installed piece by piece, whereas in a unitised/modular system, the curtain wall is made up of large panels that are assembled and glazed in the factory, before being installed on the building. 

There are also three different system types of curtain wall systems to consider; face-sealed, pressure equalised, and water managed.

Face-sealed curtain wall systems tend to be considered as the least reliable option as they depend on continuous, perfect seals between panels and the frame. Long-term reliability is unlikely to be achieved. 

A pressure equalised system is often considered the most reliable and functions by blocking all of the forces that can drive water and moisture across the barrier. Between the exterior rain screen and the interior air barrier a pressure-equalization chamber is formed, which serves to reduce water penetration by equalising the pressure difference across the rain screen.

Water managed systems are similar to pressure equalised systems. They incorporate drains and weeps from the glazing pocket, however, no effort is made to create an air barrier. Therefore, a larger amount of water is forced into the system, which is then weeped away. 

Cladding and Rainscreen Support Systems at Kladworx

Kladworx are cladding specialists, offering both quality A class cladding and rainscreen support systems that will help you to elevate the design and functionality of your project

All of our products here at Kladworx are specially curated by our experienced team for exceptional quality. Because of this, when you buy with us, you can be confident in the materials you use.

Need help with your external construction project?

We are suppliers of some of the most bespoke aluminium and uPVC systems on the market. With over 30 years of experience within the external construction sector, it leaves us well placed to offer our advice on the many different systems on the market

See some of our recent work, or get in touch with us today for a free, no obligation quote.

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