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Fa<;ade Engineer, WS Atkins, Epsom


A well designed and maintained building will retain its capital value and potentially
have little effect on its whole-life performance and cost. The various components of its
construction play a part in achieving this end and they are all expected to perform their
specified tasks for all of their design life.

New construction is only complete and looking its best once the fa<;ade is in place.
However, in order for it to perform and look its best for all of its design life, it needs to
be durable, particularly the various finishes found on the fa<;ade. That is what the
public sees and which is an advertisement for its owner and occupants.

But more importantly, the owner can be subjected to unforeseen and often high cost for
maintaining his fa<;ade because of poor decisions taken at the start of the project with
respect to finishes, compounded by weak specifications and unsatisfactory practices.

This paper will attempt to highlight some of the pitfalls to avoid and help pave the way
to achieve a durable finish to facades and other elements throughout the whole-life
performance ofthe fa<;ade.


The design life of a cladding component is considered in BS 5427:1996, and anticipates

that maintenance of components will occur in stages from between a short life of2-5
years to a very long life of 20-50 years

The standard allows other intended maintenance or design lives to be agreed between
the different parties to the work, and does not necessarily require the component to have
the same design life as the structure.

A broader commentary on design life is given in BS 7543:1992: A Guide to the

Durability of Buildings and Building Elements, Products and Components. This
standard is intended to stimulate serious thought by a client on his expectations from a
building, and to enable the designer to meet the client's requirements more closely. The
design lives it identifies for buildings in general and components in those buildings are
defined in the standard.

It is generally accepted that a wide range of products are available which can meet the
shorter life requirement and only the more reputable products, coupled with good
design, can achieve the long term requirement.


In order for the finish to be durable, one needs to identify the various constituents and
processes of finishes. They comprise the following:

Transport, Storage & Protection


This is probably the starting point of most issues related to the overall durability of
finishes. In a number of instances substrates do not require a finish. These materials
generally include aluminium, stainless steel, copper, lead, aluminium- bronze, titanium
etc. Many of these materials can look attractive in their natural state, such as copper,
and its acquired patina. Stainless steel too is becoming more common, such as used on
the Canary Wharf Tower.

When such materials are used, they require care and attention in design and after care.
StMary's Hospital on the Isle of Wight was clad in stainless steel, most of which had to
be replaced completely at considerable cost because of corrosion and staining due to
poor design.

The much acclaimed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which is clad in titanium, is

stained in places because of impurities on the surface and which were not removed

Titanium cladding on the Guggenheim museum

Many of these materials are susceptible to degradation well within their design life if
not correctly specified. The main problem is corrosion. Corrosion and its deleterious
effects is a subject in its own right and cannot be discussed in great detail here.
However, some key issues should be noted about corrosion and its causes ..

Frequently, the different types of corrosion typical of different metals and alloys do not
develop separately but are interdependent in a complex way. It is often impossible to
determine the nature of the interaction between various metals and electrolytes, which
are influenced by the environment and its degree of pollution. The corrosion of metals
is a highly differentiated field of science that is best left to experts in that field.
However, knowledge of corrosion is constantly improving and biochemical corrosion,
which was unknown only a few years ago, proves this.

Types of Corrosion
What is corrosion? Corrosion is the reaction of a material with its environment that
causes a measurable alteration of the material which in tum leads to damage of the
material itself.

As corrosion is a major cause of failure of finishes, some basic understanding of the

subject is useful in avoiding it. The various manifestations of corrosion are categorised
in different ways, some of which are as follows:

General corrosion (oxygen type)

Galvanic corrosion (hydrogen type)
Chemical corrosion
Biochemical corrosion
Corrosion by aeration cells
Localised corrosion (pitting)
Intergranular corrosion
Stress corrosion cracking
Erosion corrosion
Sea water corrosion
and many more

The corrosion mechanisms are the same for many types of corrosion even though the
circumstances may vary. Durability of finishes is greatly enhanced by designing out
these causes of corrosion by good practice and attention to detail.
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Corrosion protection

Steel Substrates

Steel requires protection if durability is to be assured. Galvanising is one of the most

economic and versatile options. The type, thickness and method of application are

Gotvanlzed coating. specified mlnimum weight. g /m 2

Specified minimum thickness. i-Jrn

Galvanised coatings

Galvanised substrates can provide a tough and durable finish which is resistant to
accidental damage but susceptible to corrosion if the underlying steel is badly exposed.

There are various methods of galvanising, some of which are as follows:

Hot Dip Galvanising

Steel destined for external use should be hot dip galvanised for long term corrosion
protection. It is recommended that all imperfections are removed so that the component
is presented to the galvaniser in the best possible condition to receive the final finish.
Any scale and deposits trapped in the coatings can precipitate premature failure of the


This process involves the electrolytic application of zinc to mild steel substrate,
primarily in sheet form. The average thickness is generally 2-3 microns only and the
surface appearance is smooth by comparison to that ofhot dip galvanising. Adhesion
of coatings to this substrate is difficult and is not generally recommended.


Zinc is applied in molten state to coiled steel. Following the zinc application the coil is
rolled to produce a uniform surface which is much smoother than its hot dipped

In common with hot dip galvanised and electrogalvanising, adhesion is difficult due to
the variable nature of this substrate.

Zinc Spray

Whilst this substrate can be coated, the porous nature of the zinc spray prevents a
visually acceptable appearance and is not generally recommended for powder coating

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is regarded by many as a panacea for problems that affect durability.
This is not necessarily so. A better understanding of its behaviour and weaknesses is
important to avoid pitfalls.

Corrosion on stainless steel

Stainless steels are iron alloys containing a minimum of approximately 12% chromium.
The chromium prevents stains from developing in unpolluted atmospheres. Hence the
popular name 'stainless steel'. Today there exist more than 200 different types of alloys
that can be classified as stainless steels.

Stainless steels can be divided into three groups:

a) Austenitic stainless steels

Austenitic stainless steels contain nickel (or alternatively, manganese or manganese and
nitrogen) and chromium in prescribed quantities. Other elements like molybdenum and
titanium are added to certain alloys in order to improve their corrosion resistance.

Austenitic stainless alloys are generally acknowledged to offer the highest corrosion
resistance in industrial atmospheres and acidic environments. The best known and
most frequently used stainless steel is 304 and contains 18 to 20% chromium and 8 to
10.5% nickel. This steel alloy unites good corrosion resistance with processing
properties that permit good results even though they require special techniques.

b) Ferri tic stainless steels

Ferritic stainless steels contain at least 12% chromium with less than 0.1% carbon. The
higher the chromium content the greater the resistance to corrosion. Alloys with a
chromium content of up to 30% are available. Ferritic stainless steels are considerably
less ductile than austenitic steels and are susceptible to brittleness.

c) Martensitic stainless steels

Martensitic stainless steel alloys contain the minimum chromium content required for
developing a passivating layer in humid air, ie 12% chromium. A higher chromium
content would lead to ferrite formation and would make it impossible to harden the
steel. If nickel was added to the alloy the resulting formation of austenite would lead to
the same effect as a higher chromium content. This restriction with regard to the
chromium and nickel contents leads to insufficient corrosion resistance. In order to
obtain extreme hardness values of these steels, carbon is added which further worsens
their resistance to corrosion. However, their corrosion resistance is not sufficient for
the production of substrates exposed to atmospheric influence.

Corrosion of stainless steels

The good corrosion resistance of stainless steels is to be traced back to their capacity to
develop passivating layers. The development of these layers is a very complex process
but generally means that under certain conditions a metal or a metal alloy loses its
chemical reactivity and behaves like a noble metal. During this passive state the metal
is covered with a very thin, invisible chrome-rich metal oxide film that is produced
when the metal reacts with the atmosphere surrounding it. Under the precondition that
this film is neither water-soluble nor mechanically unstable, the metal oxide forms a
protecting layer between the metal and its environment.

This property of passivation is the strength and at the same time, the weakness of
stainless steel. In most cases passivation provides an excellent resistance to corrosion.
However, when oxygen is deprived in areas such as below gaskets, crevices, paint, etc
the passivation collapses locally and very small anodic surfaces are then attacked

heavily by corrosion. Grade 316L, which has a higher molybdenum content, produces a
more stable layer and therefore, better corrosion resistance than 304L and Duplex 2205
is much better in terms of corrosion resistance. Therefore if the element is visible, it
should be grade 316 as a minimum.

Corrosion of stainless steel can be initiated by other situations apart from the loss of
passivating layer. These include:

Abrasive corrosion from particles in flowing water for

Poultice/pitting corrosion presence of deposits + temperature
Crevice corrosion crevice large enough to contain liquid and
a stagnant zone
Intergranular corrosion due to low carbon content
Galvanic corrosion potential difference between metals and
stainless steels
Stress corrosion presence of chloride ions and water

For stainless steel to perform for its design life, it is a matter of good engineering
practice coupled with sound fabrication processes in eliminating or reducing the risk of
the above occurring.

Aluminium Substrates

Aluminium, on the other hand, does not corrode readily provided it is of the correct
grade and composition, typically 6060 and 6063. The cosmetic coating or finish is
what breaks down and renders the component visually unacceptable. As a substrate,
6060 and 6063 grades to BS 1474 and BS 1470 will perform well provided that the
manufacturing process is carefully controlled. In this regard, very small quantities of
extra copper or low Mg/Si ratios outside prescribed limits can be one of the causes of
filiform corrosion, which is the 'blister' formed below the painted finish. Aluminium
sheet to be anodised must be grade J57S.

As production is generally outside the control of the designer, it is imperative that the
extrusions are manufactured by reputable companies.


Finishes can be applied in a number ofways, some of which are listed here:

Power coating
Teme coated
Prepatination, etc

For most projects, the first few are more common and are discussed below.

Polyester powder coating

This is one of the most common finishes on a typical building and when applied
correctly, it is an effective, visually acceptable and economical solution for the finish to
extrusions, panels and cladding elements.

However, ce(tain precautions are necessary to ensure a durable finish. On the

assumption that the substrate is sound, the application of the finish must be strictly in
accordance with BS 6496:1984 and BS 6497:1984 for aluminium and galvanising
respectively. The coating procedure, from pre-treatment to the inspection of the coated
materials, must be adhered to to ensure durability. Independent tests to verify quality
are a pre-requisite to achieving the desired standard.

Film thickness can and does affect protection of the substrate and appearance. In the
UK this is generally a minimum of 40 microns to a maximum of 120 microns. The
continental requirement is a minimum of 60 microns which is recommended. Coatings
in excess of 120 microns may have adverse effects due to a lack of flexibility. For
galvanised steel that is to be used externally and in harsh and I or hazardous
environments, the minimum thickness should be 60 microns.

In all cases, a reputable product should be used for the finish if long term durability is
to be achieved with adhesion, gloss retention, abrasion resistance etc.

Anodised coating

Anodised coatings are generally slightly more expensive than polyester powder coating,
but have a proven record of over 50 years, as opposed to ppc which is about 25 years.
Anodising is integral with the metal and therefore provides good adhesion. The finish
is also less prone to filiform corrosion and has an added advantage that it is 'self
healing', making it more tolerant to minor scratches and abrasions.

Anodising is a dip rather than a spray process, making the finish more consistent at only
25 microns and the dip also coats unseen faces of the profile or element. However, the
whole anodising process is very critical and any variations from the set procedure can
result in defective coatings, resulting in a reduced life span of the coating. Regular
cleaning of the coating is also important.

PVF 2 , Plastisol

Two ofthe most commonly used coating systems are PVF2 and Plastisol liquid applied
coating prior to roll forming. Plastisol is a 'thick coating' and is normally applied to a
thickness of 200 microns. It is hard wearing and tolerant to abuse but colour fade over
time can be expected. This generic coating is applied to steel substrates, but rarely to

The use of dark colours with Plastisol coatings may result in coating failure due to the
significant effect of solar gain. Surface temperatures can reach almost 100C with a
well-insulated roof, and the susceptibility is dependent on the formulation used. Causes
of failure are usually colour fade or leaching of the plasticiser ultimately leading to
coating breakdown and 'cut edge' corrosion.

PVF 2 is a 'thin coating' which is applied in the range of20-30 microns in a wide range
of colours. The coating can, however, be easily damaged and extreme care is needed
during erection. Both steel and aluminium substrate are used.

Micro-cracking can occur at the profiled bends at the time of manufacture or later in the
life cycle. Often the cracking extends through the galvanised layer (for steel) resulting
ultimately in rust staining and failure. On aluminium sheeting the cracking can lead to
an ultimate failure by corrosion at the bend.


The quality of application of a coating to any substrate is fundamental in ensuring a

durable finish, and a reputable and experienced applicator is essential to this end. A
large number of companies in the UK and abroad have the necessary facilities and
expertise to carry out the work competently.

The ability for the applicator to carry out the coating operation is but a part of the whole
process. He should, and must, be knowledgeable about the materials he is coating, that
they meet the standards required, in terms of quality, grade, substrate finish and so on.
The facilities offered by the applicator is important in ensuring quality. For instance, an
in-house stripping facility for reject coatings is an advantage in that borderline coatings
do not find their way into production runs to save the company money. It is essential to
visit and review the applicator's works and assess their ability to produce the specified

Coupled with a technical review of the applicator must be an independent test of the
production runs, all in accordance with the relevant British Standards.

Transport, storage and protection

Durability of finishes is often jeopardised long before it comes into service. Damage
can and does occur when coated elements leave the yard and are transported to and
stored on site. It is important that the applicator's QA plan includes for proper
protection of his material from his works through to storage and erection, up until
handover. Significant damage to coatings can occur in the time that a fa<;ade element is
erected to the time the building is cleaned down and handed over.

When concrete and other construction materials are allowed to accumulate on finishes,
particularly anodised finishes, it can damage the coating, manifesting itself in later

On the other hand, protective material should not be left on too long, as this can also
affect the finish. This period is generally six months, depending on prevailing
conditions. The protection should be changed at prescribed intervals. Protection of
coated and naturally finished components during construction is essential in ensuring a
durable finish.


Whole-life performance of finishes is dependent on maintenance. Most organic

finishes require cleaning to remove airborne dirt and detritus forming on the coating
which, if left for an extended period may promote breakdown of the coating or at worst,
precipitate corrosion of the substrate.

As mentioned earlier, dirt can hold moisture which can develop into weak acids which
can then stain or streak the coatings, particularly anodised coatings and certain stainless

Regular cleaning combined with regular inspections of the finishes cannot be

overstated. Many prudent building owners carry out these checks and this method of
planned maintenance is a major factor in ensuring durability and its impact on whole
life costs.


Experience has shown that cost is an influencing factor in the choice of materials which
ultimately dictate its whole-life performance. Financial constraints generally preclude
the use ofbetter quality materials and finishes for ones that will provide adequate

However, experience has also shown that 'adequate' also means that there is little
chance of the product coping with a host of potential pitfalls in the manufacturing to in-
service process,

A nominal additional outlay invested in better products, technical inspections and

planned maintenance will prove to be small compared to costs associated with major
remedial works.


Well designed and procured finishes of the modem fa<;ade can have long in-service
lives if well informed decisions are taken at the appropriate stages of the development
of a project. The whole-life performance of finishes that are offered by the industry
today should not suffer the long term problems that have occurred in the past.

Sound, informed judgement about finishes, together with good design and detailing can
provide the building owner with a good investment.