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Technical Note No 59

Introduction to externally rendered cladding systems

This Technical Note is one of two describing the procurement design and assessment of
externally rendered cladding systems. They are:

TN 59 Introduction to externally rendered cladding systems

TN 60 Performance of externally rendered cladding systems

This Technical Note should also be read in conjunction with:

TN17 Weathertightness and drainage

TN33 Breather membranes and vapour control layers in walls
TN47 Overall building envelope U-values

Introduction b) Use of inappropriate design features

for a wet climate. These included
External renders are used in many forms balconies, external walkways and
of wall construction and in some forms reduced overhangs all of which
have been used successfully for many provide greater opportunity for water
years. penetration.

However, the performance of external c) An increase in the number and

renders is highly dependent on site complexity of joints in the building
workmanship and the robustness of envelope.
interface details. There is also some
concern that renders may be used that are d) Weaknesses in architectural and shop
inappropriate for the particular substrate drawings.
they are being applied to.
e) Failure to understand and inspect
The use of externally rendered lightweight construction at site.
construction in North America has lead to
large numbers of building envelope f) Use of wall construction that was
failures. There are over 65,000 properties suitable for a drier mid-continent
needing major remedial work in British environment in a wetter sea-board
Columbia alone. These failures are well environment.
documented. The Barrett Committee of
enquiry into building envelope failures in Three clear conclusions were drawn from
British Columbia found that failures the experience in Vancouver:
occurred for a number of reasons
including: a) Although many failures were
associated with small builders there
a) Use of face-sealed systems that rely were also numerous failures of
on single water seals in the outer medium-rise buildings. It was clear
surface of joints and on the that design had to be driven by
performance of the render. engineering principles and not
architecture alone.

© CWCT 2008 March 2008

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Introduction to externally rendered cladding systems TN 59

b) Too great a reliance was placed on Traditional renders applied to solid

manufacturer’s claims for the substrates undergo very fine cracking and
performance of their render whilst remain adhered to the substrate. Modern
interfaces, quality of construction and renders applied to softer substrates tend
performance of the wall as a whole to move more and any cracking will form
were not well understood. as wider cracks at greater spacing.
Reinforcement may be used to control
c) Face sealed systems are less reliable such cracks.
than secondary defence systems.
Vancouver building regulations Modern renders are also less permeable
introduced a mandatory requirement than many traditional renders.
for walls to contain a drained cavity. The following acronyms are in use to
(NHBC has introduced a similar describe rendered cladding systems:
requirement in the UK).
Scope Exterior Thermal Insulation Composite
System - This is the terminology that is
This Technical Note deals with renders widely used in Europe and in the
applied to: European Technical Approval Guide,
ETAG 004.
• Boards mounted on support rails or
brackets, EWIS
• Rigid insulation fixed to the outer face Exterior Wall Insulation System
of a support wall, - This terminology is used by the British
• A metal carrier mesh fixed to the outer Board of Agrement (BBA) and is widely
face of a support wall with insulation understood in the UK.
between the support wall and the
metal carrier.
Exterior Insulated Finish System
– This terminology is used in the USA and
The support walls may be framed
Canada and is used by some suppliers
construction such as timber or steel stud
and contractors working in the UK.
or solid (brick, blockwork or concrete)
Forms of construction
The use of walling systems with external
renders on new build projects has grown Render on insulation systems
in popularity in the UK in recent years as In this form of construction a support wall
constructors strive to construct more is sheathed with insulation on its outer
economical lighter weight well-insulated face. A render is then applied to the outer
walls. surface of the insulation.

Traditional and new render systems The support wall may be either a framed
wall comprising lightweight steel or timber
Externally rendered cladding systems studs and board, Figures 2 and 3, or a
have an established use in improving solid wall of blockwork or concrete, Figure
existing buildings. They may: 1. Windows will normally be fixed direct to
an opening in the support wall.
• Improve thermal insulation, With a solid support wall it is unlikely that
• Reduce condensation on internal movement of the support wall will lead to
surfaces, cracking of the render weather screen or
• Stabilise deteriorating surfaces, inner air barrier.
• Improve appearance.

Introduction to externally rendered cladding systems TN 59

necessary, and if so where it is positioned,


Render on board systems

In this form of construction the render is
applied to boards fastened to the support
wall or to rails on it.

If the support wall comprises only

lightweight studs the out-of-plane and in-
plane defections may be too great and
cause cracking of the render, air barrier or

If the support wall comprises support rails

Figure 1 Render on insulation system on a solid fixed to a brick or blockwork wall the
support wall deflections will be much smaller.
The solid support wall will offer some
resistance to moisture movement and a
vapour barrier may not be needed, TN60.

Framed support walls comprise metal or

timber studs supporting a dry lining
system on the inside. The outer face
normally comprises cement particle
boards to which the insulation is fixed.

Figure 3 Render on board cladding system

With walls of this type the studs penetrate

the insulation causing thermal bridges and
it is more likely that a vapour control layer
will be required. It is important to consider
whether a vapour control layer is
necessary, and if so where it is positioned,

Figure 2 Externally rendered cladding system on a

Render materials
framed support wall
Render materials used for external
With framed support walls there will be insulation are generally proprietary
greater out-of-plane deflection of the wall. materials which may be cement based,
There may also be in-plane movement. If polymer modified cementitious materials
the deflections are too great the render, or polymer based materials. Many
the air barrier or both may be cracked. manufacturers offer a range of renders
each formulated differently. This is done to
With framed support walls it is important to offer greater resistance to crack formation
consider whether a vapour control layer is where necessary, and more economical

Introduction to externally rendered cladding systems TN 59

solutions where possible. Materials are In drained and ventilated construction

generally supplied as pre-bagged mixes there is a cavity behind the outer weather
with selected aggregates. barrier. Any leakage water passing the
outer barrier is intercepted by the cavity
Polymer and polymer modified and is allowed to drain out through
cementitious renders are used in drainage openings in the outer layer
thicknesses from a few millimetres up to (CWCT TN17).
15 mm. Some are reinforced by the
inclusion of random fibres in the render Waterproof render is as good at sealing
while others incorporate a mesh of water in the wall as it is at preventing entry
reinforcing fibres. Many render systems of water. Rendered cladding systems
require additional reinforcement at corners without a cavity and drainage openings
such as the corners of window openings. will become water logged if any water gets
behind the render finish.
Conventional cementitious renders are
used with a metal lathing in thicknesses of It is for this reason that the NHBC
25 mm or more. The reinforcement is specification specifically requires the
intended to control cracking and is used to provision of a drained cavity within a
support the render. rendered cladding system.

The surface finish may be achieved by

using a smooth finish coat of the polymeric Design responsibility
render. Alternatively the surface may be
painted or a roughcast appearance Robust design requires a robust design
achieved by the embedment of stone or process. Increasingly Architects and Main
similar chippings in the finish coat. Contractors assign responsibility for
design of each interface to a particular
specialist contractor.
Robust construction
It is often forgotten that in layered
Render on insulation or board walls are constructions, such as rendered cladding
not as tolerant of design or workmanship systems, there are interfaces between the
errors as most other forms of construction. separate layers. For instance a drawing of
rendered board construction may carry the
While a render may perform well under note ‘lightweight structural frame to be
test most render systems are susceptible provided by others’.
to water leakage around their edges
where they interface with windows and It is important that responsibility for the
other penetrations or with other forms of design of different layers of the wall is
construction. appropriately assigned and coordinated.

The performance of rendered walls is

highly dependent of good detailing of Single design body
interfaces and good construction.
Most performance aspects of the wall will
The most robust forms of construction are depend on more than one layer of the
those with a secondary defence against construction. These include:
water penetration. This is referred to as
drained and ventilated construction. It is • Water penetration resistance,
difficult to arrange drainage in render on • U-value,
insulation systems and many externally • Moisture movement and interstitial
rendered cladding systems do not provide condensation,
a secondary defence against water • Reaction to fire.

Introduction to externally rendered cladding systems TN 59

The only way to ensure that the wall is

designed to meet the required Main Contractors need to assign
performance levels is to appoint a single responsibilities to specialist contractors
design body with responsibility to assess and put in place robust quality schemes to
or calculate as appropriate the check all aspects of a rendered cladding
performance of the wall on the basis of system while they are still accessible for
established principles of building science. inspection.

The single design body should also be

responsible for assessing the design of Workmanship
interfaces with windows and other
penetrations. Aspects of performance that The performance of an externally
may be compromised at interfaces rendered cladding system is totally reliant
include: on:

• Water penetration resistance, • Proper fixing of any mesh and local

• Air permeability, reinforcement,
• Creation of cold bridges, • Proper application of the render,
• Buildability, • Proper construction and sealing of
• Maintenance and repair. interfaces.

Render systems on a large number of It is important that operatives employed to

buildings in Vancouver, Canada have install externally rendered cladding
failed prematurely. One cause of these systems should be skilled and familiar with
failures was identified to be the over the particular system being used.
reliance on inadequate architectural
experience rather than engineering
knowledge. Specification

The CWCT Standard for Systemised

Responsibility for construction Building Envelopes gives performance
criteria applicable to all building envelope
All layers of the wall contribute to its systems. It also sets construction
overall performance and they should all be requirements for rainscreen walls. One of
constructed as designed. Similarly these is for a cavity of minimum depth 25
interfaces and other details should be mm behind a ventilated rainscreen.
constructed as designed.
The NHBC Standards require rendered
Several specialist contractors are normally cladding systems to have a minimum
involved in the construction of a layered cavity depth of 15 mm.
wall, the installation of windows and
sealing of interfaces. It is essential that If a specification requires a ‘drained and
construction work is correctly coordinated. ventilated’ or ‘secondary defence’
approach to construction many rendered
A particular feature of layered walls is that cladding systems available in the market
construction details are often concealed will not be compliant.
within the wall as construction progresses.
For instance:
Standards and certification
• Fixings attaching the insulation,
• Reinforcement of renders around BBA
openings, The British Board of Agrement has a
• Primers required for adhesives or certification scheme for external render
renders. systems. These certificates apply only to

Introduction to externally rendered cladding systems TN 59

renders applied to brick or blockwork Canadian practice now requires, for

support walls. The same render systems buildings in co-ownership, that a sinking
may not perform adequately when fund for repairs is established and that
supported on a lightweight frame. regular condition surveys are undertaken.

Agrement certificates recommend that a

design review be undertaken on a project- References
by-project basis to check for:
Barrett Committee
• Interstitial condensation
• U-values CWCT
• Appropriateness of the system for the Standard for systemised building envelopes.
particular wind-driven rain climate ISBN 1 874003 20 3, CWCT 2006


The European Organisation for Technical Weathertightness and drainage.
Approvals (EOTA) has published ETAG CWCT 2000
004 as a method of approving external
render systems. Breather membranes and vapour control
layers in walls.
ETAG 004 is applicable to render systems CWCT 2003
supported by a brick or blockwork walls.
Render systems will perform differently if CWCT TN47
supported on a lightweight frame. Overall building envelope U-values.
CWCT 2004
It should be noted that the ETAG only
establishes methods of test and ETAG 004
assessment. It states quite clearly that the External thermal insulation composite systems
with rendering.
suitability of a system should be assessed
EOTA 2000
on a project-by-project basis.
NHBC Standards, Part 6.9.
Maintenance and durability NHBC 2005

The BBA agreement certificates always

state that the render system will only meet
its service life if it is regularly inspected
and maintained.

In particular any cracking of the render or

water ingress through the render has to be
addressed immediately. Specifiers have
to be sure that such an inspection and
maintenance regime will be implemented.
This may not be a realistic expectation for
private dwellings and for blocks of
apartments with many individual owners.

The consequences of not undertaking

prompt repairs are costly and extensive
remedial work. A whole life cost plan for
the building should be established and an © CWCT 2008
University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath, BA2 7AY
adequate maintenance budget allocated. Tel: 01225 386541; Fax: 01225 386556