When constructing or designing a commercial complex, there are certain aspects which are different than those of a residential house. Architects and builders need to consider several factors such as energy conservation and production, along with the amount of visual contact. Suppose you are a professional who falls in either of these categories. In that case, you might already know that there are several existing facade designs such as horizontal and vertical blinds, egg crate, and honeycomb shading layouts.
A facade for a commercial building must provide lateral and vertical resistance to wind and other weather conditions. It should also possess thermal, acoustic, and fire-resisting properties. Additionally, it takes into account factors such as type and scale of the complex, local planning requirements, ventilation, degree of sunlight entry, wall to window ratio, shape, number of storeys, and visibility. It should give scope for the brand to create an image that resonates with the company’s vision and ideals. Therefore, these requirements have resulted in the development of several products and technologies to arrive at high-performance structures.
The word facade originally comes from the Italian word “facciata” and is defined as the outside or all of the external faces of a building. The term is frequently used to refer just to the main or front face of a house.
Along with the roof, it is one of the most important elements of a building, since it acts as the primary barrier against external weather elements that could damage the health of the structure, such as rain, snow, wind, frosts, sun, etc.
Because of this, it is very important to choose a facade system that protects against these risks whilst helping to achieve lower energy consumption, reduce maintenance costs and improve comfort for the inhabitants.
Below, we explain the different types of facades or exterior walls currently used in architecture, as well as the characteristics of each of them.
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What is a facade?
Façade, by definition, is the face of a building. It is what you can see from the exterior that protects the interior. Facades are an integral part of the building shell – keeping us humans warm in the winter and cool in the summer, while also providing a barrier from outside elements and even fire in some cases. Facades are also key elements to the beauty of our structures. Architects use facades to creatively display rhythm, balance, proportion, experimentation, and spirit. Architects must balance their designs between performance and aesthetics. There are always new technologies that open new possibilities in the design of the façade. Architects and manufacturers are constantly exploring new façade systems, pushing the envelope (pun intended), to help achieve the architect’s vision and provide a high-performance shell for the end-users.
Types of facades for buildings
This is a type of facade that adheres to the resistant structure of the building but does not form part of it. Since it does not contribute to the stability of the building, the lightweight facade needs to be designed to support the loads that place stress on its components.
The materials that are normally used for cladding include glass and metal.
There are two types of construction for lightweight facades: curtain wall and panel facade. With a curtain wall, the facade passes continuously around the framework of the structure, whereas with a panelled facade, the framework interrupts the facade.
Some particular advantages of the lightweight facade system are the ease of installation and the amount of light they let into the building.
Compared with other types of the facade, lightweight facades provide less heat and sound insulation, and they have higher maintenance costs in the medium and long term.
This type of facade is mainly installed in medium and high-rise office buildings.
As its name indicates, this type of facade tends to be made up of construction materials of considerable weight. For a facade to be considered heavyweight, the average weight, including the solid and hollow elements, must be above 100kg per square meter.
Within this category, we find different types of facades which, depending on the thermal insulation needs, maybe load-bearing or self-supporting and may or may not have an air chamber.
This type of facade is formed mainly of prefabricated modules that are joined together or assembled onsite. The components of these facades are manufactured industrially in highly mechanized plants, and they often use wood and concrete panels.
The main advantages of this type of facade are the speed and ease of installation, as well as a lower cost compared to other systems. In terms of the disadvantages, the design options are more limited, and there is a minimum volume of work required to make it viable.
Prefabricated facades are usually used in industrial factories and large shopping centres.
This classification includes facades that use traditional construction materials such as brick, stone, wood, ceramics, rendering, etc.
The benefits are that they are less complex to build, quick to install and have a low cost.
On the other hand, since classic facades do not have an air chamber or insulation, they provide less heat and sound insulation, which means fewer energy savings.
ETI (External Thermal Insulation) systems consist of installing plates of insulation material all around the building, which are protected by mortar and adhered or mechanically fixed to the supporting wall.
The system is then finished off with a cladding or finish that suits the aesthetics of the property.
The most frequently used materials in the insulation aspect of an ETI system are expanded polystyrene (EPS), extruded polystyrene (XPS), graphite expanded polystyrene (EPS-G) and mineral wool (MW).
Since the ETI system has an insulation layer, it reduces thermal bridges and the risk of condensation.
It is, therefore, an option that provides a good level of efficiency for its price, since no costs are deriving from a framework system.
A rain-screen cladding or ventilated facade system is made up of a load-bearing wall, an insulation layer and the cladding material, which is fixed to the building using a supporting structure.
The main difference between this and the ETI system is that it has an air cavity between the load-bearing wall and the cladding material.
Even though this system is more costly and complex to install, most of the time, it is a cost-effective option since the air gap is responsible for many of the benefits of the rainscreen cladding.
The “chimney effect” which occurs inside the air cavity means that hot air rises and exits through the top of the facade. In the summer months, this phenomenon of natural convection means that the air is renewed, which prevents overheating. On the other hand, in winter, the air does not warm up as much and remains inside the house. The heat does not escape, which contributes to energy savings from heating.
Furthermore, rain-screen cladding provides an extra layer of protection against condensation and water infiltration, as well as helping to reduce the appearance of cracks and fissures in the building, since it suffers fewer temperature changes.
These are just some of the reasons why the ventilated rain-screen cladding is the most efficient external facade system currently available.
Types of Facades for your Commercial Complex
In the majority of the business complexes today, you will come across light steel infill walls. Builders use them, instead of the conventional blockwork inner leaf structure, in both steel and concrete framed buildings. They come with the facility of being able to incorporate a gamut of facade systems to the infill walls. These structures are pretty easy to install and can deliver cut-to-length C sections according to the dimensions of the project. They can resist wind pressures and are strong enough to support the weight of any cladding system fixed over them.
Curtain walling is a light metallic or glazed cladding system. Builders place it over a strong structural frame. Additionally, if you want to bring in an appearance of a more monolithic cladding system to your building, you can attach a stone veneer or large tiled fascia. Factories and manufacturing units produce each of the components required to assemble a curtain wall facade. Workers shape them into panels in the factory itself. They then bring the interlocked units to the site for installation. This is called unitized curtain walling. When builders bring the components to the site and assemble there, we call it to stick curtain walling.
The dimensions of unitized panels depend upon factors such as — height between floors and ease of transportation and installation. You will typically find panels with a width up to 1.5m and height up to 4.2m. Curtain walls can easily resist weather fluctuations, offer abundant natural lighting, shading, and insulation.
Aluminium composite panel (ACP) facade
ACP refers to flat panels that comprise a thermoplastic core fixed between two aluminium sheets. Builders use them for facades, mainly because they are lightweight, but durable and strong. Not only this, you can even design ACP in a variety of metallic and non-metallic shades and imitation patterns. You have the option to make them resemble wood and marble. You can use ACPs for cladding, partitions, and false ceilings as well. They offer excellent finishing options and come in several thickness levels. You can mould them into shapes as desired to give ultra-modern, complex looks.
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A double skin facade normally consists of two glass skins bifurcated by an intermediate cavity. These are great to reduce energy consumption in any commercial building. Builders mount shading devices in the cavity. Sometimes, builders insert walkways in the cavity for easy access and cleaning.
The two sheets in a double skin facade serve the purpose of acting as a thermal buffer zone. During winter, passive solar gains in the cavity reduce heat losses. You can also integrate the ventilation of the cavity with the building services. This will introduce air heated by the sun into the building. This step ensures optimal natural ventilation and reduces the heating load. In summer, this cavity ventilates the heated air within it to the external atmosphere. This process transfers heat away from the building and decreases the cooling load.
Brick slip facade
A slight alteration to the conventional brick facade — brick slip facade comprises brick slips. Builders mount them over steel supports or composite panels. Since you do not require mortar, the entire structure is lightweight, and the installation process takes less time. You can stack brick slips in various patterns. Some patterns are vertical, ribbon or uniquely shaped windows. Brick slips cannot offer much resistance to weather changes. Therefore, you need to consider the backing material. For example, you can use composite panels — which ensure excellent structural and thermal protection.
Steel and glass facades
Builders use the combination of steel and glass to build facades for multi-storeyed buildings. Generally, vertical steel structures support glass panels. The entire structure sits over the external frame of the building. Usually, builders use stainless steel and hollow steel sections in this kind of facade system.
Precast concrete facade
Precast concrete panels are effective when you have tight construction schedules, as their erection time is pretty quick. The manufacturing process is simple. Workers cast concrete in a reusable mould, followed by curing in a controlled environment. Trucks then transport it to the construction site, and heavy machinery lifts it into place.
Main Questions when Choosing the External Cladding Systems
There are a huge number of finishing options – from front panels to siding, from bark beetle to plaster decoration. Even if you are looking for the cheapest exterior decoration for your house, there are three important questions you should consider before you begin. Below we consider these three questions, as well as present a photo gallery of the most well-known methods of decorating, which will undoubtedly interest you when designing the exterior walls of your house.
What facade finishing materials do you like?
They say that appearance is not everything, but when it comes to the design of exterior walls, almost always at first glance, the facade of your house appears. It sets the tone for the rest of the design, including the interior, so it is important to choose facing materials that represent your unique personal tastes and create a cohesive design throughout your home.
Also, along with the design of your courtyard, the appearance of your house creates an “attractive effect”, this is how your house seems different to someone who is looking at it from the street. This is usually a real estate agent used to promote your home when the time comes to sell, so everything must be correct.
The complexity of the service for which you are ready to go?
In addition to the aesthetic appeal of materials, it is also important to think about how much maintenance you are willing to do to make your facade look fresh. Some cladding materials require more maintenance than others, and if this is not yours, you can explore alternative materials that can achieve the same result.
Take, for example, a tree. The popular cladding material has a reputation for incredibly time-consuming maintenance, but modern wooden facades can be designed to maintain a proper amount of time and effort. Dried wood is naturally an increasingly popular aesthetic for modern homes. Its organic texture requires minimal effort in terms of content, saving you money in the long run.
What is the environment?
Three environmental factors should be considered before decorating your exterior wall structures: sun, wind and sound. The sun is obvious; if your house is in the north, it will receive a lot of direct sunlight, and the facing materials you choose should be suitable for this. Although the wind is a bit less predictable than sunlight, it is important to take into account the position of the walls, windows and doors to facilitate cross-flow of air for ventilation of the house, of course, during the warmer months. Your electricity bills will surprise you.
Sound is another important factor. Do you live in a noisy zone? You may want to consider brick exterior walls (and internal walls, if you can afford it), due to the high thermal mass, noise transmission is reduced.
Changing the appearance of exterior walls can be as simple as using a different material for a chimney, or creating a pattern with a brick or exterior facing tile, thinking about something more natural? Vertical gardens are an exterior wall trend that is rapidly gaining in popularity.
Common Facade Systems and Materials
For its performance and durability, brick is hard to beat as a material in Indiana. Although many view brick as an expected solution to their façade, we compare it with other materials on nearly every project for costs, performance, and aesthetics. Brick usually wins the contest because of its durability, flexibility, and familiarity. Our standard wall type consists of a brick veneer, air gap, 3” rigid insulation, and backup wall. This construction may sound simple because it is. Still, it offers a competitive price point to other wall systems, good durability, and good insulation, as well as a common aesthetic rooted in the Midwest. There are options, as with any material, for brick sizes, colours, texture, and more. Other masonry types such as stone and CMU can be used instead of or with brick as well. Masonry is simply the most common façade type we utilize in our projects.
Metal Wall Panels
Metal panels may be an appropriate choice for a building skin – depending on the Owner, type of project, and budget. These wall systems often come to mind when picturing a modern, sleek, building aesthetic. Metal panels offer a wide variety of options to achieve the look desired and performance. However, this material is often a more expensive option than other materials and can affect a project’s schedule. Field verification and production of the panels can have a major impact on a project schedule and enclosing the building. Working with manufacturer’s standard panel sizes is important to keep costs down.
Insulated metal wall panels can provide a higher R-value than typical wall construction with encapsulated insulation. Depending on the system and the backup wall construction, supplemental framing may be required to support the façade. Although some manufactures indicate additional sheathing is not required, it is recommended to include the sheathing on your project to allow the building to be enclosed and not delay interior finishes from being installed.
Exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS) is a veneer system that insulates and can achieve a wide variety of looks. Many people recognize this product as stucco. This material has been developed to replicate other materials in appearance. A lay-person may not be able to detect if they are looking at EIFS or stone. There are EIFS systems that even replicate brick and metal panels. The system generically consists of a rigid insulation board adhered to backup wall construction with a sprayed-on, or troweled-on, finish system. Since the material is applied as a liquid, architectural expression with details is easily achieved by carving the rigid insulation as desired. It is also very lightweight compared to other façade systems and can be used without much need for support. EIFS is the most economical system per square foot with the insulation performance it provides.
The downside of EIFS is its durability. The EIFS shell over rigid insulation is thin and can be damaged easily. A puncture can occur from a flying rock from a lawnmower. Colours can sometimes fade, or the surface can stain and get dirty over time. Due to these characteristics, we often use EIFS at higher parts of a building to keep it protected.
Cementitious (Fiber-Cement) Siding
We use this system on our residential projects or other projects where it may seem appropriate. Cementitious siding is becoming more and more prevalent in commercial buildings, and there are many manufacturers (James Hardie, e.g.) of this type of material. The material is most comparable to wood lap siding, although it is also available as panels and panels made to look like lap siding or shakes. This façade systems hold up well under the elements and doesn’t require much maintenance. It is available pre-finished or can be field-painted. It is relatively lightweight compared to masonry, but detailing this material with continuous insulation can be challenging. Cost-wise, it is comparable to EIFS and would provide more durability. However, insulation needs to be considered.
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Occasionally, precast panels will be used as a façade system. These panels offer several benefits for a project. They provide an entire wall and structural system, and they can be effective when dealing with tight construction schedules. There are many options with precast concrete panels as far as appearance goes. But to make it competitive to other wall systems, we find it best to maintain consistent sizes and limited detailing. If there are many panels sizes or irregularities between panels, the cost is added. The panels are built in a factory, delivered, and installed on-site. They are held in place with braces until the roof structure is in place. Erection time is very quick, but the lead time can be over six months to have panels fabricated. This needs to be evaluated closely to determine if it will benefit a project more when compared to other systems.
Facades play an important role in beautifying your structure — through the creative display, rhythm, and proportion—architects and builders design façades to ensure optimal performance, apart from ensuring an aesthetic look. With emerging technologies and possibilities, you can constantly explore new façade ideas so as to deliver high-performance levels to your clients.