High-Pressure Laminates in Rainscreen Facade

A highly durable solution with design freedom and flexibility
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Sponsored by Trespa North America Ltd.
By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Materials and Resources

When looking at a life-cycle assessment (LCA) for HPL panels, several traits help produce very favorable results. First, they are primarily made from wood-based products. Wood is a natural, renewable resource that is increasingly praised for taking CO2 out of the atmosphere, thus helping to reduce greenhouse gases and counteract global climate change. Second, some HPL manufactures can supply materials that carry certifications from recognized sustainable forestry organizations, such as Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). These certifications help to assure that the product used in the panels has been grown and harvested in a manner that meets the stringent sustainability requirements of those certifications. Third, as a long-lasting, durable product that resists UV rays, weather, and needs little maintenance, it will not likely need to be replaced during the life of the building. This creates a very sustainable facade, thus contributing to positive LCAs.

Relatedly, the light weight and standard sizing mean more efficiency and less energy used in transporting the HPL panels from the manufacturer to the job site. At the end of their service life, HPL panels can be reclaimed and reused. Some manufacturers actively seek to reclaim and reuse HPL that is removed from buildings, thus encouraging this practice.

Image courtesy of Trespa North America Ltd.

When specifying HPL panels, it is important to identify the types, finishes, colors, and sizes required from manufacturers' offerings.

Energy Optimization

Some detailed studies have been done on the use of rainscreen facade systems related to energy use in buildings. In particular, a September 2019 study of HPL cladding in a rainscreen system was carried out by the energy services firm of Efcore in Barcelona, Spain. It analyzed actual buildings and simulated conditions, and concluded the following:

  • A ventilated facade using the HPL system tested demonstrated continuous thermal protection of the full facade assembly in both summer and winter, including extra solar protection in the summertime.
  • A ventilated facade assembly as properly constructed eliminates the loss of energy caused by thermal bridges in both summer and winter.
  • Ventilated facades eliminate the risk of condensation and humidity in the wall assembly and interior, which it cites as better for human health.
  • Ventilated facades improve energy savings.
  • The HPL cladding panels help prevent overheating due to solar insolation.
  • The ventilated airspace can lower the external surface temperature of the facade by up to 59 degrees Fahrenheit/15 degrees Celsius.
  • The heating effect of dark-colored facades can be minimized by the use of ventilated facades that absorb and evacuate the heat.

Based on these findings, ventilated rainscreen facades using HPL panels have been shown to be an effective approach to help control and optimize energy usage in buildings.

Overall, HPL ventilated rainscreens can be properly designed to contribute in numerous ways toward LEED certification or other green building standards.

Specifying HPL Facade Systems

When specifying HPL facades, there are clearly numerous choices and options from which to choose. Coordination with manufacturers during the design phases of a project will help gain insight for project-specific cost drivers, installation nuances, and the latest options. Some relevant items to address in a standard three-part specification format are highlighted as follows.


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Originally published in February 2021