Everything You Need to Know about Rainscreens
Rain is pretty ubiquitous when thinking of Vancouver, and it’s even infiltrated the Real Estate Market. If you’re in the market for a new condo, you may have heard the term “Leaky Condo” (or the much more positive, “Rainscreened Condo”) describing some of the older building in East Van (and elsewhere in Vancouver).
The term “Leaky Condos” refers to condo buildings that unfortunately experienced some leaks and water damage in the 1980’s and 1990’s due to poor building design and and our rainy climate. Thankfully, these issues can be fixed, and standards have been put in place to ensure proper building construction for all buildings constructed after 2000. A “rainscreen” is the building system designed to prevent damage due to water build up.
You may be wondering how buildings in Raincouver (sorry, Vancouver) were built to not be able to withstand the rain? Well, a lot of it can be attributed to the California Style building techniques that were used here in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Building’s were often building with stucco and very little guard against the rain, simply because that was a popular, and inexpensive, style of building in those days. Since them, materials and techniques have improved construction so this is not an issue.
We try to avoid using the term ”Leaky Condo” due to the negative connotations, so instead we describe buildings as being rainscreened, partially rainscreened or not rainscreened. I’ll describe these below.
What does Rainscreen mean?
Simply put, a rainscreen is a space between the interior and exterior walls of a condo building preventing water from soaking through to the interior walls. Specifically, it is a moisture barrier consisting of two sheets of plastic within the exterior walls of a building with an air space between them to allow excess moisture to air out or drain through horizontal air gaps in the exterior of the building.
Thanks to standards set in Vancouver after too many buildings were afflicted with water damage, every building built after 1999 is rainscreened. Of the buildings built prior to this date, some of them only have “partial rainscreens” meaning only one or two walls have been rain screened (typically the walls that see rain most often).
Brick is also a natural rainscreen, as it doesn’t soak up water and is naturally breathable.
Balcony construction also has rain screen technology to prevent the units below from being damaged thanks to excess water build-up, and the style of roofs and window hangings can also aid in preventing rain from getting inside the walls.
What does a Rainscreen Building Look Like?
Though you can’t say for certain if a condo building is rainscreened, there are some visual clues that can help to identify a rainscreened (or well built) building:
Window Overhangs: Parts of the roof that hang over windows to prevent rain from reaching the seams between the window and the wall.
Metal Flashings: Metal pieces that sit above doors,windows, air gaps and to direct water away from the building.
Drainage: Balcony’s and roofs need to have proper drainage to prevent puddles. This could mean a slight tilt away from the building, and proper drainage and pipes.
Exterior Materials: Brick is a natural rain screen whereas stucco can absorb water (though even stucco buildings can be rainscreened). As you probably expect, the better materials are more expensive, which is why not every building is built with the latest in exterior material.
Air Gaps: You may notice how some buildings have horizontal air gaps n the exterior of the building – this exists to allow water to evaporate out of the building. There is often metal flashings above these air gaps to prevent rain from getting into the walls.
What Happens if there is a Leak?
If a leak or water damage is discovered in the building, an Engineering Company is brought into investigate the problem, the scope of the damage and possible solutions. Of the recommendations they provide, the Strata Corporation will vote to decide how to proceed. The cost install a rainscreen is quite high, and will often be paid for through special assessments to the owners (which can be thousands of dollars per unit).
Even though a building wasn’t built with rain screen technology, the building can be corrected to have this system. It’s a HUGE upgrade: time consuming, expensive and slightly intrusive. The following is a simplified process for installing a rain screen on a building:
1. Remove the exterior material, and in many cases the balcony’s as well. The building will be covered in blue tarp to protect it against weather (and this process is typically done in the summer).
2. Install the rainscreen moisture barrier on the walls and balcony’s.
3. Replacing the window and door frames, which often means replacing the windows and doors (since they’re typically pretty old and need replacing anyways on a 1970’s or 1980’s building).
4. Installing metal flashings around the doors and windows.
5. Repairing the balcony’s and exterior walls, and often adding the horizontal air gaps (with metal flashings) on the exterior walls.
Once this process is done, the building will have a rainscreen warranty to fix any other issues that may come up in the next few years, and you’ll have new windows, doors, balcony’s and maybe a new roof so you won’t have to live through those upgrades for years.
Final Thoughts about Rainscreens
After reading this you’re probably thinking that you’ll only ever buy a unit in a rain screened building. Well, a rain screen is always a good thing to have, but that doesn’t mean that a non rain screened building is a bad choice. Building design, materials and how pro-active the Strata Corporation is about maintaining the building counts as well. A building might not be rainscreened, and it also might not need it!
Let us know if you have any questions about a particular building, neighbourhood or anything to do with the buying process. We’re happy to point out building design details when we’re out on tour to give you more information into how building design affects the building.