Building EnvelopeA2P1030: Introduction to Building Envelopes

December 20, 2022

What is a building envelope?

A building envelope is a physical separator between the interior and exterior of a building. The envelope helps to protect the interior from the elements, provides thermal insulation, and controls air leakage. A well-designed building envelope can improve a building’s energy efficiency, comfort, and durability. The entire building envelope consists of not only the building walls but also the roof and foundation. The roof and foundation function under the same principles as the building envelope walls, just at a different angle. The overall goal of the building envelope is to protect the building and its occupants (on all sides) from the elements and helps to create a comfortable indoor environment.

The building envelope has four main control layers (shown in Figure 1 below) that fall between the cladding and structural framing, including rain, air, vapor, and thermal control layers. 1


Figure 1: The Four Wall Control Layers of a Building Envelope

Four Wall Control Layers of a Building Envelope | Advanced Architectural Products


Let’s take a look at each control layer and the role it plays in the wall component of building envelopes.

Rain Control Layer
  • The rain control layer is the first line of defense against the elements and is used to protect a structure from water, wind, snow, and other conditions. Cladding falls within the rain control layer and can be made from a variety of materials, including brick, stone, metal, glass, or composite. Rain barriers are typically made of waterproof and breathable materials that will keep water out while allowing moisture to escape. Weather barriers generally are used in conjunction with other materials within the building envelope.
Air Control Layer
  • An air control layer, also known as an air barrier, is the second line of defense against the elements. It helps to control the flow of air into and out of the building. Air barriers can be used to prevent air leakage and help to improve energy efficiency. There are a variety of air barrier materials that can be used, including sheet metal, sealant, foam, and tape. Air barriers should be installed carefully to ensure they effectively control airflow.
Vapor Control Layer
  • A vapor control layer is a material or barrier used to prevent moisture vapor from passing through the building envelope. This layer is typically placed between the exterior cladding and the insulation. Vapor control layers are important in preventing moisture damage to the building envelope, as well as mold and mildew growth. When selecting a vapor control layer, it is important to consider the climate in which the building will be located.
Thermal Control Layer
  • The thermal barrier is the fourth line of defense against the elements. It helps to control the flow of heat into and out of the building by preventing heat transfer. There are different types of thermal barriers, each with their own specific purpose. The most common type of thermal barrier is the insulating material that is used to keep heat from escaping a building or structure. This can be anything from fiberglass insulation to spray foam insulation.

The same principle of the four layers of the envelope wall component can be applied to the roof and foundation of a building, just turned on their side.


Building envelopes can be complex systems with many different parts, but they all have one common goal: to keep the building’s interior comfortable and protected from the outside environment. Each of the four main control layers (rain, air, vapor, and thermal) of a building envelope plays a vital role in protecting the building and its occupants from exterior conditions.

Advanced Architectural Products offers several best practice building envelope solutions with GreenGirt® composite metal hybrid (CMH™) sub-framing and SMARTci™ continuous insulation systems. If you have any questions about building envelopes or continuous insulation solutions, find an A2P Representative in your area or contact us today! We would be happy to help you find the best solution for your project’s building envelope.


© 2022 Advanced Architectural Products


1   Lstiburek, Joseph. “BS1-001: The Perfect Wall,” Building Science Corporation. July 15, 2010.

If you wish to receive our latest news, sign up for our mailing list!

Advanced Architectural Products Logo

Creating engineered best practice continuous insulation solutions, while leaving the world a better place than when we started.


If you wish to receive our latest news in your email box, just subscribe to our newsletter!

959 Industrial Drive, Allegan, MI 49010  |  (269) 355-1818

© Copyright 2024 Advanced Architectural Products. All Rights Reserved.

Patents Privacy Policy