Choosing External Cladding

Caroline Rodrigues reveals some of the best cladding materials for timber frame homes
by Caroline Rodrigues
26th November 2012

Showcasing your new home with a stylish surface finish will add substantially to the wow factor of the building.

There’s a marvellous range of materials out there to fire the imagination, from shiny metallic finishes to homely weatherboarding and colourful render, plus the traditional stone and brick finishes. But before opting for a particular style, check whether your local planning department has restrictions on the type you use.

Cladding isn’t just a pretty face. All types will protect your home from the elements, while some have qualities to improve thermal insulation.

Materials used to create exciting new looks for commercial buildings also have a place in residential builds.

Cladding is usually applied to a support system of timber battens or a steel frame, attached to the structural wall.

The term ‘rainscreen’ describes a breathable outer weatherproof encapsulation system; used with a cavity behind, any water that penetrates will drain away, and ventilation reduces the likelihood of condensation.

Ask the manufacturer about warranties for the cladding, and check that the material is acceptable to your structural insurance provider, to ensure that you’re covered. The durability, any maintenance and eco-impact must all be considered.

On a practical note, cladding can be fitted as part of the first fix, as plumbing, electrics and plasterboarding can be done while the external cladding is being installed, so speeding up the build by a few weeks and saving on costs.

Brick

For the look of solid brick without the hassle, consider brick-slips – thin slices of brick (20-25mm) used as a lightweight alternative to regular bricks.

In Eurobrick’s system, a composite backer panel marked out with horizontal courses is fixed in place with panel fasteners. Adhesive is applied to each ‘course’ before inserting the brick slips, then mortar is inserted and tooled in the usual way.

Wood

The classic choice, timber weatherboarding can give your home a fashionable New-England effect, though other patterns, including herringbone are available, too.

The wood can be chemically preserved to maintain the colour, but bear in mind that timber will react to the weather. It can be treated before or after cladding.

Hardwoods, from Europe or the tropics, are more durable but more costly than European softwoods, which tend to be more eco-friendly. Try ThermoWood from FinnForest, which is treated to reduce its thermal conductivity.

timber cladding explained

Render

Render is applied in layers, by hand in a similar way to plaster, or by spraying, and can easily be given a textured or patterned finish.

If you’re after a smooth finish, call in the professionals, as it’s hard to get right. Since the pigment goes right through all the layers, it won’t lose its colour.

External wall insulation covered by a render of your choice can be applied to new or existing homes to improve warmth and comfort levels, or choose a thermal render.

Application takes around three days. Find an installer at the Insulated Render & Cladding Association.

Similar to brick slips, these products offer a cost-effective and lightweight alternative to building with natural stone. This can be a great option for blending a new property into a well-established and characterful street scene.

Real Stone Cladding offers lightweight of stone-slip on panels which typically measure 600mm x 150mm and are approximately 10mm-15mm thick. The easy-to-fit boards can be installed by a competent DIYer and are available in a variety of colours, with prices starting from £28 per m2.

Stone Cladding Ideas

Metal cladding

There are four key materials to choose from: steel, aluminium, zinc and copper. Modern production techniques mean that metals can be pre-aged, coated to preserve the original shine or supplied in a huge range of painted and powder-coated hues according to your preference.

But there’s more to consider than simply the metal and finish – the profile shape and jointing type can have a surprising effect on the perceived colour and texture of your cladding, for example. If possible, ask to see some examples of your preferred option in situ – and try to view the surface at different times of the day in order to get an accurate picture of what the end result will be like.

If you’re using external fasteners to attach the cladding, be sure to select robust fittings that suit the look you’re going for – colour-matched versions with plastic heads are a common choice.

metal cladding explained

Fibre-cement

Fibre-cement cladding is created by mixing cellulose, fillers and fibres with water – before cement is added to form wet sheets. These are rolled and pressed to extract excess moisture. The mixture remains pliable for a short time after it’s formed, so it can be shaped into anything from small tiles through to planks and large-format panels.

The finished product can be either through-coloured or painted to achieve a specific aesthetic. The key advantage of the former is that it can help to reduce the risk of visible scratches, scuffs and chips developing over time. Plus it won’t need repainting – so maintenance is very low. The downside is that you’ll be relatively limited in terms of palettes and textures.

Alternatively, the standard grey sheets can be painted or stained (usually in the factory) with a variety of colours and effects – even down to incorporating realistic woodgrain patterns or riven finishes that mimic natural slate.

fibre-cement cladding explained

Main image: Kiln-dried Cape Cod cladding in Driftwood Grey from Vincent Timber

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