If you want to add wow-factor to your self build or existing home, then you’ll need to think carefully about specifying the best cladding and external finishes.
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. It is usually applied to a support system of timber battens or a steel frame, attached to the structural wall.
Learn more: Guide to Low-Maintenance Cladding
The term ‘rainscreen’ describes a breathable outer weatherproof encapsulation system. Used with a cavity behind, any water that penetrates the rainscreen cladding will drain safely away, while 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, timber 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. This might help to speed up the building schedule by a few weeks.
With versatile colours, textures and bonding patterns available, bricks are both durable and affordable. They can be machine-made in a huge array of finishes, tumbled to create a reclaimed effect or fully handmade for an authentic heritage look.
Facing bricks are a natural choice for cavity wall builds – but can also work well in tandem with other structural systems, including timber frame, oak and more.
In terms of brickwork patterns, stretcher bond (also known as running bond) is the most common choice. Stretcher bond bricks are laid with only the long face showing, overlapping with the brick course below. This is a quick-to-lay and cost-effective choice, and character can be added by your exact choice of brick.
Stack brick bond is a fantastic option for those seeking a contemporary finish. With this masonry technique, bricks are laid lengthways, directly on top of each other and with no overlap. This results in a sleek, clean look that’s ideal for extensions or feature cladding.
For those seeking something a little different, a basket bond brick pattern makes a real design statement. For this, bricks are laid in a repetitive and alternating manner, to create a striking look.
The main downside is that bricklaying is a wet trade – so it’s difficult to proceed with the works in wet or icy weather.
For the look of solid brick without the hassle and threat of weather delays, consider brick slips. These are bsically thin slices of brick (20-25mm) used as a lightweight alternative to regular bricks.
There are various fixing methods. In Eurobrick’s system, for example, 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 pointing is applied and tooled in the usual way.
Modern manufacturing techniques mean plastic cladding is now a real option for homeowners, particularly those looking to update a tired facade. It comes in a wide range of finishes and hues, with all the low-maintenance qualities you’d expect of PVCu, and at a affordable price point (from around £30 per m2 installed).
As with any product, watch out for low-quality versions. These are likely to be susceptible to issues such as fading, warping and cracking over time – especially in exposed locations. The best examples should offer a service life of three decades or more.
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.
Build It Directory: More timber cladding options from Russwood
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.
Installing timber cladding
When attaching horizontal wood cladding, a standard detail is to use a single layer of vertical battens to achieve the required airgap, but Simon Orrells advises even greater prudence. “Best practice is to double-batten to be certain you’re going to get enough cross-flow ventilation,” he says. “If you only use a single batten and the airflow gets blocked somehow – for instance at the bottom of the cladding – then you’ll get stale air in the cavity.”
The battens are typically attached at 600mm centres, although this may be altered depending on the location of your project (ie how exposed the site or elevation is to wind and rain) and the exact material used. Green oak cladding, for instance, is likely to move a lot – so the battens might be positioned closer together to minimise this. Timber and wood-effect claddings are usually nailed or screwed using corrosion-resistant galvanised or stainless steel fixings.
Wherever you’re using a horizontal batten, this should be chamfered so that the water is directed away from the structural fabric (ie back towards the cladding in the case of a single batten, or into the centre of the cavity if you’re using cross-battening). Around windows and doors, special trims will be needed, and potentially an insect mesh (also known as a perforated closure).
Render is applied in layers, by hand in a similar way to internal plaster, or by spraying, and can easily be given a textured or patterned finish.
Many self builders and renovators now choose modern render systems, such as silicone render. These are thinner and quicker to apply, as well as being through-coloured. This makes products such as silicone render a low-maintenance option.
Rendering might seem like an approachable job, but it’s much harder to get right than it seems: so if you’re after a smooth finish, it’s always best to call in the professionals. That’s especially true of modern render systems.
External wall insulation covered by a render of your choice can be applied to new or existing homes to improve warmth and comfort levels. Specialist thermal renders are also available. 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.
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. Standing seam external finishes are a popular choice for walling and roofing in steel and zinc, for instance.
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.
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.
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