Lightweight Cladding Options Explained

Whether you have your eye on a high-quality finish, need to appease the planners or simply wish to apply a low maintenance product, lightweight cladding will offer an array of solutions, says Ifeoluwa Adedeji
by Ifeoluwa Adedeji
18th March 2016

Ensuring that your home oozes kerb appeal is largely down to its facade – after all it’s the first thing that people see on the approach to your property. The right covering, whether on a new build or renovation project, can have a dramatic impact on your home’s appearance.

You could create something that mirrors your modern interior scheme, for instance, or you might be restricted to applying a material that’s more in line with the traditional local street scene.

If you’re building with timber frame or upgrading an existing solid-wall masonry property, the option of adding a lightweight cladding material could be a cost-effective route to completing your scheme and increasing the house’s thermal efficiency.

This feature covers some of the most popular options.

Timber cladding

Often chosen for their ability to add a classic finish, wood coverings are great for achieving a warm and inviting appearance. Cedar and larch are often prized for the fact they weather to an attractive hue. Western Red cedar is a kiln-dried softwood that’s highly durable and offers natural resistance to moisture. It can last between 50-100 years if well looked after.

Siberian larch is a versatile, hardwearing and dense timber, which is ideal for exposed areas as it does not damage easily. Both options can be manufactured with a knot-free appearance, sealed with a fire-retardant coating or left in their natural state to weather.

Other popular products include oak and cherry – and you can also choose between a stained, painted or untreated finish in a variety of profiles. Prices can start from around £10 per m2 for larch and run up to £40+ per m2 for the more exotic or higher-grade timbers.

Metal cladding

Aluminium and zinc profiles are the go-to materials when it comes to achieving an ultra-contemporary look. These easy-to-mould products are stable and extremely weather resistant. They are low maintenance, too, but can be costly to install.

Standing seam metal cladding options are ventilated systems that can be applied to both renovations and new builds, whether curved or straight. Interlocking versions offer the possibility to fix the panels horizontally or vertically.

Costs start from £40 per m2 for steel; high-spec metals from £100 per m2. Firms such as VM Zinc supply the metal skin and trim profiles for around £100-£150 per m2, but this would not include elements such as insulation.

fibre-cement clad riverside home

Fibre-cement cladding is a great solution for use as a wraparound or as an accent that complements traditional building materials such as stone, wood and brick. It is ideal for self-builders because it is cost-effective and easy to install – in fact, Bill and Angie Jenkins applied the product on their riverside project themselves. “We fancied a contemporary home with clean lines that would be open plan and easy to maintain,” says Bill.

Soon, a scheme was drawn up for a maintenance-free property made from timber frame, structural insulated panels (SIPs), clad in a style that the couple believed would blend easily into their watery surroundings. “We investigated all the options, but for us selecting HardiePlank by James Hardie was an easy decision to make because the result is effective and beautiful,” says Bill.

Fibre-cement cladding cost £30 per m2.

Image credit: Hunden-Clements Photography

Fibre-cement cladding

Despite its timber-like appearance, fibre-cement cladding is a composite material. It’s durable, requires minimal upkeep and is offered in a variety of baked-on hues. This material is a fantastic alternative to PVCu and timber. The lightweight, hardwearing product can be used part of a low-energy self-build project.

The boards are applied from the bottom of the structure upwards and can be nailed to timber battens. They are easy to cut by scoring and then snapping them. Cover strips are required at the external corners and around any window openings.

These can be concealed using colour-matched trims often provided by your supplier. Some manufacturers offer click-fit solutions, which are even less time-consuming to fit. Prices start from around £25 per m2.

Brick slips

These units provide an ultra-quick and cost-effective route to cladding a new home or upgrading the exterior of an existing property. They’re made from thin slices of masonry and, when these are applied to external walls, they deliver the appearance of conventional bricks.

Available in a variety of styles and colours, this cladding option is made using extruded clay, which is wire-cut into slim profiles before being kiln-fired. Brick slips can be supplied as individual units – to be applied using a similar process as when laying tiles or as a dry option onto clip-fit backing. Prices start from £18 per m2.

Stone tiles

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.

PVCu cladding

Estimated to be four times lighter than fibre-cement, this low maintenance alternative is also often used to mimic the effect of wood and other materials. It is available in a variety of hues to complement your scheme, from brilliant white to slate. Whatever style you go for, you’ll get an easy-to-clean finish that can last for up to 20 years.

PVCu can be energy efficient, too. For instance, Freefoam cladding boards have a cellular core that offers good thermal resistance. This represents built-in performance superior to standard timber (though this can of course be insulated, too). Prices start from £20 per m2.

Image (top): James French

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