Create impact and protect your home with the latest external surface materials

Buyers guide to external cladding3

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Exterior cladding is the thin skin of material on the outer face of a building, providing visual detail and weather resistance. Common options include wood, brick and stone, with zinc, aluminium and wood-effect fibre cement becoming increasingly popular.

Cladding has many advantages: timber houses can look like brick, or vice versa; along-lasting, low-maintenance finish is assured; properties can better blend in with their surroundings, and purposeful design statements can be created. ‘The greatest characteristic of external cladding is its design freedom,’ says architect Paul Archer (020 3668 2668; ‘You can create almost any kind of look – we’ve combined Corian panels with slate and used mirrored aluminium to great effect.’


Defining architecture

External materials are often combined to create a blend of colours, textures and profiles, with installations in horizontal, vertical or angled patterns. The right fusion can highlight architectural details and define the shape and form of a house; it can also lessen the visual mass of a large property. ‘Planners often like a building to be clad in various materials so that it breaks down the bulk of the forms,’ says Archer.

On the other hand, sticking with just one cladding medium can make a bold statement. But careful detailing is needed, as architect Ian McChesney (020 8693 2738; experienced with the design of the Tree House. ‘We wanted the home to have a jewel-like quality so we chose black glass rather than white, which reflects the surrounding greenery and gives a crispness to the architecture.’

Buyers guide to external cladding3

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Pleasing the planners

Local authorities may require a new extension to blend in with the original house – or it may be permitted to stand apart with contrasting materials. Such differentiation can show a clear architectural journey. In Alma-Nac’s Landells Road project (020 7928 2092; grey fibre-cement panels clad a new dormer and rear extension. The panels contrast with the London yellow stock brick, yet reference the nearby slate roof tiles.

A nod to the local vernacular is usually a step towards securing planning. On the Kent coast, Rodic Davidson Architects’ (020 7043 3551; timber house is clad in black-stained timber to honour the bitumen-coated finishing huts.


Beautifying buildings

Timber or metal cladding is one way to turn an ugly-duckling house into a beautiful property. Homes built in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, with their generous proportions but less appealing appearances, are often targeted for such makeovers.

Architect Ben Davidson, of Rodic Davidson, says that retro fitting new cladding brings added benefits. ‘There’s the opportunity to increase thermal performance with no loss of internal space,’ he says. ‘This works particularly well on Twenties and Thirties houses built with solid brick walls where there’s no cavity for insulation. A sustainable, external timberclad skin – such as vertical cedar boards – with insulation underneath and new double or triple-glazed windows can make a huge difference both thermally and visually.’

Buyers guide to external cladding3

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The best material for you:

Timber cladding has warmth and character and is usually made from larch, cedar, sweet chestnut, Douglas fir or oak. Species such as oak and western red cedar can be left untreated because they inherently resist decay and moisture; they weather to silvery grey and last about 30 years. Douglas fir and larch endure for around 15 years, or longer if treated. Cladding boards can be made to precise tolerances in a workshop. Costs start at £30 per sqm, from firms such as Silva (020 8150 8055; and Russwood (01540 673 648;

Stone cladding is attractive and longlasting, but it can be heavy to work with and is prone to frost damage. Also, light colours can be stained by water. Expect to pay upwards of £50 per sqm, from companies such as FernhillStone (0870 224 7201; and Real Stone Cladding (0131 331 5473;

Brick and stone slips, made from thin slices of the material, give the look and feel of stone/brick and blockwork construction. They are lightweight, prefabricated and fast to install, as they are clipped or hung on to a structural frame. The typical cost is £25- £35per sqm from suppliers such as Eurobrick (01179 717 117; and Real Stone Cladding (0131 331 5473;

Fibre-cement and aluminium composites come in a range of plank and panel sizes, colours and textures, to mimic real wood, tiles and metals. Increasingly popular because of their UV resilience, strength, minimal maintenance and smaller price tag, these products can be used horizontally and vertically for cladding roofs and walls. Installation is straightforward. Prices start atabout £30 per sqm, from Marley Eternit (01283 722 588;, James Hardie (0800 068 3103; and Vivalda (020 8963 9999;

Buyers guide to external cladding3

Image: Shou Sugi Ban (01494 711 800;


Metal cladding offers the crisp, clean lines of contemporary architecture. These materials are light, durable and long-lasting; they are available in a variety of profiles, and can be prefabricated off-site and delivered ready to install. Zinc comes in shades of silvery grey, red, brown, blue and green, andcan be moulded, but it is labour-intensive to install. Aluminium has a silver, reflective finish and can be polyester powder-coated in a huge spectrum of colours.

It is highly sustainable and can be formed into large panels. Steel will rust if not galvanised with a zinc coating, but it can also be powder-coated and is relatively cheap compared with other metals. Corten steel is a maintenance-free weathering steel that develops a rusty orangered patina; however, discoloured rainwater run-off can be a problem. Copper weathers to a green patina and copper alloys have a gold/ bronze finish if treated. Both can be formed into complex shapes and recycled.

Expect to pay around £35-£75 per sqm for zinc, aluminium and steel, and about £85-£110 per sqm for copper – all subject to fluctuations in the markets.


Words: Jane Crittenden, Photography: Paul Archer; Gareth Gardner; Jack Hobhouse; Peter Landers; Beccy Lane; Adam Scott

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