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Exterior cladding: which material is best for your home?

Everything you need to know about the most popular exterior cladding materials

By Andrea Manley | 4 May 2020

Exterior cladding materials come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re looking to transform the exterior of your property or are building a new structure from scratch, check out the Grand Designs guide to cladding options

Lead image: Cembrit

Cladding forms the protective external layer of a property, and the choice of material will dictate the finished look. Teamed with good-quality insulation, it will also improve the thermal performance of a building.

External cladding options include natural and modified timber, stone and metal, as well as composite materials and fibre cement boards that mimic stone or wood. Teaming contrasting types such as timber with render or zinc is a great way to highlight architectural details or define a standout extension.

Your budget will influence your choice of materials as prices vary widely, and you will need to take installation costs into account.

Corten external cladding on a residential property in Lewes

Corten exterior cladding on a riverbank home in Lewes

Soft woods

Timber is versatile, sustainable and an effective insulator, and timber cladding is usually made from larch, cedar, sweet chestnut, Douglas fir or oak.

Different species vary in the amount of maintenance required. Wood that is naturally knot-free (clear grade) brings a clean, contemporary look, while knottier varieties have a more rustic appeal. Look for a product with a guarantee of at least 15 years, endorsed with the Timber Decking and Cladding Association CladMark.

Larch is a commonly used softwood as it contains a natural protective resin, making it resistant to rot and decay. Western red cedar contains natural oils that act as preservatives to give the wood exceptional durability which. Combined with its tendency to lie flat and remain straight in service, this makes it particularly well-suited for cladding.

Larch wood cladding on an R2F house on the Isle of Skye

The R2F house, designed and built by Rural House on the Isle of Skye, is clad with larch from the Scottish Highlands

Hard woods and modified timber

If you’re planning to invest in a hardwood, FSC-certified dry oak is a good choice. Hardwearing and resistant to impact, boards are generally dried or kiln dried to a moisture content between 15% and 25% to ensure stability.

Charred timber is a current trend. Shou sugi ban is an ancient Japanese technique for preserving wood by charring it. It’s expensive but it requires no maintenance and is UV resistant.

Modified timbers such as Accoya, Kebony and ThermoWood are softwoods that have been thermally or chemically altered to boost stability, durability and resistance. They offer a sustainable alternative to hardwoods and are widely used for cladding.

Shou Sugi Ban exterior wood cladding on a kitchen extension

An extension wrapped in charred Shou Sugi Ban wood cladding (from £130 per sqm, Kebony). Photo: Adelina Lliev