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Tips to Choose the Best Exterior Cladding Materials

External cladding is one of the key components of any building structure because it functions as a protective skin for the building and its occupants. Just as we love large windows and interior plants for creating a natural feel, it is also important to protect the home from elements like external temperature, wind, rain, moisture, etc.

In many instances, the exterior cladding of the buildings comprise of several layers such as the wall’s outer surface, a plastic wrap to prevent moisture from coming in, vapour barriers, thermal insulations, and others. While brick and plastic are two of the most commonly used external cladding materials, modern-day construction makes use of several cladding options.

In this brief article, we will evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of different materials used for external cladding, with an emphasis on overall sustainability of the home. We would also take a look at the embodied energy of each of the materials, which is the amount of energy utilised while manufacturing these materials and is measured by the unit mega joules per kilogram (MJ/kg).

Brick and Mortar:

One of the most frequently used materials for external cladding, brick is inexpensive, easy to source, and beautiful. Also, most builders have the essential skillset and experience to work with this material.

One of the biggest advantages of brick is that this material is made by burning natural materials like clay soil in kilns. Moreover, bricks have very high durability and don’t require any external painting. The thermal mass offered by bricks can be utilised in passive solar homes by capturing heat. Also, the space between the exterior brick cladding and the wall sheathing can provide additional insulation. Lastly, bricks made of recycled materials such as fly ash can vastly reduce the emission of carbon by the building.

The primary drawback of brick is the huge energy cost involved in brick manufacturing. Moreover, the cement used in the mortar has a very high carbon footprint. The embodied energy of cement and clay bricks is 5.6 MJ/kg and 2.5 MJ/kg respectively.

Vinyl Siding:

Vinyl siding is another common material used in external cladding of new buildings.

Vinyl siding is highly preferred as a cladding material because it can easily last for more than fifty years without any serious maintenance needs. It is also one of the most inexpensive cladding materials in the market.  Also, home owners can increase the insulation capacity of their homes by using insulated vinyl siding for cladding. Compared to brick, manufacturing vinyl consumes more than 50% less energy.

The biggest drawback of using vinyl for cladding is that it comes from a resource that is completely non-renewable. Vinyl siding is made of PVC, a human carcinogen capable of causing significant developmental health problems during the manufacturing process. Its embodied energy is measured to be around 80 MJ/kg.

Wood Siding:

Wood offers various options for external cladding materials such as engineered, composite, and reclaimed wood. Made from sawdust and other materials, composite wood often contains a high level of formaldehyde or other materials capable of off-gassing different types of VOCs.

The most important benefit of this option is that wood comes from a renewable source. Out of all building materials, the embodied energy of wood is amongst the lowest. A traditional Japanese technique uses charred wood for cladding, to protect the material from bugs and weather without pesticides or chemical preservatives.

A probable downside is that the wood used for cladding may be sourced from forests that are unsustainable managed. Also, wood cladding must be protected against insects and other elements with varnish. Moreover, wood products are frequently made using materials that release volatile organic carbons.

Metal Cladding:

This is another popular alternative for external cladding because of its durability and low maintenance cost.

As mentioned above, metal cladding is used mostly by people looking for high durability without spending a lot on the maintenance of cladding materials. It can withstand rain and snow for decades and does not allow fungal or mold growth. Metal siding keeps all types of insects away because it is essentially insect-proof. Finally, a metal cladding can also protect a building’s occupants from fire hazards.

Though a recyclable material, metals are not always environmentally friendly. Also, metal cladding tends to get dented easily. While steel is more resistant compared to other metals, it is significantly more expensive. Steel cladding can also be dented by heavy hails, and can be seriously expensive to replace.

This brief discussion will probably help you figure out which cladding material is best for your requirements. If you need any further guidance, please don’t hesitate to contact us. At CGS Facade Group, we have a rich history of creating world-class building envelope systems all over the world. Contact our team today and let us take your next project to new heights.