Everything You Need to Know About Choosing and Installing Home Exterior Cladding

Siding
Walls
Outdoor Additions
By Contractors.com Team May 07, 2021

Pretty much any home building process has at least one step in common: cladding. At some point, you’ll need to decide which sort of exterior cladding you want to put on your new home. Alternatively, you might be refreshing your abode with a home remodel, in which case you will again need to decide on which new cladding material to dress your home up with. This can be something of a challenging decision because there are many different materials to choose from, each of which has its own qualities and drawbacks. They are also quite large variations in cost between different home exterior cladding materials, while some materials are best to avoid entirely.

Cladding is an important part of your house because it will determine how it looks but also how well it deals with the elements. Good home cladding can increase your home’s value, and give it better thermal efficiency. Of course, unlocking your home’s value isn’t always top of the list when it comes to your priorities, but there are other compelling reasons to go for certain siding materials. But don’t let the bewildering range of choices overwhelm you. Even with a quick introduction to the nuances of cladding, you should be able to choose and install the perfect cladding for your home.  

What Is Cladding?

What Is Exterior Cladding?

What Is Exterior Cladding?

Exterior cladding, wall cladding, or wall siding refers to the material that goes on the outside of your home. Typically, exterior cladding acts as a ‘skin’ for your home that covers up your insulation. Cladding systems are designed to make your house look good but also to provide some protection from the elements. There is usually a small gap between the cladding and the insulation which helps add further thermal insulation. This gap also allows rainwater to run down the inside of cladding rather than soaking into the interior layers of your home’s walls. Well-insulated exterior cladding is a key component of a home with good thermal efficiency (meaning it stays warm in the cold and keeps cool when it’s hot out). Cladding can be waterproof, but it doesn’t have to be. Exterior cladding can also provide some level of noise insulation.  

Some cladding, such as vinyl cladding, is known to be a fire hazard due to the flammability of the material and/or a design that allows a fire to spread easily. For the environmentally friendly home, there are many sustainable exterior cladding options including those made from a blend of cement and recycled polystyrene, as well as others made of wheat and rice fibers. Conventional cladding materials include wood, metal, brick, aluminum, and plywood. 

There are two main types of cladding: dry cladding and wet cladding. This refers to how the cladding is installed. Cladding is installed with an adhesive material, and dry cladding is installed “mechanically”  with metal anchors. Unlike dry cladding, wet cladding doesn’t leave an air pocket between the insulation and the cladding layer. There are several advantages and drawbacks to both methods that are important to know before you choose one or the other.    

Wet Cladding vs. Dry Cladding

What Is the Difference Between Dry and Wet Cladding?

What Is the Difference Between Dry and Wet Cladding?

Wet installation is usually used for brick cladding or natural stone cladding. Wet cladding installation is easier than dry cladding installation because it requires no onsite drilling and therefore carries no risk of damaging the wall when the cladding is attached. Wet cladding is also cheaper to install, and easier to achieve an even application with because it doesn’t require as much measurement and pre-planning as dry installation. However, there are also some drawbacks to wet installation of cladding 

Because this method involves edge-to-edge bonding, whereby sections of stone or bricks are alongside one another, there is a potential for the cladding to expand and crack over time. This is because edge-to-edge bonding may not leave enough space for the natural expansion and contraction of the cladding. As the bonding material wears, there is a chance that pieces of the cladding can fall off. Also, while it is easier, wet installation typically takes more time to complete than dry installation.  

Wet Exterior Cladding for Your House

Wet Exterior Cladding for Your House

By contrast, dry cladding installation is a faster method. It is more resilient because it is installed using large metal anchors. This means that there is little chance of the cladding falling off even as the material ages, and the cladding material will have room to expand and contract in the meantime. Dry installation also allows you to use more materials outside of stone or brick such as vinyl, aluminum, plywood, and more. 

The Advantages of Dry Cladding

The Advantages of Dry Cladding

Dry installation will leave a pocket of air between the insulation and the cladding which gives you more thermal efficiency. Dry cladding tends to be more expensive than wet cladding. This is because it is more complicated to install and therefore requires a highly skilled cladding contractor to complete it correctly. If dry cladding is installed with a lack of precision it can lead to various problems such as wasted material and cracks on the cladding material.  

Which Cladding Material To Choose 

The material you end up choosing for your siding will be based on your style and functionality preferences for your siding. It will also be based on how much you’re prepared to pay for your siding. With all the options out there, most homeowner’s eventually land on one of the most common cladding materials used: brick, vinyl, wood, stone, or composites. Here’s a list of six of the more common cladding materials and their various pros and cons that can help you to make an informed choice on your future cladding. 

Brick

Brick and mortar cladding comes from natural materials and is quite inexpensive. It is a great material if you’re looking for cladding that provides a good thermal barrier. Brick cladding absorbs heat and retains it well, meaning it's also a good choice for sustainable homes since it can be used for passive solar homes. For the most environmentally friendly homeowners, some companies now offer brick cladding made from coal ash, which makes the brick more durable and greatly reduces coal ash pollution. The main con of brick cladding is that a lot of energy is required to make bricks. The median cost of brick cladding is $9 per square foot.

Cladding Materials to Choose From

Cladding Materials to Choose From

Vinyl

Vinyl is made from PVC and makes for very affordable cladding at just $2.50 per square foot. It is also highly durable and low maintenance and can last for half a century with little to no upkeep. Insulated vinyl siding can vastly increase the thermal efficiency of your home. It can almost seem like vinyl is the perfect choice for anyone who wants to make their house more sustainable, but you should know that there are a few downsides to vinyl as well. For one, vinyl cladding is a fire hazard as it releases highly toxic fumes when it is burnt. PVC, the main material in vinyl, is also a known carcinogen. Byproducts of vinyl manufacturing are also known to cause acid rain. Nevertheless, vinyl is a popular and affordable cladding choice for millions of homes across North America.    

The Pros and Cons of Vinyl Cladding

The Pros and Cons of Vinyl Cladding

Wood

If you’d prefer a more natural and rustic look you can’t go wrong with wood cladding. At $5 per square foot, it is pretty affordable and can give your house a distinctive look. When treated with chemicals, wood becomes a durable and versatile material that can resist insects, moisture, and mold for fifteen years or more. The flipside to this is that wood is a fragile resource, and if you get wood that isn’t FSC certified it may come from illegal logging. However, the chemicals used to treat wood cladding can be carcinogenic. 

There is an alternative though. Instead of coating your cladding with chemicals, consider getting it charred, as this has a similar benefit as chemical treatments though it does cost an extra $5 per square foot. Still, it’ll give your home a unique and priceless look. 

A Classy Rustic Look with Exterior Wood Cladding

A Classy Rustic Look with Exterior Wood Cladding

Stone

This is another great choice if you want to use natural materials. Durable, beautiful, and low maintenance, quarried stone cladding can be made of granite, limestone, flint, and even sandstone. It's also a great choice for anyone looking for cladding with good fire resistance since stone leads in this regard. Once your stone cladding reaches the end of its decades-long lifespan, it doesn't have to go to waste and can easily be recycled. Because stone is heavy, it tends to be harder to work with and to transport. It is recommended that you seek out a licensed mason with experience in stone cladding if you plan to install it since installation errors can cause you unnecessary headaches down the road. Stone is also one of the pricier cladding options, with prices ranging from $20 to $40 per square foot. 

The Pros and Cons of Stone Cladding

The Pros and Cons of Stone Cladding

Composites

If you like the look of wood but don’t want to deal with the maintenance, composite cladding might be your best option. There are two types of composites that both simulate wood: PVC and fiber cement. PVC cladding composites are similar to vinyl but are much thicker and therefore even better at thermal and sound insulation. They can give you the look and feel of real wood without any of the complications of real wood. PVC is designed to last around 30 years and costs around $6.50 per square foot. 

Alternative Home Exterior Cladding Options

Alternative Home Exterior Cladding Options

Fiber cement is made of a mix of cement, sand, and fiber. At $8.00 per square foot, fiber cement is the closest thing you can get to wood cladding without buying the real thing. Unlike PVC cladding, fiber cement contains no toxic materials and can last half a century. Composites do require cleaning every 2 to 3 years, but they are generally not as maintenance intensive as the materials they imitate. 

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team