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What is external cladding and what does it do?

External cladding is added to a building to enhance its aesthetics, protect it from the elements and improve thermal insulation. Historically, the latter two benefits were the main reasons for adding external cladding to a property, but these days the aesthetic appeal of cladding outweighs building performance.

A property can be revamped with many types of cladding, including brick, aluminium and PVC. While the material you choose depends on the finish you want to achieve and the budget you have in mind, you’ll find adding external cladding is a quick method of transforming the look of your home.

You can read more about cladding in our handy guide, which includes further information on cladding materials and choices.


What are the benefits of external cladding?

One of the most popular materials used to clad properties is uPVC. Exterior uPVC cladding differs slightly to PVC as it’s un-plasticised. This makes uPVC more rigid and ideal for external use, where more resistance is needed. It’s extremely cost effective, requires minimal maintenance and has a smart appearance. There’s a wide range of colours to choose from, and you’ll find complementary trims available – perfect for reviving tired windows and doors.

If you’re after a more rustic finish, composite cladding is an avenue worth exploring. Constructed from various materials such as wood, wheat fibres and even concrete mixes, it not only looks impressive but is good at controlling sound too. By far the biggest advantage of using composite cladding is the aesthetic appeal; the property will look like it’s clad in real wood, but won’t require the upkeep associated with authentic wooden cladding.


Which material is best for external cladding?

Traditionally, stone and timber were some of the most popular cladding choices on the market, but recently uPVC cladding has seen a surge in demand. It requires minimal maintenance and is a budget-friendly option, making it an attractive choice for homeowners. Composites are following a similar trend due to their durability and user-friendly installation process.

uPVC cladding

Both uPVC and PVC cladding look great. They can easily transform a property and require little to no maintenance from the owners. An inexpensive choice of cladding, homeowners have the flexibility to customise the finish by selecting a colour from the available ranges. However, it’s worth noting that this type of cladding can discolour over time. To avoid this, purchase uPVC cladding that has been treated to prevent discolouration.

Real wood cladding

Wood cladding adds rustic charm to a property, which does look very attractive. The cladding itself is fitted in individual pieces, meaning the installation process will be longer and more expensive compared with PVC cladding.

There are many benefits to using real wood cladding. It not only looks good but improves the longevity of a building and is one of the most environmentally friendly exterior cladding options.

Cedar shingles are a great choice of wooden cladding. With one of the lowest carbon footprints of any building product, a lifespan of around 50 years and a natural resilience to decay, they’re a real contender for authentic external cladding.

Alternative external cladding options

External cladding is available in a variety of forms, with tile, metal and glass effectively transforming properties. Both tile and glass cladding are extremely versatile; while tiles can provide either a smooth or textured finish, glass is available in a variety of styles and shapes. Metal cladding is one of the most modern textures on the market and is often used in a particular artistic style. It’s usually found in the form of steel or aluminium, and its well-known durability means it’s not susceptible to wear and tear.


Is external cladding waterproof?

All external cladding will offer a degree of protection from the elements, but this varies depending on the material chosen. If you live in an area with particularly high rainfall, or you want to make sure your property is fully protected against adverse weather conditions, the best solution is to use either PVC or composite cladding. Both these substances are completely waterproof, giving you an extra layer of protection from bad weather.


What is rainscreen cladding?

Rainscreen cladding is the term given to rear-ventilated cladding which is attached to the outer skin of a new or existing building. The system is a form of double-wall construction, which has a twofold purpose; it uses an outer layer to keep out the rain and an inner layer to provide thermal insulation.

There are many advantages to adding rainscreen cladding to a building; it avoids condensation and humidity, extends the facade’s lifetime, and improves thermal and acoustic insulation. Rainscreen cladding requires virtually no maintenance and increases energy efficiency. The cladding makes cooling the building easier during the summer months and heats the property more efficiently throughout the winter. It’s been reported that energy bills have been reduced by as much as 40% due to these energy-efficient properties.


What is weatherboard cladding?

Weatherboard cladding, traditionally made from timber, is the process of using lengths of board to clad the outside of a property. It tends to be associated with barns, church towers and mills in the UK, and is very popular in coastal regions as it’s extremely effective in damp climates.

Now available in uPVC and fibre cement, weatherboard cladding is lightweight, quick to install and is famed for its weather resistance. It requires little input from homeowners too, as minimal maintenance is needed and any deterioration can be easily rectified.


Is external cladding fireproof?

One of the most important considerations is the fire rating of external cladding. Modern materials such as PVC and composites offer much higher fire protection compared with traditional materials, such as timber.

Many types of external cladding are classified with a ‘surface spread of flame’, which is designed to slow and control the spread of fire. Fire rated (FR) cladding has a higher classification of either ‘limited combustibility’ or ‘non-combustibility’. Conforming with European Standards EN-13501-1, such cladding panels are labelled from A1 to D according to their combustibility:

  • A = Non-combustible materials
  • B = Combustible materials: very limited contribution to fire
  • C = Combustible materials: limited contribution to fire
  • D = Combustible materials: medium contribution to fire

In December 2018, building regulations were altered to prevent combustible materials being applied to external walls of new buildings over 18 metres in height. This rule applies to all new residential housing, hospitals, care premises and student accommodation. It also limits the use of timber materials in high-rise constructions.


How to measure and install PVC cladding

If you’re a DIY-pro, installing PVC external cladding is a job you can do yourself. While the method changes depending on which material you’re using, PVC is one of the most user-friendly cladding options if a do-it-yourself project is what you have in mind.

Begin by measuring the square meterage of cladding required. For straightforward spaces, such as exterior walls, you simply need to measure the length and height and multiply the two measurements together. A gable is slightly more complicated; you’ll need to measure the barge boards, multiply them together and then divide by two to achieve the correct measurement. It’s a good idea to allow an extra 10% for cuts and wastes, to ensure you have enough material to complete the job.

When it comes to installing the cladding, we recommend you always refer to the manufacturer’s guidance. Start by ensuring the area is clear of debris and has been prepped for the cladding, before fixing trims in place with a breathable moisture barrier behind them. Using the appropriate cladding pins, attach a starter trim at the bottom of the area you wish to clad.

Ariel PVC cladding from Roofing Superstore

Next, engage the back lip of the cladding board into the starter and vertical fixing trims, which can be secured into place with pins. Our top tip is to start in the centre and work outwards, before attaching the new lengths of cladding to the previously installed ones. Finally, fit the top cladding board. A universal U trim along the board will give the best finish and the use of packing behind it will ensure the face of the cladding is correctly aligned.


Will you need planning permission for external cladding?

It’s unlikely you’ll need planning permission to add external cladding to a property, but there are a few scenarios in which you’ll need to seek planning approval. For example, if you live in a listed building, a conservation area or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you’ll have to go through the relevant channels in order to seek planning approval.

For the majority of properties, the addition of external cladding falls under your ‘Permitted Development Rights’, which have been granted by parliament. However, these rights do not apply to flats and maisonettes.


Maintaining cladding

To improve both the aesthetic appeal and lifespan of external cladding, we recommend giving it a thorough clean from time to time. Surfaces such as wood and metal can be difficult to clean properly, so it can be worth calling in an expert to reduce the risk of accidental damage.

PVC is much more user-friendly and as long as you invest in the correct protection, it’s safe to wash by hand. Investing in a good PVC cleaner is advantageous, as this will cut through dirt and stains, and can be used on PVC window frames and doors too.

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