An overview of 5 key material options for a stunning facade

Building Facade elevation white metal skeleton structure with glass and blue sky above

Finding the perfect facade finish for your building project is not easy. In our experience, clients often have some idea of what they’re looking for but require more guidance on the options. Crucially, they’re looking for us to share the most important considerations to take into account.

There are countless combinations of external materials to consider. There are an even greater number of articles, pages and experts trying to explain the pros and cons of individual options. Where to start?

This post aims to guide you through the most popular choices of external cladding materials, considering elements such as style, practicality and performance so you quickly arrive at the best option(s) for your project.

So, let us take you on a journey through five of the most popular external cladding options to lead you to building facade nirvana*.

*(Other heavenly destinations are available).

Here are the five options summarised in brief. Over the following weeks, we’ll add new blog posts to dig into more detail on each material (and update the links below).

The 5 key facade materials to consider:

1. Timber cladding – natural, elegant style
2. Brick cladding (brick slips) – a traditional material with a modern twist
3. Tile cladding (clay/ceramic/terracotta) (ceramic/terracotta) – a study in symmetry
4. Stone cladding – a solid classic
5. Zinc (metal) cladding – industrial and futuristic


By the end of this article, we hope that you’ve got a decent taste of what’s to come in the rest of the series and already start to zoom-in on your shortlist of options.

So without further ado, let’s start our journey through the forest of information…

1. Timber cladding – natural, elegant style

front of a timber clad building facade with blue sky above

Wood is a natural, warm and versatile material – a go-to option for many since time immemorial and a favourite for residential extensions. It has natural insulating properties, can easily be bought from sustainable sources and can even be recycled (or adapted and reused) once its cladding days are up.

With a tonne of design options and installation techniques, there are near-infinite creative variations of this material, from the more sober to most adventurous tastes which can create a truly marvellous aesthetic.

It’s also very durable against the combined forces of weather and pest (insect), especially if you opt for a modified variation such as the popular Thermowood (heat-treated to increase strength and resistance to the elements).

To round-off its advantages, timber cladding is one of the most cost-effective materials, being relatively inexpensive in both product price and installation/maintenance costs.

Key considerations when looking at timber for your project, include;

a. Wood type (softwood, hardwood or modified)
b. Orientation or ‘profile’ (eg vertical, horizontal or diagonal application)
c. Building/wall type (new build or existing building retrofit)
d. Durability (wood type, modification and treatment) and
e. Suitability (residential properties and extensions, low-rise commercial buildings).

There are some potential downsides, including that it’s not suitable for high-rise buildings. Also, some types of wood are not as hardy against tougher weather unless modified.

All-in-all, timber cladding is an appealing choice for the eco-conscious, those looking for a naturalistic aesthetic and those who are most cost-concerned.

For more information, check out the Timber Decking and Cladding Association (TDCA) as the definitive authority on timber cladding in the UK. The TDCA sets the standards that all good suppliers, designers and installers adhere to, including managing the certification and provision of the TDCA CladMark accreditation for quality.

In addition, the Timber Research And Development Association (TRADA) is a membership organisation aiming to bring best practice in design, specification and application of wood in the built environment – their website contains lots of helpful information for choosing a product, so worth a look.

For a more in-depth review of the advantages, considerations and a top tip on the installation of timber cladding, check out our article: “5 great reasons to choose timber cladding (+important considerations)”

Wood not for you? Looking something more traditional or industrial? How about brick

2. Brick cladding (brick slips) – a traditional material with a modern twist

Rear of a brick clad building in traditional red brick

The introduction of brick slips (the frontage of a clay brick, just a few mm thick) has brought about a revolution in facade design and external insulation.

Brick slips are often applied atop panels of insulation which themselves are affixed to the exterior of existing buildings, to cover the new layer of padding which is now keeping the building thermally efficient, soundproofed and condensation-free.

As a result, they often come prefabricated onto external insulation boards so they can be fixed right onto the outside of the structure in panels. This is especially useful on larger commercial or high-rise buildings, making them fairly quick and efficient to install.

The advantages of this facade material don’t end there.

Brick slips come in a huge variety of styles and thicknesses. They’re even available as highly polished modern tiles (see more about tiles in the next section). They’re lightweight but also tough and durable because they’re fired just like regular clay bricks or cut from full-size bricks.

Some key considerations when deciding on brick slips are:

a) where they to be used (retrofit, new build, commercial, residential)
b) the thickness of brick slips required (generally 7, 9, 15 or 20mm)
c) how they fixed (either steel-framed bricks slips, fixed onto galvanized steel mesh, applied directly with adhesive or as part of module insulated boards)
d) style considerations (traditional to modern)
e) whether it’s worth buying prefabricated boards (or on insulation or cement boards)

However, they won’t suit all designs and are generally more expensive than other types of cladding such as render or timber.

One alternative for a cheaper brick appearance is to use a brick-effect render (a brick-coloured render is applied to the entire surface, texturized to look like the front of a brick and then modified by cutting lines in the render and filling them with a mortar-coloured material).

In summary, brick slips make a great choice for those looking for a beautifully traditional or industrial-looking aesthetic, those needing a quicker installation and where it’s important that a brick effect is created or maintained.

As mentioned, some modern brick slip variants can include high-polish tiles and if you’re looking for sleek and contemporary with satisfying symmetry, perhaps consider tile style…

3. Tile cladding (clay/ceramic/terracotta) – a study in symmetry

White porceline tile cladding on a house extension facade

Tiles are an often-overlooked material for building facades but can produce truly stand-out effects and add something extra special to exterior surfaces.

In some cultures, tiles are a traditional facade feature. Anyone who has visited Lisbon in Portugal will be familiar with the blue painted tiles adorning many a building – these are known as the Azulejo and date back to a period of strong Arabic influence (hence the popularity of geometric and symmetrical patterns).

Today, tiles often represent modernity – clean, crisp and polished. They are used on residential building and extensions, and also commercial and even high-rise buildings.

They come in a bewildering array of colours and styles; from stone-effect (see more on stone in the next section) through to floral mosaic, oxidised-metallic effect through to traditional or even hyper-modern polished terracotta used on high-rise buildings.

Aside from variety, versatility and vogue, many types of contemporary tiles can be applied to a metal-frame as part of a ventilated facade system to improve  energy efficiency and reduce condensation. They’re also pretty durable against the elements.

Considerations include; the type of tiles and the system you intend to use. Two distinct system options are hanging tile and metal-frame systems.

The hanging tile system has its roots in an old English practice of using roof tiles to cover parts of the external face of the building and add protection against the elements. The clay tiles are hung from wooden rails going horizontally across the wall. The more contemporary approach is the metal-frame system (often part of a rain-screen system), whereby aluminium or steel frames set away from the wall or insulated boards have the ceramic/terracotta tiles fit onto them.

One of the disadvantages of tile cladding is that it can be one of the more expensive options. Hanging clay tiles are generally cheaper to install but can still add-up depending on the style you choose.

In summary, tile cladding can add a distinctive and even bespoke aesthetic with countless styles and colours to choose from, work well with insulation systems, but can be pricey.

One effect which is often popular is stone, which mostly comes in tile or panel systems, too…

4. Stone cladding – a solid classic

stone wall image

Stone cladding consists of individual panels comprised of natural stone material such as limestone, slate, sandstone or quartz.

Like timber, stone provides a natural aesthetic appeal and is available in many styles and varieties to suit different design options. It’s also an incredibly strong material and resilient to even the harshest weather conditions. This in turn means that maintenance of the material is generally easier and less expensive. You can expect the longevity to rival most other cladding options.

By its nature, it’s also a highly fire-resistant material, making it a good choice for larger accommodation blocks. It can also support a decent insulation and energy efficiency setup, especially where used as part of a ventilated stone-tile system. Finally, natural stone wall cladding is also quite straight-forward to install, often available in sections that simply plug or fit neatly together.

Factors to be taken into account when choosing stone cladding include that it’s a heavier material, so attention needs to be paid to the weight and load-bearing on the system as a whole. Another thing to consider is whether you want to use real stone or stone-effect tiles, which are often cheaper though less hardy, durable and authentic.

On the downside, being a heavier material, it can often require more effort and machinery to install (though the installation itself is not complicated). Also, due to the weight factor, you will need to ensure a sound structural substrate.

But the biggest downside (by some margin) is cost. The material itself tends to be most expensive that other types of ceramic tiles and factoring in the overall installation costs you’ll find it’s nearly always considerably more expensive than timber, brick, tile and most types of metal cladding (see next section on zinc/metal cladding).

To summarise, if you want a strong, classic, natural aesthetic and a highly durable material which can accompany an insulated system and are less restrained on cost, stone may well be the choice for you.

If, however you want a more contemporary, industrial effect, how about some heavy metal?

5. Zinc (metal) cladding – industrial and futuristic

fully zinc clad extension

The final material on our menu is zinc. (It’s worth noting that there are other metals you can choose as facade options. Stainless steel, aluminium and copper in particular, but we’ll focus in on zinc).

There are many advantages of zinc, but our four key call-outs are as follows:

Firstly, it’s stunningly modern, distinctive and attractive, clean and bold. The weathering of this material produces a protective layer of zinc carbonate which creates a beautiful bluish surface ‘patina’ effect.

Second, flexibility. It can be shaped into almost any mould. It can be used on the roof as well as the walls and is sometimes used as a complete building envelope. It’s a great contrast with glass, brick and wood opening up a world of possibilities for the architect.

It’s a tough material, often lasts over 60 years and, well-maintained, 100 years or more.

Finally, zinc is an environmentally conscious choice in that it’s completely recyclable.

There are a few things to consider when opting for a zinc cladding facade.

Firstly, depriving it of enough airflow can cause corrosion due to the lack of carbon dioxide needed to create its naturally protective layer. It also reacts with acids and oils, limiting it as an option when in contact with certain types of wood which naturally excrete oily sap or tanins.

It’s also highly reactive to change in heat and will expand and contract more than other materials. A well-designed system will take this into account and avoid ‘pinch-points’ of fixings that could cause the metal to warp.

Finally, all metals are susceptible to a process called galvanic corrosion, where metals corrode when in close contact with other metals and liquids such as rainwater. If you’re going to used other metals near your zinc cladding, then check out which metals are likely to minimise the chances of corrosion.

Zinc cladding can be one of the more expensive options. Although it’s easy to maintain, the costs of the material and its installation can make it a bit too much for some.

In summary, zinc is a super contemporary, stylish and flexible material which complements many other desirable facade materials. It will last, but it’s not cheap.

Summary of options and getting more help

Across the five types of materials reviewed, there are a wide variety of options depending on the facade effect you are hoping to achieve. Some, like timber and stone will provide a more natural aesthetic. The option of zinc cladding or contemporary tiles will give a sleeker and more modern feel. Brick can provide a truly authethetic, classic traditional look.

We hope that the advantages, disadvantages and considerations covered in this introduction article will be helpful to you to zoom-in on deciding which material(s) to use for your building facade.

For more detail, watch this space as over the coming weeks we will post in-depth articles on each of the cladding materials mentioned in this article, with links on this page.

If you’d like some more advice on your external façade requirements, or to book a meeting with us to discuss further, drop us a message, connect and chat with us on Twitter or LinkedIn, or give us a call.

We’d love it if you also left a comment below, sharing your thoughts, ideas and suggestions with us and our community.

We look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for reading!


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