External Walls: Materials and Cost Considerations

Author: Zay Choudhary
Published: February 16, 2024

Introduction

When it comes to constructing a building, choosing the right external wall material is crucial. Not only does it impact the overall appearance of the structure, but it also affects its durability, maintenance, and cost. In this article, we will examine different materials commonly used for external walls and their respective costs, so you can make an informed decision when planning your construction project.

Understanding the characteristics and benefits of each material will help you choose the most suitable option for your specific needs. However, it’s important to also consider factors such as climate, location, and budget when making a decision. By finding the right balance between aesthetic appeal and practicality, you can ensure a successful and cost-effective construction project. Let’s take a closer look at the different materials for external walls and their cost considerations.

Understanding Different Materials for External Walls

When it comes to building or renovating a home, choosing the right materials for external walls is a crucial decision. These walls serve as the first line of defence against the elements, and also contribute to the overall aesthetic and value of a property. It is important to understand the various materials available and their respective costs in order to make an informed decision.

Types of Materials:

1. Wood: A popular and affordable choice, wood offers natural insulation and versatility in design. It is available in different types such as pine, cedar, and redwood, each with its own unique characteristics and costs.

2. Brick: A classic and durable option, brick is known for its strength and low maintenance. It comes in various types such as clay, sand-lime, and concrete, with different costs depending on the type and size.

3. Concrete: A strong and long-lasting material, concrete is a popular choice for external walls. However, it can be limited in terms of design options and may have higher costs for customisation.

4. Stone: A timeless and high-end material, stone offers durability and aesthetic appeal. It is available in different types such as granite, limestone, and marble, each with varying costs.

5. Cladding: Cladding describes any material that covers the outer wall of a building. It can be attached either directly onto the walls or fixed to supporting battens. Applying wall cladding can offer extra protection to the exterior of a home or commercial building and transform its entire look.

6. Render: Render is a coating applied to a building’s external walls – basically, the smooth, usually white surface on the outside of a house. Traditionally, a mix of lime, water and an aggregate (such as sand) created a flexible and breathable covering.

Other Materials: Other materials to consider include stucco, vinyl, and metal, each with their own unique benefits and costs.

Factors to Consider When Choosing External Wall Materials

When it comes to choosing the right material for your external walls, there are several important factors to consider. These include climate, location, and budget. It is essential to find a material that not only suits the look and style of your property but also fits your specific needs and budget.

While aesthetics are important, it is also crucial to consider practicality and functionality when selecting a material. For instance, if you live in an area with extreme weather conditions, you may want to opt for a more durable and weather-resistant material. Additionally, the location of your property can also play a role in the choice of material. Certain materials may be more suitable for coastal areas or urban environments.

Budget is also an essential factor to keep in mind. Different materials have varying costs, and it is crucial to find a balance between the initial cost and the long-term value for money. It is also worth considering the availability, transportation, and labor costs associated with the material of your choice. By carefully considering these factors, you can make an informed decision and choose the best material for your external walls.

Wood

Wood is one of the most commonly used materials for external walls due to its affordability and versatility. It is a natural insulator, helping to reduce energy costs, and offers a wide range of design options. Different types of wood such as cedar, redwood, and pine have varying costs, with cedar being the most expensive and pine being the most affordable.

Successful projects using wood for external walls include cabins, beach houses, and modern homes. These projects have shown that wood can create a warm and inviting aesthetic while also being cost-effective. The cost of wood for external walls can range from £5 to £11 per square foot, making it a budget-friendly option for many homeowners.

Brick

Brick is a popular and durable material for external walls. Its strength and low maintenance make it a reliable choice for homeowners. There are different types of brick available, including clay and concrete, each with its own characteristics and benefits. Clay brick is known for its traditional look and natural insulation, while concrete brick offers more flexibility in size and shape. The cost of brick varies depending on the type and design chosen, but it is generally considered a cost-effective option for external walls. However, it’s important to consider the limitations of brick, such as high initial costs and limited design options. Despite these drawbacks, brick remains a classic and durable option for external walls, offering both aesthetic appeal and practicality.

Benefits of Brick wall:

  • Durability and strength
  • Low maintenance
  • Timeless aesthetic
  • Increased property value

Limitations of Brick wall:

There are a few potential drawbacks to consider when choosing brick as an external wall material. These include higher initial costs and limitations in design options. Additionally, brick may not be the best choice for areas prone to seismic activity, as it can crack under extreme conditions.

Concrete Walls

Concrete walls are a popular choice for external walls due to their strength and durability. They are known for their ability to withstand harsh weather conditions and provide long-lasting structural support. However, it is important to note that concrete walls also have certain limitations.

Advantages of Concrete Walls:

  • High strength and longevity
  • Resistant to fire and extreme weather
  • Low maintenance

Limitations of Concrete Walls:

  • Potential for cracking, especially in seismic areas
  • Higher costs for customisation and repairs

Despite these limitations, concrete walls remain a popular and practical choice for external walls. They offer a strong and reliable option for those seeking a durable and low-maintenance material for their walls. When considering concrete as a material for external walls, it is important to weigh both its advantages and limitations in order to make an informed decision.

Stone

Stone is a popular and high-end option for external walls due to its durability and aesthetic appeal. There are various types of stone available, such as granite, marble, and limestone, each with its own unique characteristics and costs.

  1. Natural Durability: Stone is known for its strength and can withstand harsh weather conditions, making it a long-lasting option for external walls.
  2. Aesthetic Appeal: Stone adds a timeless and elegant look to any building, making it a popular choice for high-end projects.
  3. Range of Options: With different types and colours of stone available, there are endless design possibilities to suit any style or preference.

However, stone can be a more expensive option for external walls compared to other materials. The cost of stone can vary depending on the type and size of the stones used, as well as the complexity of the installation process.

For example, using larger and more intricately cut stones will result in a higher cost, but also a more luxurious and unique look. On the other hand, standard sized and shaped stones will be more affordable but may not have the same high-end feel.

Despite the higher upfront cost, stone is a long-term investment as it requires minimal maintenance and can increase the value of a property. It is important to consider the overall cost and long-term value when deciding if stone is the right material for your external walls.

Cladding

Choosing the correct type of wall cladding will mostly come down to style and appearance. It is also important to consider cost, quality and materials when shopping around. Cladding describes any material that covers the outer wall of a building. It can be attached either directly onto the walls or fixed to supporting battens. Applying wall cladding can offer extra protection to the exterior of a home or commercial building and transform its entire look.

Several cladding options are available on the market, from timber cladding to fibre cement and tile cladding. Each provides its own unique benefits.

Types of cladding

  1. Fibre Cement Cladding: Fibre cement cladding, composed of sand, cement, cellulose fibres, clay, iron, and limestone, presents a cost-effective solution with low maintenance requirements, resulting in minimal upkeep expenses. Widely used in residential settings, this durable material offers an easily maintainable finish. Enhanced by sand for weather resistance and natural fire resilience, fibre cement boards are straightforward to install using the feather board technique.Demonstrating excellent weather resilience, these boards exhibit minimal expansion and contraction in varying temperatures. With a textured wood grain surface mimicking timber, a variety of colours are available.
  2. Composite Cladding: Composite cladding is manufactured from a hybrid of wood and plastic. It has become an increasingly popular cladding material in recent years. Composite cladding is a popular choice for homes looking for an external refresh. Many people choose composite cladding as it can be installed horizontally or vertically. It also protects the exterior or render on a property.There’s also no need to sand, varnish or paint composite cladding boards. This makes them low-maintenance when compared with real wood cladding.
  3. Wood/Timber Cladding: Timber cladding, derived from one of the most natural materials, exudes rustic charm when applied to the exterior of a home. While installation is straightforward, maintaining the fresh appearance of timber cladding necessitates annual treatment and upkeep. Structurally stable and favoured in conventional designs, timber has become immensely popular in recent years owing to its versatility and eco-friendly, reusable properties. Whether used indoors or outdoors, timber cladding imparts a natural and warm aesthetic to homes. With a diverse range of colours and styles, timber offers options for both traditional and modern cladding designs, allowing for vertical, diagonal, or horizontal installation based on your desired style.
  4. Stone Cladding: This external house cladding type is crafted from layers of natural stone, imparting a rustic charm that is particularly popular in houses situated in rural settings. The diverse variations of stone cladding make it a sought-after choice for new builds seeking a distinctive finish from neighbouring properties. Ideal for domestic properties, stone cladding offers a traditional aesthetic for the house’s exterior. Its durability and resistance to harsh weather conditions make it suitable for buildings exposed to year-round weather challenges, reducing the risk of dampness and water leaks. Stone cladding encompasses various natural stone materials, including marble, sandstone, or slate. Recently, a lightweight alternative in the form of simulated stone veneers has gained popularity, providing a cost-effective and easier-to-install option for solid walls. Available in different sizes, textures, and cuts, stone cladding can be installed in uniform lengths or random patterns.
  5. uPVC Cladding: UPVC or PVC cladding proves to be an economical and low-maintenance option, ideal for holiday properties and portable rental homes seeking a budget-friendly and consistent exterior finish. Unplasticised Polyvinyl Chloride (uPVC), known for its affordability and lightweight properties, comes in a wide range of colours. Its straightforward installation and easy repairability, coupled with minimal upkeep—requiring just a simple wash with warm water and a brush—make it a practical choice. Beyond its cost-effectiveness, uPVC exhibits fire resistance, aids in preventing the spread of fire, and is UV-protected to resist sun-induced fading, while also providing additional thermal insulation properties.
  6. Brick Cladding: Brick cladding panels offer a transformative touch to any house, catering to diverse architectural styles. Whether seeking to replicate a popular pattern or safeguard the exterior from damage and weathering, brick is a versatile choice. When applied to exterior walls, brick cladding not only recreates the classic appearance of red bricks but also ensures installation convenience through large customisable panels. With a range of colours and styles, brick cladding remains a popular choice for homeowners, contributing to a modern and enduring exterior. The cost for this versatile cladding option typically starts at £35 per square metre.
  7. Metal Cladding: Metal cladding materials, commonly found on agricultural and commercial structures, present an easily maintained surface reflecting the industry they serve. Traditionally used for industrial and agricultural buildings, metal cladding has gained popularity in cladding expansive domestic structures such as barn conversions. Steel and aluminium stand out as favoured materials, offering a variety of colours and finishes when coated. Not only does metal cladding provide an easy-to-clean surface, but it also enhances fire protection as a non-combustible material, with aluminium being a preferred choice for this purpose. Beyond its protective features, metal cladding offers effective insulation and durability, making it a preferred option for substantial working buildings.
  8. Tile Cladding: Tile cladding stands out as a popular choice for homes aiming to enhance their visual appeal. Providing both insulation and protection from the elements, tile cladding is crafted from either manmade or natural materials like plastic, slate, or clay. While commonly observed in internal applications, tile cladding panels also grace external walls, offering customisation for various patterns or uniform designs. The versatility of colours and finishes allows for creative applications, with hanging tiles presenting a more traditional appearance, albeit at a higher cost (£55+ per square metre). Handmade tiles, while imparting a modern aesthetic, can contribute to increased initial expenditure. The insulation properties of tile cladding make it an ideal choice for colder climates.
  9. Glass Cladding: Glass cladding, offering a modern aesthetic, invites abundant natural light into buildings, creating a contemporary ambiance. Although it comes at a higher cost per square metre compared to other materials, its low-maintenance and durable nature make it a long-term investment. Popular among architects for making bold statements, glass cladding has adorned iconic structures like the Louvre Museum in Paris and The Shard in London, often chosen for commercial projects seeking prominence and style. Its low-maintenance attributes, requiring only annual cleaning, contribute to its appeal, especially for large buildings where it remains dimensionally stable over its lifespan. Lightweight panels facilitate easy installation on support battens, allowing for the creation of custom shapes.

Render

Conventional render is made from a cement, sand and aggregate blend, but many modern products are cement free. These newer options sometimes contain products to help waterproofing and resistance to algae growth – you can even get renders pre-mixed with a colour for a vibrant finish and ones that work with external insulation.

Normally these need only one coat of 1mm-4mm thickness, but this is highly influenced by the substrate material used under the render.

If chipping are being added to the surface once the render is in place, then it may need to be at least 6mm thick.

A basecoat of 8mm-10mm will be needed to level out a poor brick surface, sometimes using a mesh membrane to reinforce. For lighter weight construction – steel studs – a proprietary backing board can be applied to act as the substrate, which is then covered in a reinforcement mesh, much like the levelling coat over masonry.

Types of Render

  1. Sand & Cement Render: Cement-based or mineral renders have been around for centuries. They are made from a mix of sharp sand, cement and sometimes a little lime to add flexibility, built up over several layers.Cement-based render needs to be painted on top meaning added maintenance over the years.
  2. Silicone & Acrylic Render: Modern silicone and acrylic renders, conveniently pre-made and available in tubs, offer flexibility with pre-colouring options for vibrant finishes. While durable, they may have limited waterproofing qualities and are susceptible to algae. Applied in stages with a base coat, primer, and top coat, they require less drying time than standard cement.
  3. Monocouche Render: This cement-based render option priorities breathability and is through-coloured, eliminating the need for additional painting. With a designed thickness of 15mm, it arrives on-site as a dry mix, ready to be blended with water. A single layer can suffice for well-built, neatly finished block work, making it ideal for those seeking a swift application process with excellent results. Homeowners often assess the comparative benefits of silicone and monocouche when seeking a high-quality rendering product.
  4. Lime Render: Not widely used for over half a century, lime has recently seen a resurgence due to its flexible and breathable qualities. Its permeability makes it effective in preventing damp, mould, and condensation in older properties. Lime Green products were employed to revive a fire-damaged listed cottage in Worcestershire, using lime render externally and insulating wood fibre boards coated with lime plaster internally. Beyond its functional benefits, people appreciate the characterful aesthetic it imparts. Lime is a specialist product, requiring application by those familiar with its nuances, as it involves specific ingredients and post-application washes.

Other Materials to Consider

There are several other materials to consider when it comes to choosing external walls for your building. These options may offer different benefits and costs, so it’s important to weigh your options carefully before making a decision. Some other materials to consider include stucco, vinyl, and metal.

Stucco is a popular option for its durability and low maintenance. It is also moisture-resistant, making it a suitable choice for areas with high humidity or rainfall. Vinyl is a budget-friendly option that offers easy installation and a variety of design options. Metal, on the other hand, is a durable and modern choice that can provide unique aesthetic appeal.

When considering these materials, it’s important to keep in mind factors such as climate, location, and personal preference. Consult with professionals to determine the best option for your specific needs and budget. Ultimately, the right material for your external walls will depend on a balance of practicality, functionality, and cost.

Cost Considerations for External Walls

When choosing materials for external walls, cost is an important factor to consider. The overall cost of external wall construction includes not only material costs but also other factors such as availability, transportation, and labour. Therefore, it is crucial to carefully evaluate the cost of each material option as well as their long-term value for money.

The costs of different materials for external walls vary depending on the type of material and its availability in your location. For example, wood and brick are often more affordable options compared to stone or concrete. Additionally, customisation and installation costs can also impact the overall cost.

It is important to note that while some materials may have a higher upfront cost, they may also offer long-term savings in terms of maintenance and durability. It is recommended to consult with professionals to get personalised recommendations based on your specific needs and budget. Ultimately, the cost should be balanced with other important factors such as climate, location, and personal preference when choosing the right material for your external walls.

Conclusion

In conclusion, when it comes to choosing the right material for your external walls, there are a variety of options to consider. Each material has its own unique characteristics, benefits, and costs that must be weighed carefully. It is important to not only consider the aesthetics of the material, but also its durability, maintenance, and practicality for your specific climate and location. While wood and brick are popular and affordable choices, stone offers a timeless and high-end option. It is also worth considering other materials such as stucco, vinyl, and metal.

Ultimately, the decision should be based on a balance of personal preference and practicality, as well as considering the cost of material and overall construction. It is recommended to consult with professionals for personalised recommendations and to ensure the best value for money in the long-term. Remember to carefully consider all factors before making a decision on the material for your external walls.

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