Whether you’re doing a bit of home improvement or you’re looking to add natural, eye-catching allure to a commercial design, cladding always steps up the mark. With its clean, natural aesthetic, it can transform the exterior of any building.
In this guide, we’ll explore cladding’s popularity, the best species and profiles, as well as other top tips for treatment.
Firstly, however, for the completely uninitiated, let’s take a look at what cladding actually is and provide a brief overview of its uses and benefits.
Exterior timber cladding: a quick introduction
What is timber cladding?
Timber cladding is a common exterior finish for buildings. ‘Cladding’ refers to components that are attached to a primary structure to form the external structure, and ‘timber’ refers to the material that these components are made of.
Wood cladding is available in a huge range of species (the type of tree that the timber originated from), which is then machined to a certain profile (which determines the way the boards fit together).
There are estimated to be over 60,000 tree species across the world. Some have particularly good natural durability (moisture, rot, decay and insect resistance), workability, stability and beauty, making them ideal for external cladding. The choice of profile, similarly, can affect the properties and aesthetics of the cladding.
The use of wood to clad buildings is a long-established and well-refined weatherproofing technique.
From the modest garden shed to the ostentatious Knarvik church, humans have perfected the art of cladding — and there’s no shortage of stunning, iconic architecture that stands testament to that.
Cladding doesn’t have to be made of timber, of course. But as well as providing a building with protection and thermal insulation, wood has a certain aesthetic appeal — many homeowners are turning to timber to add a flourish of luxury and beauty to their home.
In recent years, exterior wood cladding has also attracted more attention for its environmental credentials compared to other building materials. It’s also very popular for larger, commercial projects: such as the Redcar & Cleveland Leisure Centre!
So, why wood for your exterior cladding project?
There’s a number of good reasons why exterior timber cladding has been popular for generations.
1. Natural beauty: You can create a seamless transition between building and surrounding greenery, or provide a welcome contrast within an urban environment. Who can resist timber’s timeless good looks? Humans are biophilic creatures, so we’re innately attracted to natural surfaces like wood.
2. Sustainability: If you’re looking for a natural, eco-conscious building material, with timber, you’ve got it. It is carbon-sequestering, storing harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere — a great way to weave a sustainable story into your project. Any reputable timber merchant will source their products from sustainably-managed FSC or PEFC-certified forests; this means that for every tree harvested to make your cladding, another is planted in its place. 100% sustainable, 100% renewable.
3. Adaptability: Wood is a simple, natural material. This means that it’s remarkably easy to change out, customise or remove — at least compared to other exterior finishing materials. You’re bever stuck with a design (unless you want to be!). If you’ve got an eye for design or you’re rather indecisive, an eye-catching paint or gorgeous stain is never too difficult and doesn’t require specialist tools. It’s also easy to create interesting, unique designs to fit any architectural vision.
4. Budget and time flexibility: Of course, it’s totally possible to ‘go big’ with any timber cladding project but, by the same token, you can find plenty of cost-effective woods that look incredible and perform fantastically — like Siberian Larch and, for a middle-ground option, the ever-popular Western Red Cedar. It’s also worth noting that timber is lighter than other building materials, making the cladding quick and easy to transport, manoeuvre and install.
5. Functionality: As a material, timber has a cellular structure which contains air pockets. This makes it a fantastic natural insulator — keeping the home (indeed, any building it’s applied to) at a more stable temperature. In fact, wood insulates fifteen times better than masonry, 400 times better than steel and 1,770 times better than aluminium. This structure also makes it a great sound insulator, keeping noise out.
What’s the best timber for external cladding?
Exterior timber cladding needs to look the part, but it also needs to be dimensionally stable and naturally durable.
A good exterior cladding timber needs to be able to stand up to everything the punishing UK seasons throws its way; sun, rain, wind, snow — as well as having resistance to insect and fungal attack.
Softwoods are the most popular option for outdoor wood cladding as they perform this role fantastically at a cost-effective price, but there are some gorgeous hardwoods that work well too.
Whether you’re designing an eye-catching commercial project or doing a spot of home improvement, here are some of the best types of wood cladding.
- Colour: Varies; reddish to pinkish brown with darker red/brown streak
- Grain: Straight grain, medium-to-coarse texture
- Rot resistance: Very high
- Workability: Excellent machining properties, takes both screws and nails well.
- Sourced from: British Columbia
A highly-durable softwood with a stunning, warm reddish-brown hue, Western Red Cedar has become a wildly popular cladding timber in recent years. Many consider it to be the best species for cladding.
Lightweight, stable, affordable, weather resistant and with impeccable workability and nailing properties, this resinous species naturally repels all the outdoor evils it will encounter.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re wood cladding a house or the side of a large real estate property, Western Red Cedar won’t let you down.
- Grain: Generally straight or spiralled. Medium-to-fine texture.
- Colour: Pale yellow to a medium brownish colour.
- Rot resistance: Moderate.
- Workability: Good machining properties, takes both screws and nails well.
- Sourced from: Siberia.
A premier softwood, Siberian Larch is right up there with Western Red Cedar in terms of popularity.
We’ve actually written an entire blog post comparing the two, but your choice will usually come down to personal preference for colour. Siberian Larch’s heartwood can range from a pale yellow to a medium straw yellow in colour so, for a natural finish, this is a great timber to choose.
Larch is harder than Cedar, however; despite being classed as a softwood, it has a density of 575kg/mᵌ — making it more scratch resistant than even many hardwoods. Siberian Larch also typically comes in at a cheaper price, making it a fantastic option for those working to a tighter budget.
With great overall results when nailing and screwing, Siberian Larch makes for an excellent, durable, dense and stable exterior wood cladding material.
3. European Oak
- Grain: Straight, with a coarse, uneven texture.
- Colour: Golden-brown colour.
- Rot resistance: Very high.
- Workability: Good machining properties, takes both screws and nails well.
- Sourced from: France
With a gorgeous golden brown colour and a characteristic straight grain, it’s no wonder why European Oak is a perennially popular hardwood cladding.
As tough as nails and with exceptional natural durability, the stunning beauty of this species can be enhanced by a stain or finish. European Oak stock imported into the UK has already been through the kilning, machining and finger-jointing process all prior to delivery.
Though it machines relatively well, nailing and screwing can be a bit more difficult — so pre-drilling is advised. It’s also worth noting that Oak reacts with iron, so stainless steel nails or screws are your best bet.
As the boarding is glued and finger jointed, it can be supplied in longer, more stable 4.5m lengths.
For a beautiful, longer-length hardwood external cladding, European Oak is the one for you — guaranteed to imbue your outdoor cladding project with a touch of timeclass class.
- Grain: Generally straight. Medium-to-fine texture.
- Colour: A dark brown tone throughout.
- Rot resistance: Moderate.
- Workability: Good machining properties, takes both screws and nails well.
- Sourced from: the Baltic region, delivered on a curtain sided wagon.
If you’re after a quality timber cladding that’s on the slightly darker side, Thermowood combines gorgeous brown tones with superior natural durability. This wood is slightly more dense than Western Red Cedar, but less so than Siberian Larch.
As thermally-modified softwood pine with medium density, this unique product provides stability, less shrinkage, movement (swelling), cupping and distortion. Available in a wide range of profiles, Thermowood also takes well to both screws and nails.
For another popular modified cladding timber, take a look at LIGNIA®, too — this ‘wood for life’ boasts remarkable natural durability as a result of a resin impregnation process. With alluring exotic brown hues, it’s often seen as an alternative to rare species like mahogany and teak.
There are, of course, many other types of timber that also step up to the job of exterior cladding, but you can’t go wrong with those we’ve just mentioned. For something at the extreme dark end, perhaps try some design-led charred timber to really make a statement.
Exterior timber cladding profiles & options
Just as with the species, when it comes to profiles, there are many types of timber cladding. The profile determines how the pieces of cladding fit together.
There’s no universal ‘best profile for exterior timber cladding’ — your aesthetic vision and practical needs will determine this, of course.
Some types of profile can provide a classic, traditional or rustic look, while others can lend your project a sleek, modern and contemporary feel.
The profile fit can also convey protection benefits against moisture and rainfall, so that might factor into your decision making if your cladding is at a high elevation or exposed to the elements.
Whether for a small household or large-scale commercial project, this is the ideal all-rounder profile and is possibly the most popular out there.
The boards slot together neatly and simply thanks to a tongue (the protruding section) and groove (the slot). It’s why species like V-groove are often referred to as ‘tongue and groove’.
This fit forms a ‘V’ shape on the surface, providing a pleasing, faint shadow line between each.
V-groove ensures a modern, clean, neat look and, much like Shiplap (mentioned below), has the ability to shield buildings from water — providing excellent weatherproofing. This is one of the more popular timber and cedar cladding profiles out there.
Another very popular profile, Shiplap shares similarities with V-groove — both have a tongue and groove fit. The key difference is the longer lip, which provides superior water protection.
This lip gives a pleasing, soft curved shape on the cladding surface; a popular, traditional choice often associated with rural settings. Ideal for invoking a sense of countryside charm, Shiplap is very popular for cladding sheds and other outbuildings, but can still provide a rustic decorative touch for any surface.
For more information about Shiplap and V-groove, explore our blog post comparing these two profiles.
For the architecturally-minded amongst you, look no further than this modern, stylish profile for a designer cladding option.
Similar in fit to V-groove and Shiplap, once these profile boards are put together, you get a square 1cm shadow set within a sleek gap.
If you’re looking to add a traditional touch, feather-edge will suit you down to the ground. Cut at an angle, the overlapping boards that characterise this type of profile are wildly popular with barn conversions, outbuilding renovations and old-style agricultural buildings.
The clean, smart and professional uniformity of feather-edge is guaranteed to catch the eye with a nod to all things rural; its excellent weather-proofing attributes only add to the utility of the profile.
As well as being a secure and sturdy choice, feather-edge gives an element of freedom. The way feather-edged cladding is cut is to allow for an overlap, giving more control over how the finished result looks. This gives the fitter flexibility over the cover size.
If you’re looking for a minimalist take on Shiplap, chamfered half-lap could be the ideal profile — it brings a little bit more subtlety whilst retaining a soft, sleek curvature.
Stable and performing well against moisture, this is a refined, classy and understated profile for any horizontal exterior cladding project.
Once installed, the surface reveals a smooth finish with distinctive, slim shadow lines; a versatile, dynamic profile for a traditional or contemporary cladding project.
So-called because of the profile’s uncanny ability to replicate the look of a log cabin, log-lap fuses sleekness with rural charm.
This profile is increasingly popular with home improvers looking to style a modern summerhouse, garden room or office.
If you’re wanting to make a unique statement, this distinctly European profile can be provided in thicker boards to achieve a more pronounced log-like curvature.
If you’re looking for a clean, completely decorative façade from your cladding, consider slayed profile (also known as rainscreen cladding).
This profile’s rhomboid-shaped boards are equally spaced, but aren’t interlocked or connected, meaning that they don’t provide protection against the elements. That said, they provide a stunning, eye-catching and unique architectural touch.
As such, this profile is best suited to design-led projects that are fully waterproofed or completely shielded from the elements.
Exterior wood cladding ideas, trends, designs & inspiration for 2021
Once you’ve plumped for a species and profile, deciding how to style your cladding is the next priority. If you’re an architect, designer or just a stylish home improver, explore our eight styles, ideas and current trends for a standout cladding project.
Orientation is one consideration; we’ve also written a blog discussing the virtues of horizontal and vertical cladding. To make a statement, don’t rule out using them both together, or even diagonally! Also, for an attractive designer finish to your project, angle bead corner trim is a popular way to frame your cladding.
Treating and maintaining your exterior timber cladding
So, now you’ve chosen a species, profile and style, your mind might turn to finishes, maintenance and treatment of your cladding.
For most properties, outdoor cladding is nearly always exposed to direct sunlight at some point in the day. Regardless of species chosen, this will eventually discolour the cladding, turning it into a silvery-grey colour.
Some people enjoy natural timber cladding as it’s left to weather — particularly those looking to achieve a rustic architectural feel.
However, if you wish to protect your wood or drastically slow down this weathering process, a UV protective finish or paint can be applied. There are a number of finishes on the market.
If you want your timber to age gracefully to that distinctive silvery-grey but want to protect against water damage, then a colourless preservative like Owatrol H4 Wood is the cladding treatment for you.
These types of transparent treatments don’t contain any UV filters, so they allow your cladding to age and weather slowly and consistently whilst guarding against water, insect and rot damage.
A powerful, penetrating UV protectant like Owatrol Textrol HES can be applied by brush, cloth or spray. These types of treatments are available in a range of tints, from clear to charcoal — so you’ve got power over the finished look.
This type of protective treatment shields the cladding from sunlight damage, resulting in the timber preserving its colour for a much longer period of time. If the cladding is in an area of direct sunlight, we recommend recoating once every two years, but if it is in a shaded area, give it a slap of treatment every three or so years.
A sun-cream you need to re-apply every couple of years, if you like — not a bad price to pay for retaining the gorgeous natural colour of your timber cladding!
For the most powerful and long-lasting protection, an opaque, acrylic-based paint can also be applied to coat the timber.
This process will completely hide the grain of the wood and replace it with a solid colour — so not the ideal option if you’re looking to showcase your timber in its natural glory.
That said, there are also some solid-colour stains on the market that still allow you to retain some of the wood’s original texture.
What time of year should I install my exterior timber cladding?
Cladding a building in wood is no mean feat, and there are a range of things to consider — even the time of year to install it! Though you can install new cladding year-round, the best period of time is between October and April. This is to ensure the timber does not shrink or curl in warm weather. Therefore, consider planning for your new cladding during the summer months.
How long does timber cladding last for?
If properly installed and maintained, a quality, naturally-durable timber cladding species like Western Red Cedar, European Oak or Siberian Larch can last for more than 30 years in the UK’s climate. With good treatment and maintenance, this can extend to over 40 years.
Let’s get cladding
At Duffield Timber, we stock a wide range of stunning, sustainable timber cladding in many beautiful species, all machined on-site here in the UK.
If you’re just after a bit of cladding maintenance kit, you’re in the right place, too — explore our range of angle beads, nails, screws, shingles, ridges, solid colour stains and UV protective finishes.
To get started on your cladding or to pick the brains of our expert timber team, get in touch today. Or, if you’re nearby, why not pay us a visit?