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What Are Exterior Finishes?

Submitted by Jenny Hull on

In simple terms, exterior finishes are the materials used to protect exterior wall systems from the elements. Additionally, these finishes are designed with aesthetics in mind and are often used to define a building’s character, as well as its curb appeal. The materials and practices used throughout the exterior finishing process directly impact the longevity of a building. Without the right materials, a building will quickly succumb to natural wear and tear.

This blog will review some of the most popular exterior wall finishes, and explain how materials used to construct an exterior cladding or siding system can impact the structural integrity and quality of a building.

Types of Exterior Wall Finishes

There is a great variety to choose from regarding exterior wall finishes. Naturally, each option comes with its own benefits and challenges. To offer more clarity, the section below lists pros and cons of the six most common exterior wall finishes.


Stucco is often praised for its stylistic versatility and great durability, making it a very popular option. In fact, the Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction found that stucco is the most common siding material for new single-family homes. Stucco is also commended for its ability to withstand greater fire damage. Because it is made of sand and cement, stucco is much more fire-resistant than wood siding.

Stucco’s absorbent nature is its most significant drawback. Because stucco is a porous material, it absorbs moisture. Therefore, if there are errors in the installation process, stucco siding can easily be ruined by excessive dampness. The Easy Embedment System™ (EES) was created to reduce the likelihood of improper installation causing negative impacts on your building’s finish.


Much like stucco, brick exterior walls are very durable. Brick can withstand the elements and is fire- and pest-resistant. Brick is also known to be a great insulator, making it an energy-efficient option. Lastly, many seek out brick because of its classic aesthetic.

Brick is not the most economical option, which may not be ideal for certain projects with budgetary constraints. Brick can also be affected by moisture damage if not properly installed.

Wood Siding

Wood siding is often selected to give a structure a more warm and inviting appearance. Although difficult to come by, the most durable wood comes from redwoods and cedars. These trees are naturally resistant to pests and are extremely strong. If redwood and cedar are not within the budget, there are many applications and techniques available that can improve wood’s durability. For example, the shou sugi ban technique chars wood planks to enhance the strength of the material.

Because it is an organic material, wood does not possess the same durability as other siding options. Wood is susceptible to rot, is not fire-resistant, and can develop insulation problems if sheathing boards are not properly installed.

Fiber Cement Siding

Fiber cement siding is a flexible wood, sand, and cement mixture. Fiber cement is a hardy material and can stand against extreme weather conditions and fires. It also is fairly pest-resistant.

Because of safety concerns, fiber cement siding is somewhat difficult to install. When cutting the siding, workers may be exposed to hazardous dust containing crystalline silica, which is a known carcinogen. Because of this exposure risk, workers are required to use special equipment during installation, which can increase labor costs. It should be noted, however, that fiber cement siding is harmless once installed. Lastly, like most siding options, fiber cement is susceptible to moisture damage.

Vinyl Siding

Regarding popularity, vinyl siding is second only to stucco, and for good reason. Vinyl is the most affordable siding option, and offers a wide range of styles to choose from. Lastly, vinyl requires very little maintenance or upkeep.

Although the installation process for vinyl siding is straightforward, errors can cause lasting damage if a job is rushed. For example, when vinyl is nailed too tightly, cracks and warps will occur quickly. When this happens, the entire siding needs to be replaced. Lastly, under extreme conditions (like fire), vinyl can release potentially harmful chemicals.

Composite Siding

Also called engineered wood siding, composite options are crafted from compressed wood strains and resin. In terms of durability, composite siding offers great insulation value, thermal-resistance, and strong pest aversion. Like vinyl, composite siding is fairly affordable and is relatively environmentally-friendly.

Although composite siding mimics the texture of wood and is more natural-looking than vinyl, it clearly does not possess a natural wood-grain appearance. In some cases, this can impact the aesthetic appeal of a building. Additionally, the resin used to bind composite siding has the potential to crack if maintenance routines are neglected. This can create an entry point for excess moisture and pests.

The decision for the best exterior siding or cladding type often comes down to design preferences, the climate of your location, and the scope of your budget.

Choosing the Best Exterior Wall Material

The overall quality of an exterior wall system is dependent upon the caliber of exterior building materials and craftsmanship. All the exterior wall finishes we listed above are capable of producing lasting results. In that same vein, no exterior finish is infallible.

Although conventional types of exterior wall materials and methodologies can produce reliable results, they are time-consuming and often take extensive training to master. This means much of the installation work falls on the shoulders of already overworked veteran laborers.

So, how do builders ensure quality while maximizing efficiency? Specifying improved materials and methods gives builders greater visibility, and helps ensure that nothing goes wrong during the installation process. This prevents project delays and reduces the risk of structural mishaps and costly callbacks.

New exterior finishing materials are tailor-made to eliminate the common challenges installers face when using conventional materials. For example, products like Structa Wire and E-Flange™ improve embedment while reducing labor efforts.

Structa Wire is engineered to reduce cracks, increase embedment, and provide structural integrity. Additionally, Structa Wire’s safety features and ease of use puts less pressure on workers, which fosters greater worker satisfaction and improves jobsite productivity. E-Flange trims alleviate stress for large walls and ceilings and improve plaster embedment by 80%. Like Structa Wire, E-Flange was engineered with installers in mind and provides easier alignment, as well as a consistent base for sealants.

Ultimately, embracing innovative products enables every installer—even novice laborers—to achieve high-end results quickly and efficiently.

Learn more about ClarkDietrich’s innovations and how they can help your business here.