Skip to main content


What Materials Can Be Used for Exterior Walls?

Submitted by Jenny Hull on

Throughout human history, structures have been built out of a huge range of materials. These have included everything from animal skins, ice, and clay to ultra-modern buildings made entirely of glass.

When we talk about standard construction in modern-day structures, there are still a variety of options for exterior finishing on buildings, depending on environmental conditions, desired aesthetic, and budget. This article will look at the array of options that can be used on exterior walls to:

  • Frame
  • Attach siding/cladding
  • Insulate
  • Finish

Architect drawing

What Material Is Used for Outside Walls Framing?

The most common types of exterior wall materials for framing and cladding buildings nowadays are wood, concrete, and metal. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), of the new residential construction completed in 2021, 92% were wood-framed, 7% were concrete-framed, and under 0.5% were steel-framed. Even less commonly used materials for exterior wall framing include coffee bean husks, bricks grown from mushrooms, 3-D printed panels, and Earthship walls, made of dirt in discarded tires.

What Material Is Used for Exterior Walls to Attach Siding?

For most buildings, the framing material will be covered with the final exterior wall finishing materials during the building process. For example, a wood-framed home might be covered in vinyl siding as the final step of exterior finishing. We will get to the main types of siding used in the next section; but first, let’s discuss the materials and types of fixtures used to attach the siding to the underlayer.

Generally, the longest-lasting attachments are made from metal; but plastic attachments are also popular. These attachments can be in a variety of forms, depending on the:

  • Type of siding/cladding to which it will be attached
  • What is under the cladding/siding
  • Environmental conditions to which the finished building will be exposed

Some common materials used, under a variety of exterior finishing options, include:

  • Metal Lath - Used for portland cement, gypsum plaster, stucco, stone reinforcement, and ceramic tile
  • Expansion Joints - Used to attach parallel panels, so that the final finish can naturally expand and contract without cracking
  • Drip Flashing - Used for stucco and stone veneer, to allow moisture to travel away from the wall

What Are 7 Main Types of Siding?

Siding is the final layout on the exterior of many buildings, and it comes in several popular types. These include:

  1. Natural Stone Veneer - Thin slices of stone applied to an exterior wall; very durable, but heavy and expensive
  2. Vinyl/PVC - Available in a large range of colors and designs; inexpensive, and one of the most lightweight exterior wall materials
  3. Fiber Cement - Very durable and low-maintenance; but heavy, expensive, and requires expert installation
  4. Composite - Also called engineered wood siding, with options similar to vinyl siding
  5. Brick – Low-maintenance and long-lasting; but heavy, expensive, and can cause moisture issues
  6. Wood - Durable, lightweight, and visually appealing, it is prone to pest and water damage, and requires regular maintenance
  7. Stucco – Durable, little maintenance is required; but expert installation is required

What Type of Insulation for Exterior Walls Is Available?

Aside from needing to hold up against the outside elements, exterior walls also need to insulate the building to keep it comfortable for the people inside. Just like for framing and siding, there are many options for insulation to choose from. The best insulation for exterior walls will vary based on climate, budget, and environmental concerns.

These are some of the most popular insulation types available:

  • Fiberglass - Made of very small fibers of glass, inexpensive, fire- and moisture-proof, environmentally problematic, can shift over time
  • Cellulose - Made of shredded paper and cardboard, inexpensive, easy-to-install, environmentally-friendly, can shift over time
  • Spray Foam - Made of resin that is sprayed in place and dries as a solid, very effective insulator and noise dampener, very difficult to remove if necessary
  • Foam Board - Often made of recycled plastic bottles, more challenging to install, doesn’t shift over time

How Can the Installation and Performance of Exterior Materials be Improved?

The exterior finishing of a building is one of the biggest places problems can arise. Cracking and moisture intrusion are the most pressing issues builders contend with in this area. Both are exacerbated by the need for fast project completion, or the lack of experienced workers on-site.

That’s why ClarkDietrich focuses on quality exterior framing and finishing solutions. Our products are designed to provide top-quality professional performance that save on installation time and minimize problems down the road. Our systems make it faster and easier for experienced workers to get the job done right, and they allow less skilled workers to install top-quality work as well.

Browse our extensive product catalog today, or contact us for more about how we can help make your next project a success.