The process of exterior finishing is an integral part of a residential or commercial building project. Not only can exterior finishing offer aesthetic benefits, but it can also help prolong the life of the building by protecting against extensive wear and tear. Of course, the category of "exterior finishes" is rather broad and covers more than just different types of siding.
For builders and contractors, the ongoing construction industry workforce shortage underscores the importance of using better, more durable materials and innovative, efficient processes. Fortunately, new products and techniques are being developed with these concerns in mind.
The truth is that traditional materials and installations can be expensive, time-consuming, and reliant on skilled labor that simply may not be available (especially if the timeline is short). At ClarkDietrich, we understand this fact, and we work to empower contractors and architects with durable, external finishing products and processes.
This blog will explore key topics related to exterior finishes, including:
- Common exterior finishes, with examples
- External finishing components (beyond materials)
- The benefits of working with ClarkDietrich
What Are Exterior Finishes?
An "exterior finish" traditionally refers to any material that covers a house or commercial building, primarily to protect it from the elements. When most people think of exterior finishes, they are probably thinking along the lines of either an exterior paint finish or one of many different siding, cladding, and coating materials.
What Is the Most Common Exterior Finish in New Home CONSTRUCTION?
According to a National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) report (which cites data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction), the most popular types of exterior wall finishes include the following:
Used in over a quarter (27%) of new homes built in the United States, stucco represents a highly durable option for external finishing. Made of cement, sand, and water, it is also fire- and pest-resistant. In addition to these advantages, many builders choose stucco for its aesthetic appeal. That being said, stucco has a couple of downsides as well. First, it is a porous material, meaning it can absorb moisture and develop mold (on the exterior, as well as beneath the stucco). Additionally, if not properly installed, cracks can form from the thermal expansion and contraction of the stucco which, unaddressed, could lead to large, expensive structural problems. Our metal lath products help to mitigate these issues by providing a lightweight and easily attachable base for plaster application.
Used in 25% of new home builds in the United States, vinyl siding offers several advantages. It’s relatively inexpensive, and not too difficult to install or maintain. Like any exterior finishing material, vinyl siding also presents a few disadvantages. These include being less durable (prone to breakage) and more cumbersome to modify or paint. While vinyl siding manufacturers tout vinyl’s 20- to 30-year life span, that can be a little misleading, as improper installation can dramatically reduce the life span of vinyl products. The truth is that vinyl siding isn’t immune to the elements, and over time it may fade, peel, or crack, especially when exposed to excessive heat or UV radiation.
Fiber Cement Siding
Around one-in-five (21%) new homes are finished with fiber cement siding—a product that was developed as an asbestos-free alternative to older cement siding types. Modern fiber cement siding is man-made and contains a blend of cement, silica, and natural cellulose fibers which are largely fire-resistant. Among its key advantages are its durability and longevity; manufacturers often guarantee fiber cement siding products for 30 to 50 years. And while fiber cement siding isn’t technically recyclable, its ingredients are environmentally inert, meaning the material won’t degrade into any damaging or toxic substances (unlike PVC siding, for example). The downsides of fiber cement siding include a higher price point for materials and a more complicated installation process than other options, largely due to the weight of the product.
Brick and/or Brick Veneer
Used in around one-in-five (20%) home construction projects, brick appeals to many for its timeless look. In addition, brick is highly durable, fire- and pest-resistant, and relatively easy to maintain over time. It can cost a little more than wood or fiber cement siding options, although there are several variables that factor into pricing comparisons. It can also crack in certain circumstances (earthquakes, for example); and in climates with regular, heavy rainfall it tends to retain moisture, which can lead to issues with the framing beneath the siding.
The four exterior wall finishes described above represent the big four options, but are not necessarily an exhaustive list of the best house siding options for a given project. Other notable materials include stone veneer, EIFS and DEFS, wood and wood products, and other composite materials.
In addition to the materials listed above, exterior finishes also include different accessories, materials, and components that are used in the installation process. These include items such as control or expansion joints, intersections, corner beads, metal lath, and more. We’ll discuss these in a bit; but first, let’s look at the most common exterior finishing materials used for homes and commercial buildings.
What Is the Best Exterior Wall Material for a House?
The best material for any given build or building project depends on its nature as well as location. While most of these materials can be adapted to work in various climates, it’s important to consider things like insulation and moisture-resistance that are appropriate for a given area. Other considerations include durability and how easy or difficult the material is to keep clean and in good condition over time. Price, of course, will inevitably also be a factor to note.
The same NAHB study cited above also uncovered regional variations in the popularity of different house siding options and materials, citing that:
- Vinyl siding is the most popular in the Middle Atlantic (used in 75% of builds) and New England (68%)
- Stucco is the most popular material in the Pacific (57%), Mountain (52%), and South Atlantic (38%) regions
- Brick and brick veneer are the most popular in the East South Central (44%) and West South Central (62%) regions
What Is the Best Exterior Wall Material for a Commercial Building?
When it comes to exterior finishes for commercial buildings, the very same considerations—aesthetics, durability, and cost—apply. Commercial buildings benefit from long-lasting materials that will stand the simultaneous tests of time and climate. The most popular exterior wall materials for commercial buildings include:
- Stone Veneer
- Siding (including aluminum and fiber cement siding)
As you’re probably noticing, the options don’t vary much from residential to commercial applications. If anything, contractors prioritize aesthetics a little higher in a residential context, and durability more highly for commercial building projects.
How to Choose the Right Exterior Finish Material
Since every building project is unique, it’s important to think carefully about the pros and cons of the different exterior finishing options available. This helps ensure that the client is happy and that the project falls within defined budgets and timelines.
Some of the most important factors to weigh include:
- The client’s design ideas and aesthetic preferences
- The installation process, and how it aligns with the project’s timeline
- Labor costs, and how well they fit within the budget
- Environmental conditions and climate
- Compliance with applicable building codes and regulations
- Warranty information and conditions
What Else Is Included in Exterior Finishes?
As we alluded to earlier, exterior finishing covers a broader range of materials and techniques than simply deciding between stucco and vinyl siding, for example. Many new products are available that tackle old problems in new ways, offering contractors time- and cost-efficient solutions for any building project. In other words, utilizing these materials—and the installation techniques associated with them—can make a contractor’s life much easier, and enable them to train new laborers without much of a learning curve.
The ClarkDietrich team understands the increased demand for high-performing methods and materials in residential and commercial construction, and works with a variety of different project stakeholders (e.g., architects, engineers, building developers, owners, and contractors) to produce effective building solutions.
Through our comprehensive line of products and services designed for interior and exterior finishing, floor and roof framing, connectors, and more, ClarkDietrich offers solutions tailored to projects of varying size, scope, and complexity.
In addition to exterior wall material, finishing can include additional elements such as:
- Casing Beads: Also known as plaster or stucco stops, casing beads are used to neatly terminate stucco or plaster against windows and doors, as well as dissimilar materials.
- Control Joints: These are designed to relieve stress and assist in controlling cracking in large wall and ceiling areas, help with the embedment of the lath, and assist with the tying requirements of discontinuous lath to the joint.
- Corner Beads: Corner beads enable straight, durable corners in a variety of exterior finish applications.
- Drip Flashing: Drip flashings are designed to help keep moisture away from walls, and are typically used above window/door openings or at the foundation line—often in tandem with a casing bead.
- Expansion Joints: Expansion joints provide separation to relieve the stress on building materials that can be caused by building movement (whether caused by thermal expansion or sustained winds). They come in several types suited for different applications, including two-piece, corner, and wide expansion joint types.
- Intersections: True to their name, joint intersections provide seamless connections and strong, resilient bonds between finishing components. ClarkDietrich manufactures various custom intersections to your specified dimensions to ensure a perfect fit.
- Metal Lath: Metal lath is made from expanded steel, and provides a lightweight, functional base for plaster application. It’s available in several configurations, designed to ensure a secure bond and a solid surface plane upon the completion of the installation process.
- Rainscreen: A rainscreen helps mitigate moisture penetration, which prevents wall material from cracking, rusting or growing mold. ClarkDietrich’s E-Screen represents an innovative option suitable for stucco, stone veneer, or brick installations, as well as other types of siding. It works by efficiently drawing moisture away from the interior of the wall system and increasing the ventilation properties of the wall.
- Reveals: Various types of reveals are used to provide an architectural breakup of the visual aesthetic on a wall. Though reveals are sometimes used to create bonds at the junctures of walls, ceilings, or other dissimilar materials, they should never be used in lieu of expansion or control joints.
- Starter Strips: Starter strips provide perimeter base support for exterior finishing installations, and are placed at the bottom of individual partitions to secure the first few pieces of siding. Starter strips come in many different types, but there are also universal starter strips that help eliminate the need to inventory multiple sizes.
- Vents: Vents provide necessary air circulation in external finishing applications. One common type, soffit vents, are attached beneath a building’s overhang (if it has any) and are perforated to allow air to flow into the closed soffit.
- Weep & Sill Screeds: When connected to the bottom of exterior walls, these pieces of flashing prevent moisture from entering—and potentially staying in—the walls by draining moisture away from the wall through a drainage outlet, or weep.
ClarkDietrich & Contractors: An Ideal Collaboration
ClarkDietrich goes well beyond providing excellent building and finishing materials to complete jobs in a way that is efficient and innovative, using materials that are designed to last. ClarkDietrich also offers products for interior and exterior framing, interior finishing, and floor framing—as well as any clips and connectors the job might require.
Another area where ClarkDietrich offers unique value is in our passion for innovation. Take our Easy Embedment System™ (EES), for example, which makes stucco embedment fast and efficient, while requiring less skilled labor to get the job done. It’s designed to provide an exceptional foundation for more durable, longer-lasting stucco applications.
You can learn more about ClarkDietrich here, or review our Capabilities Brochure for an in-depth look at how collaborating with ClarkDietrich can help you efficiently complete projects with results you can count on for years to come. Start the conversation today!