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Types of Exterior Finishes

Types of Exterior Finishes

Finding exterior finishes for buildings that don’t break the budget but still look good can be challenging, especially without knowing how they compare. When researching the materials and finishes for a new building, people often make decisions based primarily on aesthetics and durability. However, climate, cladding resilience, maintenance costs, and environmental friendliness are all additional factors to consider when deciding on exterior finishing.

Exterior finishes and systems are sturdier and more weather-resistant today. These new products blend attractive appearance with long-lasting durability. Maintenance duties and repair expenses are lowered for property owners since finishes have increased quality.

In this article, we’re going to explore different exterior finishes and how they compare to each other.

What Are Exterior Finishes?

An exterior finish is the material or cladding that protects the outside of a house or building. Offerings typically include ornamental and decorative finishes that enhance the visual appeal of a building's material surfaces. Exterior finishes also provide a protective cladding that maintains and shields the building components from environmental factors including heat, wind, moisture, frost, and other elements. For example, some finishing materials perform better in extremely hot climates rather than in extremely cold climates.

Structural integrity is essential and choosing a material should not be determined on curb appeal alone. Consideration of how that material performs in certain environments will also help you decide on which exterior siding options are best for a building. The maintenance requirements and longevity of alternative exterior finishes vary, particularly in relation to different climates and weather patterns.

It is especially crucial to research your desired cladding type because the material you select for the exterior of a home or commercial building greatly determines its overall architectural style, durability, and maintenance requirements.

Because the climate comes with various weather considerations, bugs, and vermin, exterior finishes are important to protect your property. Properly installed cladding discourages environmental pests such as termites, ants, birds, and bats by providing an unfavorable nesting site for them. Using a rainscreen product with a built-in insect screen like E-Screen can further reduce your challenges with pests. It protects against natural disasters such as high winds, hailstorms, heavy rainfall, tornadoes, and even fire when using the right materials. Unfortunately, poorly installed siding makes it possible for water to enter the building through openings like cracks in the siding or leaks in the roof. This can cause issues with the foundation, rusting of the metal substrate, and the growth of mold on the walls.

What Are 8 Main Types of Siding?

Siding is important to keeping every structure safe from the environment, while also maintaining visual aesthetics. When it comes to types of siding, what is included in exterior finishes? Depending on your specific needs, learning about the types of exterior wall finishes that work for your structural requirements and location is essential. To account for expansion or contraction brought on by the elements, the majority of exterior finishes types are segmented into smaller pieces than the area of the home's exterior that they will cover—either by their inherent design or through the use of accessories like control joints and expansion joints.

Here are eight of the different finishing materials that can be attached to the framing, substrate, or masonry walls of a building:

1. Stucco Siding

Stucco is often made by mixing cement, lime, or sand and layering it over a building's exterior to form the finish. For even greater strength, ingredients like fiber, acrylic, or epoxy are occasionally added to the stucco mix. Stucco insulates the house by acting as a casing, which reduces the need for cooling or heating, and lowers energy expenses. Only warm, dry locations with little rainfall and low humidity are ideal for stucco. Because stucco can retain moisture and degrade over time, it is imperative that it be properly embedded into the lath and trims. By using the Easy Embedment System™, installers have a much simpler time achieving full embedment, and thus preventing the cracking and moisture penetration issues that can arise from improperly embedded installations. Stucco has a long-life span, providing proper installation and routine maintenance procedures are followed.

2. Natural Stone Veneer

Natural stone veneer is created by thinly cutting, quarrying, and shaping stone to fit the design specifications of a building. Stone veneer is typically installed as a feature façade and is not applied to all parts of a structure. Although the initial cost can be expensive, stone is a durable exterior building material that needs little maintenance. Since stone deteriorates incredibly slowly over time when exposed to weather, it has historically been used to construct buildings that are durable and long-lasting. Because of the abundance of stone as a resource, stone is considered to be a sustainable building material.

3. Brick

Brick is a solid masonry wall installed as a freestanding structural support of the building. Brick veneer can be used in place of solid masonry brick over another form of structural support, such as concrete, steel or wood, to achieve a similar aesthetic to solid masonry brick. Brick is one of the most traditional building materials used on the exterior of buildings. It is resistant to fires, distortion due to extreme hot or cold weather conditions, and deterioration. Additionally, brick is weather-resistant, low-maintenance, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly. However, there is one significant downside to brick: it is expensive when compared to most other exterior finish options.

4. Vinyl Siding

Vinyl siding is a popular synthetic material for exterior finishing due to its low cost, versatility, durability, and ease of upkeep. Modern vinyl may imitate stone, wood-grain lap siding, and even shingles, with a range of colors and textures. Vinyl doesn't rot or scratch readily, unlike many metal or wood sidings or cladding materials, is fire- and impact-resistant, rustproof, and easy to field cut. Despite being low-maintenance, routine cleaning is still necessary to keep vinyl siding free of mold, dust, and debris. Correct installation is necessary to prevent siding damage or vulnerability to water infiltration.

5. Wood Siding

Wood is a biodegradable, renewable resource that provides an aesthetic and long-lasting exterior finish. When maintained properly with the right sealants, wood siding is a sturdy material that can withstand damage from fire and moisture. However, to keep wood siding protected from weathering or insects, it needs more frequent care (such as staining or sealing).

Wood Siding

Here are some of the numerous varieties of exterior wood finishes that are available for both horizontal and vertical applications:

  • Beveled
  • Dropped
  • Beaded planks
  • V-groove
  • Tongue and groove
  • Board and batten
  • Channel

6. Fiber Cement Siding

Fiber cement siding, also known as fiberboard, is a semi-rigid, durable, and low-maintenance material that provides great protection while preserving some flexibility. It is typically a mixture of wood pulp, sand, and Portland cement. Fiber cement may be used to replicate many other finish types, including stucco, stone, shingles, and more. This siding is as durable as cement, has a class 1A fire rating, is resistant to rot and wood-boring insects, and is not damaged by salt or UV radiation.

7. Composite Siding

Composite siding, or engineered wood siding, is more resistant to the effects of inclement weather. This is because it is formed of wood strands that have been compressed and treated with a resin binder to create boards with greater durability. The engineered wood siding is heated, then a wax coating is applied to increase its resistance to moisture and mold damage. The siding's resistance to fungus and other pests is enhanced with zinc borate. When everything is complete, the siding may be readily cut into different sizes and forms like panels, planks, and window trim.

8. Aluminum Siding

Aluminum siding is made from aluminum coil stock, which is frequently made from recycled resources. Once it is manufactured, various chemicals are applied to the siding to stop corrosion. Aside from occasionally patching dents, aluminum siding requires relatively little regular maintenance. Over the course of the life span, aluminum siding may save the building owner a significant amount on heating and cooling expenses since it insulates a home better than vinyl siding. People who live in coastal areas, with excessive moisture or salt spray in the air, may consider aluminum as well due to its corrosion-resistance.

How to Choose a Siding or Cladding Material

Siding and cladding materials need to be able to tolerate severe temperatures, be resistant to the sun and water, and remain steady when the wind blows too strongly. However, you must first think about which exterior finish is ideal for you and your building. Do you desire sturdiness and minimal upkeep? Do you place an emphasis on your siding's environmental impact? Do you need to be cost-effective, or is providing the most premium finish your primary concern?

Here are a few things to consider when deciding on siding or cladding materials for a building:

  • Restrictions and prohibited materials in place by the local government or neighborhood association
  • Climate and location of construction
  • Architectural style of the building and what materials are traditionally used
  • Budget of you or the customer
  • Maintenance requirements of the materials

If you are concerned about the sustainability of exterior building materials, you should ask:

  • How long will the material last?
  • Is it toxic?
  • Is it biodegradable?
  • Is it recyclable?
  • Is it low- or high-maintenance?
  • Is it locally sourced?

What Is the Most Common Type of Exterior Finish?

Because of their versatility and dependability, stucco and vinyl are most commonly used as exterior finishes in the United States. The United States Census Bureau Survey of Construction estimates that 28% of new homes built in 2021 used stucco as their main siding material. This ranks it higher than vinyl siding which was used on 24% of new homes. However, five regions in the Central and Eastern U.S. used vinyl siding as the primary choice in new construction.


What Is the Most Durable Exterior Siding?

The top two most durable exterior sidings are composite and vinyl siding. Composite siding outperforms vinyl in terms of insulation value, thermal resistance, and environmental friendliness. When it comes to strength and durability, composite ranks higher than vinyl. Since composite expands and contracts due to the temperature, it generally holds up better in hot or cold climates, where vinyl could warp or become brittle. It’s also important to note that composite will last longer than vinyl as long as it is well-maintained.

But compared to engineered wood, vinyl is known to be less expensive, and simpler to install. And cost is something to consider when maintaining a budget.

Exterior Wall Finishing Materials

There are several types of exterior wall materials that are essential when installing the exterior finish. These different components to exterior wall finishing ensure structural integrity and a durable, long-lasting installation:

  • Metal lath is an attachable foundation for plaster application that also offers a composite cladding, enabling it to more effectively manage the wind loads and static forces that can lead to stress fractures in plaster installations.
  • Corner beads offer strength and support on each corner of the exterior using galvanized expanded metal, vinyl/PVC, welded wire, stainless steel, or zinc alloy.
  • Casing beads, also known as plaster or stucco stops, serve to end stucco and plaster where they abut dissimilar materials such as along the windows, doors, and other fenestrations found throughout a building, per ASTM C1063.
  • Exterior wall starter strips are installed to secure the initial pieces of siding. Every starter strip serves as a perimeter base support for Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS) and Direct-Applied Exterior Finish Systems (DEFS).
  • Weep and sill screeds, which are metal or vinyl flashing components, serve as a drainage plane to direct moisture away from the wall system.
  • Control joints are installed to allow for increased longitudinal movement in areas where stress concentrations are anticipated. This relieves wall stress and lowers the risk of expansive cracking in walls and ceilings.
  • Expansion joints allow structural movement to be controlled and anticipate shrinkage in a building, minimizing the risk of damage to exterior finishes.
  • Reveals are used to make an architectural break in a wall, resulting in a more visually appealing surface pattern or relief.
  • Rainscreens can be utilized to enhance a wall system's thermal control, ventilation, and drainage. To stop continuous and unrestricted moisture penetration, a rainscreen's drainage plane is designed to remove moisture from the structure.

ClarkDietrich: Durable and Secure Finishing

With ClarkDietrich products, you’ll be able to install exterior finishes with materials you can trust. We collaborate with teams of architects, engineers, building developers and owners, and contractors on our projects. These projects vary in size, scope, and complexity as the expectations for improved performance in all elements of today's structures increase.

ClarkDietrich focuses on innovation. Many installation and performance difficulties that affect exterior finishes have been addressed by our wide range of innovative solutions—and many of these solutions have been developed specifically to address the problems installers have when using conventional materials.

We manufacture innovative products for interior and exterior framing, interior and exterior finishing, clips and connectors, and floor and roof framing.

Visit our website for more information on our products and innovations with our white papers, blogs, and published articles.