The terms ‘cladding’ and ‘facade’ are often thrown around as interchangeable words that describe the external surface of a building. While both words are closely related, they each have a very different meaning.
A facade is the main exterior design of a building – usually the front section which faces an open space or street. If you imagine a typical office, hotel or commercial building, the entrance side – which is most often the street-facing side – is the facade. When we talk about a facade, we are generally referring to the external appearance of the building, including its design, colour, style, material and texture.
Cladding generally refers to an external layer – most often constructed from a series of panels – that fits to the exterior of a building, protecting it from the elements whilst also providing certain visual characteristics.
Facades and cladding come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and materials. They are typically manufactured from stone, glass, metal, timber, composite materials or concrete. With construction methods in mind, cladding uses wall anchors, infills or other more complex methods such as curtain wall installation to ‘fix’ it to a building’s exterior.
In this article we explore the different types of facade and cladding materials and fixing systems.
Variation in material
Cladding is available in several different materials, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Often chosen for its unique and natural aesthetic appeal, timber is one of the most expensive cladding materials. It is usually manufactured in long, narrow sheets of wood that can be fitted vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Due to is diverse design variations and natural appearance, timber cladding is quite often the most decorative available.
A major advantage of timber cladding is that, when sourced sustainably, it can reduce carbon emissions and cut the total carbon footprint of a building. This is because timber continues to act as a carbon store after the tree is felled. Timber, being an excellent insulator, can also retain lots of heat, reducing the need for heating systems during colder months.
Stone has been used in the construction industry for thousands of years, having long been recognised as a material of superior durability and great artistic quality. Stone cladding is a popular choice in modern construction, providing a simple way to create the unique look of stone without the complexities of stone wall construction.
The generally non-porous properties of stone cladding keep buildings protected from rain and other elements. Stone cladding is also easy to maintain in comparison to other materials.
Vinyl cladding is cheap and offers a contemporary finish. Usually manufactured in rectangular strips or sheets, vinyl cladding comes in dozens of different colours and has proven energy efficiency. It’s also possible to customise it with an additional layer of insulation which can help to maintain the internal temperature of a building.
Vinyl cladding is generally lightweight and light on the budget, although its use in the commercial space is limited.
Glass cladding is one of the most commonly used cladding systems in modern commercial office and retail buildings. It offers significant visual satisfaction and an ultramodern appearance, as well as being highly effective at providing thermal insulation and weather resistance.
Generally, glass cladding is made of tempered or vitrified glass which is weather resistant, easy to maintain and can withstand high levels of force. The major downsides with glass cladding are its very high cost and complexity of installation which often requires complex systems and methods to secure it safely in place.
External brick cladding imitates a brick wall, using accurately shaded patterns and colours of bricks and joints. Manufactured in prefabricated panels, brick cladding is generally easy to install and cost effective, as well as being robust and weather resistant. Brick cladding also requires minimal maintenance in comparison to other cladding materials.
Fibre Cement Cladding
Combining the best of science and nature, fibre cement cladding is a composite material made of cement, cellulose, sand and synthetic fibres. It is extremely durable, extremely flexible and generally easy to install.
Metal cladding is one of the most commonly used materials in industrial commercial building construction. Available in steel, aluminium and sometimes zinc variations, metal cladding is non-combustible, recyclable, affordable and simple to install because of its large and lightweight panels. Metal cladding is often found at industrial and warehouse sites as well as farms and rural locations, although its use in the construction of modern office buildings has become more popular in recent years.
Types of Cladding Installation Systems
There are various types of cladding installation system, each of which has its own unique merits.
The Attached System
Most cladding is prefabricated into panels. In an attached cladding system, exterior prefabricated cladding panels are connected directly to the structural frame of the building. Cladding is fixed to the building by lifting it in place, using an anchorage or fastening to keep it secure.
The attached system takes less time to install than other systems, making the construction process quick and simple by comparison. As well as offering simplicity in construction, the attached system provides insulation and protects the building’s structural frame against the elements.
Curtain Wall Systems
For large and multi-storied buildings, a curtain wall system offers many benefits. The frame of the curtain wall is attached to the building’s structure and does not carry the floor or roof loads.
While the curtain wall system is similar to attached system, the difference lies in how cladding panels are erected. Curtain wall systems are non-structural cladding systems comprising of a lightweight frame on which glazed or opaque panels are attached. The curtain wall system is most typically used in the construction of metal or glass facades.
The infill cladding system is used with a form of cladding built between the structural framework of a building. The structural frame provides support for the cladding system, and the cladding provides separation of the internal and external environments. The infill system is different to other forms of cladding system in that it is fixed between frame of the building rather than being attached to the outside of the frame.
Stone and brick cladding finishes often use the infill cladding system. However, with a little added nuance, glass and precast concrete can also be effectively implemented with this system.
Cladding cleaning and restoration services
Although the complexities of facades and cladding don’t end there, hopefully this article provides a valuable insight into the functions, processes and nuances of facades and cladding.
Regardless of whether your building’s skin is made from glass, stone or metal, restorative cleaning is an essential part of keeping it maintained and properly functioning.
At See Brilliance, we help commercial building owners restore and maintain all types of building facades and cladding so they can retain their pristine exterior for years to come. Our techniques, products and systems are laboratory tested and approved by façade producers, RIBA and Historic England.
Contact our facade cleaning and restoration specialists to discuss your project today.