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exterior cladding – your options

Exterior surfaces of residence’s are important for curb appeal, yet often people put very little thought into them.  We think this is because most owner and builders today don’t know of the new great options that exist today.  At Gast Home, we are always researching the best way to clad homes and buildings for the best price.  With our new exterior cladding options, you don’t need to spend a lot to have your house looking like it could be on the cover of Architectural Digest.  And there is no need to fall back on the generic siding or cladding that make your house look dated.  The outside of your residence can be the ultimate personal expression.

Exterior cladding and wall systems need to perform well over many years.  The exterior gets a barrage of threats from the elements, from precipitation and moisture, to strong winds and hot sun.  Therefore durability of not only the materials, but also the construction methods, is important.  We discuss at length the advancements in cladding materials, but we want to begin here discussing our preferred facade installation method.

Gast Home uses and recommends The Rainscreen Wall System

We use rainscreen walls because it offers the most freedom for personal expression, as well as the most protection against the elements.  Rainscreen systems mount materials onto a frame on the exterior of a building, using either a concealed clip system or an exposed clip system.  They are back ventilated with an interior drainage cavity, so moisture goes behind the cladding, and this cavity swiftly removes the moisture.

Rainscreen wall systems are superior to, and an evolution from, traditional handset cladding.  This is where the exterior facade material is fixed to a pre-constructed backing structure.  Traditional handset cladding hangs the weight of the exterior facade from load bearings mounted at each floor plate, and must include both compression joints and movement joints.

exterior cladding materials

There is a wide variety of exterior cladding materials, including stone, metal, wood, glass, UHPC, Terra Cotta, plastic, composites, and many others.

1. NATURAL stone for exterior Facades

Natural stone has been a staple building material since the beginning of time.  Stone is strong, durable, has aesthetic appeal, and there is an infinite number of visual possibilities that can enhance the look of any exterior.


Pros of Natural Stone:

  • Timeless look
  • Reliable and sturdy

Cons of Natural Stone:

  • Stone is heavy
  • Depending on the source, stone can require a lot of transportation
  • Can be expensive
  • Stone can be labor intensive
  • Patterns and textures can vary considerable
types of stones

Natural stones can be divided into three geological groups: igneous rocks like granite, sedimentary rocks like limestone and sandstone, and metamorphic rock like marble and slate.


Granite, an igneous rock, is formed through the cooling of magma or lava, which causes the crystallization people expect in granites.  It is made up of interlocking crystals, and is a coarse-grained stone.  It is known for its durability, and the permanence of its wide variety of texture and colors.


Limestone, because it is a sedimentary rock, offers a lot of diversity.  It ranges in color from pure white to browns with hints of blue.  In texture, it ranges from soft to veiny.  It is a soft stone that can be carved and shaped easily.


Marble is a metamorphic stone who’s popularity has ebbed and flowed.  It was once the premier material to add luxury to any building.  However, because marble is difficult to build with, is porous, does not hold up well over time, and cheaper alternatives have been developed, it has seen a steady decline in use as an exterior facade material. It still is used today by some contemporary architects, as seen below.



Slate is a metamorphic stone with a fine grain and dark gray color that gives it elegance and a sophisticated appearance.  It is highly durable, has excellent water resistance, and offers low maintenance (a Gast Home leading quality).  Slate is commonly used today in modern designs.

Often stone is chosen based on the color, pattern, texture and finish.  Stone can be polished, honed, or even sandblasted.  There are infinite options, and it all depends on your personal style.

Environmental impact of Stone Facades:  

Using stone in construction is relatively neutral.  We do very little to transform it (although we do have to mine it and cut it), and it can be recycled in its natural form.  The biggest impact from stone is transportation, sometimes from far away parts of the world.

Maintenance of Stone Exterior Cladding Facades: 

Natural stone needs to be kept clean to avoid cracking over time.  Certain stones make break down or grow bacteria in the cracks or pores.  The maintenance required for a stone facade varies significantly based on the stone, so choose carefully. Some stones (i.e. limestone and sandstone) are vulnerable to weathering.  Gast Home only uses and sells stones that we believe hold up well to the test of time.

Click here to search stone facade panels options.

2. metal for exterior facades

Metal cladding has been popular since Louis Sullivan first shaped tin and added elaborate metalwork to his skyscrapers in Chicago.  Today the number of different metals and finishes is astounding, which is why we like metal as an option for non-structural, rain-screen cladding systems.  It provides protection from the weather while projecting whatever external vision you want.  Because metal is foldable, it has a lot of flexibility as to how it is connected to the building.

metal Materials for building exteriors

Metal cladding options are endless, so it helps to start with the aesthetic you want.  Below are options to explore.


Zinc is a favorite metal material of ours, as it can look simply amazing, and the physical properties of Zinc are astounding.  If you want to make a metal better, just add Zinc!  Zinc is weatherproof, corrosion resistant, immune to the harmful effects of UV rays, and even exhibits self-healing properties, so if it is scratched, the material will recover over time.

Formed Zinc Cladding Panels

Click here to purchase zinc exterior panels or research the different zinc options.

Stainless Steel: 

Stainless steel has a clean, polished finish.  It is steel coated with a thin layer of chromium oxide.  The chromium prevents the oxidation you see in weathered steel, so stainless steel is resistant to rusting.

Stainless Steel Cladding

Click here to purchase stainless steel exterior panels or research the different options.


Most of us know the look of aluminum from metal baseball bats or aluminum cans, but aluminum can be finished to look much cleaner than that.  The benefits to aluminum are well known.  It is resistant to rusting, and possesses a very high strength-to-weight ratio so less of it is needed than for steel panels.  At the same time aluminum is prone to scratches and denting.

White Aluminum at an airport in the desert


Weathered Steel: 

Also known as COR-TEN steel, weathered steel forms a protective layer over time that looks like rust.  This earthy aesthetic is popular for an industrial look.  This layer acts as a barrier against corrosion and eliminates the need for painting.  However the pattern of the patina on COR-TEN is hard to predict and control over time.

Weathered Steel Cladding



Titanium has become familiar thru many of Frank Gehry’s projects, which display it’s glossy, reflective appearance.  It has a high strength-to-weight ratio.  However maintenance is needed with Titanium cladding.  Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim museum in Bilbao developed brown staining after it was not properly cleaned.

Titanium Panels on a Frank Gehry building being cleaned



Copper’s appearance evolves over time due to oxidation, but usually turns a distinctive green or brown color.  It offers a virtually indefinite design life (take a look at medieval churches in Europe), and is very durable and resistant to corrosion compared to other materials.  Copper is lightweight making it easy to transport and install, as well as reducing the weight loadings and therefore the need for a denser structure or foundation.  It requires no maintenance or cleaning, and is also 100% recyclable at the end of the building life.

Copper rain screen cladding panels before oxidation



Brass has a timeless look with its golden-brown patina that develops with oxidation.  It has a warmer feel than copper, but a cooler feel than zinc.  Brass is also highly malleable, so it is a great metal to use for decorative sheet metal cladding.

Brass_Exterior_Cladding_Panels with perforation pattern
Brass Cladding Panels

Click here to purchase brass exterior panels or research the different brass options.

Galvanized Steel: 

Galvanized steel has visible crystallites in the coating that give it a mottled aesthetic known as “spangle.”  Galvanized steel is steel coated with a thin layer of zinc, which helps to prevent rusting.  We think it is the least appealing of all the metal options, but is great if you prefer an industrial look.



finish options for metal exterior cladding

Once you choose a metal the type of finish has a significant impact on the final aesthetic.  There is an unlimited range of finishes for metal, but here are the most common ones.

Powder Coated: Powder coating is the application of paint with an electric charge to provide a very strong protective layer.  You can choose any color, and it provides a uniform matte appearance.

Mirrored: A mirrored finish provides the most reflective of all finishes.  Highly polished metal will garner attention, but it does require a high level of maintenance to keep the shine.

Brushed: Brushed metal offers a dull polish, with a satin finish and subtle graining.

Sand blasted: Sand blasting provides a matte finish, with very little texture.

Patterned: Any pattern is possible on metal.  Gast Home offers some custom options, but any look can be applied to the surface of the metal.  The only limit is your imagination.  Metal can also be perforated with any pattern.

Metal cladding performance

Metal cladding is very popular among architects because of its long-term performance and resiliency.

Durability: Metals are generally highly durable, but some metals are harder than others.  Softer metals scratch or dent easily.

Thermal insulation: Metal cladding systems do not provide strong insulation values.  Therefore, the wall supporting the metal Rainscreen wall needs to be well insulated.

Environmental: Solid metal panels (not composites) generally have use after the building life.  However it is also important to consider the manufacturing process, installation process, and long-term maintenance requirements of a metal panel wall system.  Look at the life cycle assessments for the metal panels you are considering.

Acoustic Insulation: Metal cladding provides minimal sound insulation.

Fire resistance: Metal is generally very resistant to fires.

Click here to explore metal cladding for sale.

Environmental Impact of using metal


3. wood exterior cladding

There is nothing quite like the look and feel of real wood.  We are not huge supporters of using wood on the exterior of homes due to its lack of longevity (although we don’t mind it as an accent material).  But if you don’t mind putting in the extra time and money to clean and maintain the wood, and ultimately replace it, a wood facade can give you a very special look.  Visually, wood offers a staggering variety of designs, and over time its appearance gradually changes in subtle ways.  It is also a sustainable and renewable product (however sources of quality sustainable wood are constrained at the moment).


  • Timeless look
  • Creative options


  • Requires a lot of maintenance to retain its beauty
  • Can rot, split, check or cup

Wood can be oriented vertically like batten, horizontally like clapboards, or even woven like the Aspen Art Museum.

Vertically oriented wood for exterior cladding


Horizontal Wood Cladding


Aspen Art Musuem uses wood for a creative facade

There are also many different species, and endless grains, grades, and stains to choose from.

Click here to purchase wood exterior panels or explore different wood options.

4. stucco

Stucco can be a good looking construction material, although we seldom use it or recommend it for exterior facades because it is not a rain-screen wall.

  • While stucco is a cheap material, the labor costs are not.  Stucco usually requires at least three applications or coats.  The base “scratch coat” provides adhesion to the structure.  The second coat, or “brown coat,” creates a more even surface.  The final “finish coat” determines the appearance.
  • Painting stucco can lead to many moisture-problems in the future
  • Stucco is a breathable material, allowing moisture to evaporate quickly.  However areas where it rains a lot, the wood framing can be susceptible to moisture and rot.

5. manufactured stone

Manufactured stone is made from Portland cement, iron-oxide pigments, and lightweight aggregate.  It can look just like stone, and cost significantly cheaper (sometimes more than $10/square foot.


  • Less expensive than stone to purchase
  • Less expensive than stone to install
  • Lighter than stone


  • Less durable than stone

6. brick or masonry

Brick has always been a popular exterior siding choice, and it is also environmentally friendly.  It is not only a good looking exterior, but brick can also be structural.  Under normal conditions, brick will last the life of the building.  If anything, you might need to tuck point the mortar joints after 100 years (though we know of many buildings in the Midwest that have lasted much longer than this).  Brick walls are typically backed by an airspace.  Masonry veneer can be used that is non-structural, and better at cooling down during extended periods of hot weather.


  • Brick looks permanent
  • Very environmentally friendly
  • Brick can heat up thru the day and provide heat during the night


  • Poor insulator

* Gast Home does not often use brick as it is not a rainscreen wall, and we have not developed masonry veneers to our liking.

7. fiber cement board

Fiber-cement siding is made from Portland cement, sand, and cellulose (wood) fibers.  Fiber cement board has the durability of cement, a class 1A fire rating, is impervious to wood-boring insects, and is resistant to deterioration from salt and ultraviolet rays.


  • Inexpensive


  • If not protected properly, FCB is not durable (it is typically protected by paint alone).  Refinishing becomes necessary.
  • Not aesthetically pleasing
* Gast Home does not use fiber-cement siding due to it’s generic look, therefore we have not conducted


Vinyl has a well earned bad reputation.  As a result, if you can use another material, use another material.  The only benefits to vinyl are the price, and that it is virtually indestructible (which makes it an environmentally unfriendly product).  Vinyl can accumulate mold and grime, it will eventually fade, and it usually looks cheap.

The U-value is the thermal transmittance of a building envelope.  It is the energy in Watts passing thru one square meter of construction per degree of temperature difference from inside to outside.  It your projects needs a minimum U-value, make sure to look at the U-value of each cladding option you are considering.

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