22 Dec 2016

Guidance and inspiration for those seeking to build using timber cladding


Timber cladding has long been a popular choice among people seeking to create a traditional look on the exterior of their home, but wood offers a range of benefits that go beyond aesthetics. Howarth Timber explains more.

Whether your building is old or new, large or small, the addition of timber cladding can create a characterful finish, and British timbers such as oak, elm, larch and chestnut all contribute to a classic look.

Canadian western red cedar and Siberian larch are also popular on UK homes, but what are the benefits that all of these timbers can bring, beyond looking stylish?

It's workable

Working with timber is a pleasure when compared to exterior cladding materials, such as PVC or brick slips, and if you're using softwoods you'll find it extremely lightweight and easy to apply.

Whether you choose softwood, hardwood or modified wood for your timber cladding, you'll be able to treat the timber to enhance its performance, using surface coatings, wood preservatives and flame retardants.

It's fast

Whereas unnatural materials usually need to be custom-made for cladding projects, timber can be quickly cut to your exact specifications, meaning a lot less waiting around.

Adjusting your timber cladding is also much quicker, as wood can be trimmed far more easily than other types of cladding.


It's eco-friendly

Contrary to what you might think, using wood as a cladding material on your home actually helps the environment.

The wood used in most cladding products is grown in sustainable plantations and doesn't require as much fossil fuel consumption in its manufacture as other types of cladding.

Timber cladding acts as a powerful insulator, helping to improve the energy-efficiency of a home, and can also be recycled at the end of its life.

It makes your home quieter

The sound absorbing qualities of timber are rarely considered when planning a cladding project, but the benefits have been proven time and time again.

Timber-clad homes benefit from reduced noise from external sources such as roads, air traffic or noisy children playing in the garden!



Navigating the species

Different species of timber will behave slightly differently and there will be one type that is most suited to any given building project. Western red cedar and Siberian larch are examples of very popular species for timber cladding as they are easy to work with, don't require preservative treatment and provide a sustainable material that lasts the test of time. For more colour stable options, NORclad offer a Koppers treatment, MicroShades Brunnea. This contains UV inhibitors and pigment within the treatment. Once you've decided on a timber species, you have the option to pick a specific type of cladding. Different cladding options will provide slightly different finishes to your cladding. Tongue and groove is a popular option, allowing a very contemporary image to be created.



Three steps to protect external timber:

The best way to protect wood over winter, without damaging its natural aesthetics, is by following a simple three step formula – protect, repel and maintain. Steve Grimwood, Managing Director of OrganoWood, explains more.

Step one: protect

Without proper protection, exterior wood is vulnerable to a number of external hazards, from general detritus to rot, fungus, insects and even fire. One of the biggest threats to external timber is fungal and rot decay, which can significantly reduce the strength of the wood. Fungus appears as an off-white, felt-like sheet on the wood's surface, but can develop into fungal strands. In comparison, wood that is susceptible to wet rot has a typically soft and spongy feel and looks darker than the surrounding wood. Although deemed less destructive, wet rot can prove hazardous if untreated and will damage the aesthetics of the wood.

The most effective 'method' of preventing fungal and rot deterioration in wood is to keep the wood dry. However, in winter months, this is a near impossible task for exterior wood.

Pressure treating wood has become a common method for protecting exterior wood against external ailments as discussed, however many are deterred by its high use of chemicals. Not only does this have a harmful effect on the ground's surroundings, the chemicals used also bring a detrimental effect to the wood's aesthetics, giving the timber an unnatural green hue over time. Sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternatives to chemical treatments are becoming more popular and are gradually coming onto the market, including OrganoWood.

Step two: repel

Once the wood has been protected from external hazards, it is important that the chosen finish repels common elements, including water and dirt. These natural elements can lead to decay which, if left untreated, can lead to permanent damage.

To keep exterior wood looking its best over the winter months and to ensure long-term protection from the harsh elements, it is recommended to apply a wood treatment product that increases the superficial protection of the wood against external elements such as wind, rain, frost and snow.

When selecting a product to protect wooden surfaces, it is important to ensure that the product will maintain the wood's breathability, as well as reduce the likeliness of swelling or shrinkage. A high-quality product should also ensure that no cracking, flaking, peeling and blistering of either the wood or the product will occur.

Step three: maintain

Cleaning exterior wood is the most cost-effective method to maintaining its longevity, so architects and contractors should explain and advise their clients accordingly. Simply clearing the wood's surface and removing any build-up of fallen leaves, moss or snow over the winter months will help maintain the wood's breathability and prevent the wood becoming sodden and exposed to damp for long periods.

Dirt can prevent the material from drying, which over time can lead to rot and decay in exterior wooden surfaces. Timber has a sly way of harbouring dirt on the surface, and can appear clean to an untrained eye. The best way to ensure the wood is thoroughly clean is to use an exterior wood detergent.

As well as restoring the wood to its natural best, cleaning the wood will provide the optimum surface for treatment, ensuring the best protection.


Guidance on specifying timber cladding

Tom Barnes of Vastern Timber gives a potted guide to timber cladding essentials.

When considering cladding, the secret of a successful installation relies on correct decisions made at the earliest stage.

The very first thing to consider is whether timber cladding is appropriate at all, but assuming it is, you will need to choose the most suitable tree species for the situation, as well as making personal style choices in advance. It is often the case that people interested in timber cladding initially think only of cedar, however, there are plenty of other species that may provide a better option for your project.

Gaining a good understanding of the different types of weathering effects on species and the effect that elevation and aspect will have on the speed and consistency of weathering is important. Some species such as cedar, oak and chestnut are naturally more reactive and the weathering process can be more uneven and, in some cases, unsightly. Timber cladding performs better in sunny elevations with lots of weather, while heavily shaded or northerly elevations can be problematic for many species.

In situations where conditions might cause problems for reactive timbers, you should consider more inert timbers, for example larch or thermally-modified products, such as brimstone.

You should also consider the aesthetic you are trying to achieve. If you are looking for a rustic feel, a timber with a sawn finish and more knots, such as British cedar or British larch, will be suitable and relatively cheap. If you are looking for a contemporary look, a stable timber with a smooth finish and fewer knots such as Canadian cedar or brimstone poplar will deliver ideal results.

Also, consider early on whether you want cladding with a horizontal or vertical orientation as that will dictate how batons are attached and the kind of profiles you can use. Also decide in advance whether you want a treated or untreated finish as treated timber cladding will need to be re-treated every two years or so.


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