Focus on...Cladding

Published Wednesday 04th May 2011
Tony Miles, Managing Director of International Timber, gives his views on the current state of the UK cladding market:
Q: What’s the state of the cladding market?
A: “Looking at the industry as a whole, I think it’s fair to say that the cladding market has been consistent.  Over recent years we have seen specifiers demanding more from cladding as they want a product which not only looks good but is also durable and long-lasting.  The growing number of finishing and treatment facilities in the UK is helping to drive this trend, with products such as Sikkens treated timber, Thermowood or Accoya cladding offering aesthetically pleasing yet high-performance solutions.
“It has been a buoyant year for International Timber in the cladding sector, with project wins including a £1-million contract to supply Cumuru hardwood for the Dalston Junction crossrail project in Hackney.  Additional cladding projects currently underway include Hanham Hall in Bristol, the first large scale housing development set to achieve level six of the Code for Sustainable Homes, and a development of one and two bedroom luxury apartments on the Great Western Dockyard, next to Brunel’s SS Great Britain.”
Q: How is cladding being used in new build and retrofit markets?
A: “Timber cladding is mainly being used in the new build market, although it is becoming a more popular choice for retrofit projects.  In both cases it is specified mainly for aesthetic reasons, allowing architects to create a visually pleasing external appearance on new build properties or enabling them to easily update and refresh building frontages on refurbishment properties.  Unlike brickwork, it can be supplied ready painted in a wide variety of colours to offer greater design flexibility.
“Sustainably sourced timber also offers an environmentally friendly product choice, especially as the use of certified timber in new build projects can contribute to points under the Materials category of the Code for Sustainable Homes.  As we move towards 2016, when Code Level 6 is required for private housing projects, it is likely that timber products such as cladding will have a greater role to play in sustainable construction projects.”
Q: What species are proving most popular (and why)?
A: “Western Red Cedar is the most popular species when it comes to cladding due to its excellent durability, stability and volume to weight ratio.  It is the most stable of all softwoods and is not prone to shrinkage, warping or twisting which makes it an ideal choice.
“Another top selling cladding product is Thermowood.  This is produced by steam heating premium quality pine to temperatures in excess of 212 degrees centigrade.  The heat penetrates to the core of the wood and drives out any moisture or resin to give a more stable and durable product with high resistance to moisture or decay.  This means it is well suited for use as an external cladding material, providing a more environmentally friendly alternative to tropical hardwoods.”
Q: What colours are people looking for i.e. natural or opaque painted/stained cladding?
A: “The current trend seems to show a move away from natural finishes, which will silver down over time.  Instead, painted or stained finishes appear to be more popular.  Treatments have advanced over years and painted or stained cladding can offer enhanced longevity.  In addition, timber can be painted in a wide range of colours and this gives architects or specifiers the opportunity to make a bold design statement.”
Q: How’s real wood fairing vs composites, cement board etc.?
A: “The appeal of timber as a traditional building material cannot be underestimated.  It offers a natural, sustainable and durable cladding choice which, when treated properly, will stay looking good for many years to come.  Real wood continues to perform well against more synthetic alternatives and there is still the opportunity for timber to gain market share in this area.” 
Q: How is modified wood being used in cladding and to what extent (why)?
A: “Modified wood is becoming a more popular choice for cladding and products such as Thermowood and Accoya are frequently specified.  They offer the durability of tropical hardwoods yet are harvested from sustainable sources and well-managed forests.  As a result, if priced competitively they present a real opportunity for merchants and timber traders to maximise sales opportunities.”