How to pick external materials in your house design

estate houses - mark lawler architects

A building’s appearance and performance are largely determined by the materials selected for the external elements: walls, roof, windows, decks, etc.  There are many factors influencing the selection of each element. This blog lists the main considerations, however, you should always seek specific advice for a project.

With the selection of any external element the following considerations are relevant:

  • Appearance
  • Cost
  • Maintenance

Usually, a decision on a material or product will be a result of balancing these different characteristics. In most cases, the lowest cost does not give the best appearance or the lowest maintenance. The cost must be assessed with appearance and maintenance and the overriding project objectives.

The external cladding and windows make up around 15% to 20% of the total construction cost. So often, minor savings on cladding cost can have little benefit in terms of reducing the overall building cost.

Other factors which must also be considered include:

  • Building structure, suitable support and framing members
  • Bushfire and BCA compliance
  • Ease of installation (e.g. small and light versus large and heavy materials)
  • Site access: delivery and storage, scaffolding requirements
  • Site location: salt spray, wind exposure
  • Thermal and acoustic insulation
  • Delivery lead times, product availability
  • Compatibility with the building shape and height
  • Builder “friendly” construction, familiarity with local standards, methods

With the selection of cladding, the choices include materials that give a seamless, monolithic appearance or sheets or boards where joints between elements are expressed. This relates to the desired variation in texture and colours. The cladding selection may be restricted by the manufacturer’s standard “off the shelf” sizes and finishes. This needs to be evaluated early in the design process to avoid costly custom orders.

The roof material will have a large bearing on the design in terms of structure and appearance. The two most common materials for houses are metal (Colorbond) or tiles (terra cotta or concrete). These two materials require quite different pitches, roof geometry, rainwater drainage and structural provisions.  Normally the selection of the roof type is made early in the design process. Architects can provide insight as to the best roof type for your home – their knowledge and experience in-house design are one of the many reasons to choose an architecturally designed home.

With windows, decks and balustrades most consideration centres around views and privacy. Large areas of glass open a building to the views. This must be balanced against the need for privacy, sun control and thermal comfort. The design of a deck or balcony is an opportunity to provide an interesting 3D element. The selection of the materials: balustrade (solid, glass or rails), roof (flat, pitched or skillion) and colours will have a substantial visual impact.

There are many material options for all the external building elements and a correspondingly large number of decisions. It’s important not to lose sight of the design objectives to help navigate the almost endless options. Mark Lawler Architects are able to provide guidance to each client for the most appropriate material selection for their project. Get in touch with us today for more information.

Image source: Mark Lawler Architects



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