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What is Sheet Cladding?

By Heather Phillips
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sheet cladding is a panel material, ordinarily made of plastic or metal alloy, used in construction to cover the exterior or interior of a building. Common forms of sheet cladding include corrugated metal panels, unplasticized polyvinyl chloride (PVCu), aluminum and copper sheeting, and polycarbonate &mash; a thermoplastic material — among others. These can be used in a variety of locales, such as roofs, exterior or interior walls, and ceilings.

Metal cladding started to become widely used in the early 1800s. Corrugated galvanized iron, a sheet metal with a wavy profile, was invented in the 1820s. The wavy profile added to the strength of the metal, making it hard to bend perpendicular to the waves. It had widespread use as a roofing material in New Zealand, Australia, India, Chile, and rural parts of the United States, and is still the most common roofing material in Australia and Chile.

Tin ceilings, another example of sheet cladding, became popular in the mid-19th century. They were misnamed because they were typically made from painted iron or steel, and rarely made of tin. These painted metal panels usually had ornamental embossed designs. Often, the designs were copied from carved and molded plasterwork, and provided a more economical alternative.

Using sheet cladding can be a very cost effective way of finishing a building. Sometimes, as with copper cladding, the initial expense can be more than with other alternatives, such as wood siding, but the copper has a much longer life expectancy. Some has survived intact for over 200 years. Another advantage is that metal cladding is often recyclable.

Frequently, metal cladding is made of alloys, or coated, to give it longer durability. Galvanized metal is often used for this reason. This usually takes the form of iron, steel, or aluminum that has been coated with zinc. This makes it resistant to rust and corrosion.

Newer forms of sheet cladding were developed with the rise of plastic manufacture by the mid 1900s. PVCu became widely used in Europe, particularly where hygiene is an important consideration, as in restaurant kitchens. Another plastic sheet cladding, polycarbonate, is often used to make roofing sheets for industrial buildings, carports, awnings, and patios.

There are many advantages to using metal and plastic sheet cladding in building construction. They are insect and rot resistant, and metal cladding resists fire. Both materials are also highly durable and can be very cost effective over the lifetime of the building.

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