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What Is Aluminum Cladding?

You have undoubtedly seen aluminum cladding on many homes. The process of cladding refers to the covering of water-permeable materials, such as wood, with a thin layer of aluminum. This aluminum prevents moisture from contacting raw wood and causing mildew, mold, and rot.

Before aluminum cladding was available, most homes relied on high-quality exterior grade paint and caulk to seal a home from the elements. However, even the best paint and caulk require regular maintenance. Aluminum cladding requires no more than a periodic inspection and occasional washing to provide an attractive and crisp-looking exterior.

Architectural detail of metal roofing on commercial construction of modern building complex

Cladding is the process of covering a component of a home with a material called trim coil. The trim coil is sold in a thin (often .008mm-.004mm) roll of aluminum, typically sold in 24” x 50’ rolls. The trim coil is used for essentially all aluminum cladding as it is relatively inexpensive, simple to work with, and comes in a few different colors and textures. 

Some versions of the trim coil are reversible, meaning the aluminum will be white or almond color on one side and a contrasting color on the other. The typical trim coil will be perfectly flat and smooth. In contrast, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) trim coil is usually not reversible because it contains two or three layers, one of which is wood textured. PVC trim coil is generally used when a surface needs to resemble painted wood, or needs to compliment an existing texture.

Aluminum cladding can be used to cover most problem areas and can be shaped and molded using a machine called a brake. A brake essentially bends crisp edges into the aluminum and creates an outer shell that is then installed directly onto the home using aluminum or painted nails.

Brakes are available in various sizes, but most professionals use the 120” version as it is probably the most versatile. After the cladding is shaped and nailed, caulk is still sometimes used on the joints as an extra measure, but is not usually required.

Cladding Common Components On a Home

Very often a home will benefit from aluminum cladding as part of a siding replacement project. One of the main selling features of new aluminum or vinyl siding is the very low maintenance. 

However, some components of a home, such as square posts, eaves, fascia, and rake boards are not easily covered with siding. Leaving these areas subject to regular painting and caulking not only detracts from the overall appearance but negates some of the maintenance free benefits of the siding. 

Here we will discuss the process of cladding components of a home often done as part of a siding replacement project:

  • Wooden Window

These are the windows common to homes built a century ago. Wooden windows generally have 1’ x 3’ or 1” x 4” trim, which is ideal for cladding. In most cases, replacement windows are installed using cladding between the trim and the frame of the window. The seam is generally then caulked with exterior grade, petroleum based, clear sealant.

Pro Tip. The pros will typically use clear caulk around windows, because often the trim coil and window are complimentary colors. Using clear caulk preserves the crisp line between the two colors without compromising the seal.

  • Square Posts

Square posts are very common in certain types of architecture, most commonly found holding up a porch roof. Many homes built from the 1940’s until the 1970’s used square porch posts to support the roof of a porch or stoop.

Over time, these can settle or sag, creating gaps and cracks in the paint and caulk, allowing water to penetrate. Some designs used floor to ceiling posts, while others posts are supported by masonry. Regardless of the length of the post, the cladding process is the same.

A perfectly square post is usually clad using only two pieces, as long as the posts do not exceed 10” or so in width. This is done to reduce the number of joints, which is where most water problems begin.

  • Cladding Fascia and Rake Boards

Fascia boards are likely the most aluminum clad component found on a home. Many times, fascia boards are neglected because in most situations they are hidden by the gutters. If the home does not already have cladding, it is usually installed during a gutter replacement project. This ensures that the fascia boards will have a similar lifespan to the gutters, extending the useful life of both.

Fascia boards are structural, meaning they must be able to support the additional weight of not only the gutters, but the water they may contain. Rake boards, in contrast, are not structural and function primarily as trim. Therefore, it is very important to periodically inspect the fascia boards and keep them in good condition.

  • Vinyl Window (Replacement)

Replacement vinyl windows are usually more expensive than new construction windows and are designed to be installed quickly. New construction vinyl windows incorporate a nail fin, much like the older aluminum windows, while replacement windows do not. Aluminum cladding is usually used to cover the space between the original window opening and the exterior facade. 

  • Eaves

An eave represents the point where the corner of a roof overhangs two adjacent walls. For reference, flood lights are often mounted just below the eaves of a home. Eaves can be a challenge to clad because not only are they two dimensional, but also usually incorporate the angle of the roof pitch.

They also form the crisp, clean edge of the home, so accuracy is paramount to the curb appeal. These areas are also commonly difficult to access, because they often extend 24” or more from the walls. Cladding them greatly reduces the hassles involved in periodic repainting.

Can I Create and Install Aluminum Cladding Myself?

If you are an experienced do-it-yourselfer you probably have the mechanical skills to work with aluminum cladding. The process requires very accurate measuring and attention to detail.

Often the cladding for a component is shaped in reverse, meaning the measurements represent a mirror image of the component it will be covering. This usually means the marks made for shaping will be done on the reverse side of the material. For this reason, great care should be taken to ensure that bends are made in the correct direction.

Aluminum trim coil will fatigue and break if bent multiple times, so a smart move is to check all the measurements at least three times and bend it only once. Hand tools are also commonly used to make small adjustments, such as bend a seam or trim a piece to fit.

Using the correct tools makes the job much easier. An experienced do-it-yourselfer will likely have many of the tools required, but uncommon tools, such as a brake, can usually be rented locally. Below is a list of common trim coil tools, but many specialty tools are also available:

  • Sheet Metal Brake
  • Metal Shears
  • Trim Nail Set (often called a “pea shooter”)
  • Hammer
  • Sharp Utility Knife
  • Measuring Tape
  • Grease Pencil
  • Handheld Brake

The Details Can Make the Difference

Aluminum cladding can not only make an older home look new, but prevent future deterioration. Cladding is standard on most new construction, as a way of extending the lifespan of the home, while reducing homeowner hassles and expense.

Aluminum cladding is useful, relatively easy to work with and cost effective, making its use even more popular among builders and remodelers. If your home is in need of new siding, windows, or just needs a facelift, adding aluminum cladding may be the most important part of the project.

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