Guide To Fibre Cement Cladding
Compared to many other materials such as timber, tiles, stone and others, fibre cement is a relatively new material that has only been in existence for around 40 years. However, the benefits it provides to the construction industry have quickly been realised which has seen it become widely adopted right across the trade.
Those not working in the building industry may not be aware of fibre cement and instead opt for more traditional materials, missing out on a number of advantages it can bring. In this article, we go into more detail about the history of fibre cement, what it’s used for and why you should consider investing in the material for cladding, roof sheets and other key jobs.
What Is Fibre Cement Cladding?
Fibre cement was developed by a company called James Hardie close to the start of the 1980s. It is classed as a composite material made up of cement that has been reinforced with cellulose fibres and fillers. The mixture can still be moulded into the required shape for some time before it is fully formed which allows it to be used across a variety of applications.
What Is Fibre Cement Typically Used For?
Due to the composition of the material, fibre cement is ideal for use in cladding exterior walls of buildings and also as either a floor tiling base or tiling backer board on building interiors.
There is a vast range of cladding materials available for buildings, ranging from timber, vinyl, metal and much more. Fibre cement is used as an alternative because it is extremely low maintenance and cost effective in comparison, without lowering any of the performance properties.
The material’s water resistance properties ensure it does not crack, rot or warp allowing it to last for over 60 years if installed correctly. Just as importantly, fibre cement is also fire resistant, so it will not ignite if exposed to burning flame or high levels of heat, also making it non-combustible.
How Is Fibre Cladding Made?
All James Hardie products are manufactured using the Hatschek process.
Fibre cement is made up of a number of elements, starting with sand at a particle size between a quarter to half a millimetre is used, similar to that found at the beach. This is the first part of the process, loaded onto a conveyor belt that moves into the manufacturing plant.
Once it reaches the ball mill the sand is ground down to a fine powder. Water is steadily pumped into the ball mill at this stage to help reduce dust levels, enabling it to pass onto the next stage. This is then left to drain in a large tank until the solid particles emerge to make up approximately 80% of the volume.
Wood pulp is then added in the next stage and it is this filler which provides fibre cement with its bending strength ensuring the material is non-brittle and crack-resistant. More water is added to the mixture and passed through the manufacturing plant looking thick and gloopy. Further additives are poured in and the slurry that forms the basis of the fibre cement slowly begins to take shape.
The slurry is passed through a cylindrical sieve and the material gradually adheres to the outer surface. Water drains away through the mesh and leaves behind a thin fibre cement film on the sieves. A felt belt runs above the sieves which slowly build up the thickness of the material, layer by layer. This moves onto the making drum with a fixed circumference to dictate the length of the finished product.
Fibre cement sheets are then water jet cut into the required sizes. They are transported carefully and allowed to stand so the fibre cement can strengthen, before being moved into the autoclaves. Pressurised steam then cures the product for 9 hours at a temperature of 170 Celsius.
Tests are then carried out on the manufactured batch to test its strength and durability. If the fibre cement meets the set requirements, it can then be moved onto finishing, packaging and despatch. All of this will take a total of 3 days from start to finish.
What Are The Benefits Of Fibre Cement Cladding?
Fibre cement is gaining in popularity because it provides a number of benefits that other materials struggle to compete with. The main advantages of using the material are:
Fibre cement is a long-lasting material that provides guaranteed protection against the elements which makes it ideal for cladding, roofing sheets and much more. Not only that but it is also fire, impact and insect resistant allowing it to stay in fantastic condition for many years.
- Crack management
Unlike wood or vinyl, fibre cement will not crack, warp or swell over time with the changing of the elements. Once the material has been set then its density will not change due to excess heat or moisture penetration. Added to its mould and moisture resistance this ensures the material will not deteriorate due to damp or similar water-based issues.
- Low maintenance
One of the best benefits of fibre cement is the minimal amount of maintenance required to keep it in good condition. Once the material has been installed, it does not have to be repainted at any point and can easily be cleaned using a simple combination of soap and water.
A key requirement on any new build or property renovation, fibre cement is also extremely environmentally friendly. The cellulose fibre is sourced from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) with only sand, cement, water and a small number of additives added to the mixture. Lower levels of toxicity produce less dust which makes the working environment better for everyone present.
- Quick installation
This is why more people are turning towards fibre cement, as it significantly cuts down on the installation time, saving money across the build. The material is also light to handle and manoeuvre allowing it to be in position quickly and securely in a minimum amount of time.
How To Maintain Fibre Cement Cladding
Fibre cement is extremely low maintenance and only requires an occasional wash down with a hose and soapy water. The material features a special curing process that means it absorbs far less moisture compared to vinyl or wood, for example. This also means it is far less likely to crack or break.
James Hardie Plank fibre cement cladding comes with ColourPlus Technology integrated into the material. This means it will not crack, chip, or peel for at least 10 years and has a life expectancy of over 60 years, making it one of the most cost-effective options available.