Although it has a history of usage in Europe dating back several hundred of years, it’s only been recently that zinc has begun to gain popularity as an architectural metal in the United States.
This rise in popularity of the metal is a good thing for American architects and contractors since zinc has a wide range of uses and offers a variety of benefits as a construction material. This article will specifically focus on the virtues that zinc offers when used for cladding, and all the reasons why this metal is fast becoming a popular and widespread phenomena in architecture.
One of the first reasons to consider zinc for cladding is the simple fact that it’s an attractive, aesthetically pleasing material, and will retain this quality throughout its lifetime, rather than fading and degrading as it ages.
When first installed, zinc cladding will have a shiny metallic sheen, but as time goes on the metal will develop into a more muted, matte color. This color change occurs because, as zinc is exposed to the moisture and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, it generates a protective layer of zinc carbonate on its surface, producing its trademark blueish patina. Because the aesthetic qualities of zinc patina are broadly admired, zinc cladding can also be bought pre-patinated,
Ultimately, this distinctive patina means that zinc looks just as appropriate when used on an ultra-modern new construction project as it does in the historic roofs and decorative elements of European buildings hundreds of years old.
One of the major draws of zinc is its naturally long service life as a construction material – zinc roofs and cladding can last for a century in a low-pollution urban environment, and can withstand highly saline conditions in marine environments for 60 to 80 years. This resilience is due to zinc’s patina, which protects the metal from moisture, rendering zinc weather proof, corrosion resistant, and naturally antimicrobial. The patina will even “heal” itself over time, naturally eliminating minor scratches and surface damage.
This durability and resistance to natural wear makes zinc a highly cost effective option as well – not only will zinc save money by not requiring regular repairs or maintenance over its long life, but the base cost of zinc rolls or sheets is lower than other popular architectural metals such as copper or stainless steel.
Zinc is a highly malleable metal, which means that it can be produced into a vast range of shapes to suit many different architectural needs – it can be cast and rolled into simple sheets for basic cladding, or shaped into elaborate and detailed decorative elements.
As a thin metal, with sheets generally measuring 0.7mm, zinc can be arranged into a huge range of angles and curves, making it ideal for structures with unusual exteriors. In fact, zinc can easily be used to cover the entire envelope of a building
Increasingly popular is the use of perforated zinc cladding for decorative elements, as seen in our PixArt pieces, a technique that allows for anything from abstract designs to creating detailed images. In addition to its aesthetic virtues, perforated cladding naturally requires less raw material than a solid sheet, which can make it an attractive option when working on a budget.
In addition to being both extremely durable and flexible, zinc offers distinct environmental advantages over other metals commonly used in cladding. Firstly, it has a very high rate of reuse, being nearly 100% recyclable (around 30% of the world’s zinc currently in use is recycled). This allows for a more cyclical life for architectural zinc, a significant change from the current global systems which prefer to create, use, and then discard materials.
In addition to being hugely reusable, zinc has a lower melting point than common construction metals like aluminum or copper. This means that zinc production requires less energy on a broad industrial level, thus producing fewer emissions and saving on resources.
Lastly, zinc doesn’t produce any harmful pollutants that can runoff into the earth when rain water comes in contact with it. This is in contrast to metals like lead which can leech oxides into the soil, or copper whose antifungal qualities make it inappropriate to use as roofing near areas with vegetation.
Consider Zinc for Your Next project
Durable, environmentally sustainable, flexible, and cost effective – it’s hardly surprising why zinc is on the rise as a popular architectural metal. As the single largest stocking center in North America, MetalTech Global can meet any and all of your architectural metal needs.
We are equipped with our own processing facilities, are capable of custom fabrication, as well as processing and reprocessing zinc sheets and coils for our customers. From simple paneling and cladding to elaborate decorative elements, contact us for a consultation on what zinc can do for your next project.