What are metal wall panels?

Posted on August 18th, 2023 08:23 AM

Metal wall panels are quickly becoming a popular choice for both residential and commercial buildings. But what exactly are these modern exterior wall coverings? Metal wall panels are thin sheets of metal that attach to the exterior of a building. They come in various metals like steel, aluminum, copper, and zinc. The metal sheets interlock together to form a continuous, sleek metal skin on the exterior walls.

Unlike traditional wood or vinyl siding, metal wall panels offer a range of unique benefits:

  • Durability - Metal stands up to weather, fire, impacts, and more. Metal wall systems can last for decades with little maintenance required.

  • Strength - Panels made of steel, aluminum and other metals are incredibly strong and secure when installed properly.

  • Weather resistance - Metal wall cladding prevents wind, rain, and moisture damage. Many panels feature rainscreen systems that control water and add breathability.

  • Fire resistance - Materials like steel and copper are non-combustible. Metal panels protect building interiors from fire spread.

  • Design options - From bold metals to colorful finishes, metal wall panels provide modern and creative aesthetics.

With so many advantages, it’s clear why metal wall panel systems have surged in popularity for both remodeling projects and new construction. This article will explore the most common types of metal panels along with their key characteristics, benefits, installation, costs, and more. Let’s examine why metal wall panels should be a top contender for your next building project.

The Benefits of Metal Wall Panels for Buildings

DurabilityWithstands weather, impacts, wear & tear for decades
StrengthRigid structure anchors securely to walls
Weather ResistanceSheds rain & moisture; prevents water damage
Fire ResistanceNon-combustible; limits fire spread
Design OptionsWide range of colors, textures, patterns
Energy EfficiencyInsulated metal panels boost R-value
Low MaintenanceJust occasional cleaning required
Cost EffectivenessLong lifespan offsets higher initial price

Metal wall panels offer a range of advantages that make them an ideal choice for exterior cladding on commercial and residential buildings. If you’re considering an exterior remodel or building a new structure, metal wall panels should be at the top of your list. Here’s an in-depth look at the many benefits this modern wall system provides.

Strength and Durability

Arguably the greatest benefit of metal wall panels is their inherent strength and durability. Panels made from steel, aluminum, copper, or zinc will stand up to decades of weather, impacts, and wear-and-tear. Properly installed metal wall systems are rated to withstand winds up to 120 mph!

Metal wall cladding resists these elements due to its rigid structure and resilience. Thermoforming and advanced finishing processes make metal sheets lightweight yet impressively tough. Unlike vinyl siding that can warp, bend, and deteriorate, you can rely on metal’s longevity.

Fire Resistance

Another major advantage of metal walls is fire resistance. Materials like steel and copper are naturally non-combustible. They do not feed flames or produce smoke and toxic gasses. Metal panels protect building interiors by limiting fire spread.

Fire ratings depend on panel make-up. For example, insulated metal panels (IMPs) with solid foam or mineral wool cores achieve ratings of 1-2 hours. This performance can lower insurance rates, especially for commercial buildings.

Weather and Water Resistance

Rain, snow, humidity - Midwest weather can damage building exteriors. Thankfully, metal wall panels provide complete defense. The overlapping panel system and secure mounting resists wind pressure. Stacked joints shed water down and away from walls.

Modern metal wall systems also integrate rainscreen technology. This ventilated airspace behind panels allows vapor to escape, preventing moisture issues in the wall cavity. The combination of durability, air tightness, and breathability ensures metal walls withstand decades of weather.

Design Versatility

Beyond performance, architectural metal wall panels provide amazing aesthetic possibilities. Metal cladding comes in numerous profile options like flat sheets, planks, and curved panels. Choose eye-catching textures and patterns for visual interest.

Metal wall systems can imitate styles from wood grain and stucco to brick and stone. Mix colors and textures for a completely custom look. Use metal types like copper or zinc for naturally patinating surfaces. With metal’s malleability and vast color palette, the design options are endless.

Energy Efficiency

Metal itself conducts heat, which is why insulated metal panels (IMPs) have become the gold standard. IMPs sandwich rigid foam insulation between an interior and exterior metal skin. This enhances wall R-values, improves energy efficiency, and reduces heating/cooling costs.

Studies by the Metal Building Manufacturers Association found energy savings of up to 15% in buildings using IMP wall and roof systems. With today’s elevated energy prices, increased efficiency provides major value.

Low Maintenance

Once installed, metal wall panels require very little ongoing maintenance. While wood or fiber cement siding may need re-staining or painting every 5-10 years, color-finished metal walls maintain their look over decades. Pressure washing every year or two removes dirt and debris.

Minor dents or scratches can be repaired with touch-up paint. Overall, metal wall cladding saves you time and costs for upkeep compared to other sidings. Set it and enjoy the benefits for years to come.

Cost Effectiveness

With significant durability and low maintenance needs, metal wall panels offer great value per square foot. Although pricier upfront than vinyl or fiber cement, the lifespan offsets costs long-term. Factory finishes and modularity also make installation affordable.

Choosing affordable steel over aluminum or copper reduces initial pricing. Good design, proper installation, and regular upkeep will ensure your metal wall system lasts and protects your investment for generations.

Types of Metal Wall Panels for Buildings

Insulated Steel PanelsSteel skin with rigid foam core; provides insulation & rigidity
Steel Plate SidingInterlocking pressed steel panels; affordable and durable
Insulated Aluminum PanelsAluminum skin with insulation core; lightweight & efficient
Aluminum SidingInterlocking aluminum sheets; more expansion/contraction
Copper PanelsPure copper or copper alloy; natural patina; ultimate corrosion resistance
Zinc PanelsZinc alloy coated steel; naturally weathering & antimicrobial
Other MetalsStainless steel, titanium, bronze; high end aesthetic options

If you’re considering installing metal wall panels, you’ll find there are numerous options when it comes to metal types and panel styles. The most common metals used for exterior wall cladding are steel, aluminum, copper, and zinc. Each material offers its own advantages. Here’s an overview of the main metal wall panel varieties along with their key features and benefits.

Steel Wall Panels

Steel is the most widely used metal for building wall panels. It’s strong, durable, and economical, making it a practical choice. There are two main types of steel panels:

Insulated Steel Panels

Insulated steel panels (ISPs) consist of two sheets of steel with rigid foam insulation sandwiched between them. The most common type is SIP (structural insulated panels) with eps foam or polyurethane core. Benefits include:

  • High R-value for thermal efficiency
  • Strength and rigidity as load-bearing walls
  • Quick installation for new builds or recladding
  • Fire resistance and mold/mildew resistance

Steel Plate Siding

For non-insulated applications, interlocking steel plate siding provides rugged protection. These panels come in flush and various profiled (raised) styles. Advantages include:

  • Affordability and wide availability
  • Durable finishes in colors, wood grain, and stone textures
  • Higher impact resistance vs. aluminum
  • Less expansion/contraction than aluminum

Steel panels offer versatility for exterior walls and roofs. The choice comes down to insulated vs. non-insulated based on climate, budget, and aesthetics.

Aluminum Wall Panels

Aluminum is growing in popularity for metal building cladding. It’s lighter than steel but still provides strength and longevity. Types include:

Insulated Aluminum Panels

These sandwich panels have a thermally-broken aluminum skin on both sides. The core is rigid polyurethane or mineral wool insulation. Benefits are similar to insulated steel but aluminum offers:

  • Lighter weight for easier handling
  • Wider range of colors and finishes
  • Increased corrosion resistance
  • Higher cost than steel panels

Aluminum Siding

For a non-insulated look, aluminum sheet siding comes in flush, tongue-and-groove, and overlapping profiles. Advantages include:

  • Lightweight for easy installation
  • Range of baked-on fluoropolymer finishes
  • Naturally corrosion resistant
  • More expansion/contraction than steel to account for

Architectural Copper Panels

Copper brings aesthetic appeal and natural weathering ability. Benefits include:

  • Distinctive natural patina over time
  • Ultimate corrosion resistance
  • Can be finished for consistent appearance
  • Rarely needs refinishing

Copper wall panels work for accent walls or whole building cladding. However, copper costs 4-5 times more than steel or aluminum.

Other Metal Wall Panel Options

More niche metal cladding choices include:

  • Zinc - Naturally weathering and antimicrobial
  • Stainless steel - Brushed metal or colored finishes
  • Titanium - Extremely strong and corrosion resistant
  • Bronze - Provides a warm, golden look

Installing Metal Wall Panels on Buildings

Installation ConsiderationsDescription
Hire Professional InstallersExperts ensure proper handling, flashing, alignment
Follow Safety GuidelinesUse fall protection, gloves, goggles, etc.
Secure Mounting SystemAttach panels to clips/channels on wall studs
Allow Thermal MovementLeave space between panels & studs
Proper FlashingSeal seams, edges, openings to prevent leaks
Check AlignmentEnsure panels are plumb & courses line up
Account for ExpansionLeave adequate gaps between panels
Use Manufacturer SpecsFollow all product guidelines for performance

Installing metal wall panels takes more skill and precaution than typical sidings. While DIY is possible for experienced pros, hire a reputable metal cladding contractor for best results. Here is an overview of recommended metal wall panel installation techniques:

Hiring Professional Installers

Proper installation is crucial for metal wall panel performance and appearance. Poor techniques lead to problems like:

  • Leaks due to inadequate flashing and seals
  • Buckling or loosening due to improper mounting
  • Misalignment or damage due to mishandling

Professional cladding crews have the experience, equipment, and training needed to avoid these issues. Look for installers approved and recommended by the panel manufacturer.

Safety Considerations

Every installation should begin with safety planning. Key risks include:

  • Falls - Workers at height require harnesses and tie-offs
  • Cuts - Metal edges are razor-sharp and should be handled with gloves
  • Heavy loads - Use proper lifting techniques and equipment for panels
  • Electrical - Avoid contact with any live wires

Job site safety protects workers and avoids costly accidents. Follow all OSHA and manufacturer guidelines.

Securing Panels to the Wall

Metal wall panels require sturdy attachment to the building structure. This involves:

  • Attaching mounting clips or channels to wall studs
  • Leaving recommended space between panel edges and studs for thermal movement
  • Using self-tapping screws or bolts to secure panels to clips
  • Avoiding direct attachment to studs which can cause buckling

Follow the manufacturer’s recommended screw spacing and sealing techniques. Use gaskets, sealants, and rainscreen channels as specified.

Flashing at Seams and Edges

Metal wall joints are vulnerable to leaks without proper treatment. Critical areas that require flashing include:

  • Panel-to-panel seams
  • Panel edges at windows, doors, and openings
  • Bottom panel edges and window sills
  • Penetrations like pipes or vents

Flashing consists of waterproof membrane along seams and galvanized or aluminum edge trim. Follow the panel layout design for correct flashing placement.

Allowing for Thermal Expansion

All metals naturally expand and contract with temperature changes. To prevent buckling, installers must account for needed thermal movement space.

Strategies involve:

  • Leaving gaps between panel edges and studs
  • Using slip joints at seams to allow movement
  • Limiting unsupported panel lengths

Closely follow manufacturer spacing guidelines based on the metal type and climate.

Achieving Alignment

Careful measurement ensures metal wall panels line up neatly. Misaligned seams look unprofessional and can cause performance issues. Tips for straight courses include:

  • Snapping chalk lines as guides
  • Using a laser level to track horizontal alignment
  • Clamping panels during attachment to restrict movement
  • Periodically checking plumb/level and realigning if needed

With attention to detail, installers can achieve the clean, aligned look that metal walls are known for.

Proper handling, mounting, flashing, and alignments take expertise. While an investment, good installation protects your metal wall investment. Next we’ll look at maintenance and costs considerations for ongoing performance.

Maintaining Metal Wall Panels on Buildings

Maintenance TaskFrequencyDescription
CleaningAnnuallyRemove dirt & debris with power washing or hand washing
Inspect for Damage1-2 times per yearLook for dents, punctures, peeling paint etc.
Touch-up PaintingAs neededSpot paint any scratches/exposed metal
Re-sealing JointsEvery 5-10 yearsRe-apply sealant along seams, penetrations
Check for CorrosionEvery 2-3 years in coastal/humid climatesLook for rust staining or white oxidation spots
Repair Loose PanelsAs needed after severe weatherRe-secure any loose panel fasteners

One of the many benefits of metal wall panels is low-maintenance. With periodic cleaning and minor upkeep, metal building exteriors will last for decades. Here are tips for maintaining metal wall panels to keep them looking their best:


Metal surfaces can collect dirt, debris, and oxidization over time. Annual cleaning restores appearance by removing buildup.

Recommended cleaning methods include:

  • Power washing with low-pressure water and mild detergent
  • Using a soft bristle brush and garden hose
  • Wiping down smaller areas by hand

Avoid abrasive cleaners or high-pressure washing which can damage metal finishes.

Inspecting for Damage

Occasionally inspect metal wall panels up-close for any signs of damage such as:

  • Dents and abrasions
  • Punctures or small holes
  • Cracking or peeling paint
  • Corrosion around drilled holes or cuts

Find and repair any minor damage to prevent water getting behind panels. This prevents further degradation.

Touch-up Painting

For scratches, scrapes, or other damage exposing metal, use compatible touch-up paint. Match the original fluoropolymer or powder coated factory finish.

Prepare, prime, and paint damaged areas following product directions. This preserves the uniform look of wall panels.

Re-sealing Joints

The gaskets and sealants in metal wall seams expand and contract along with the metal. After some years, re-sealing may be needed.

Have a professional contractor re-apply quality sealant along seams, edges, openings, and penetrations. Look for cracking, gaps, or signs of leaks.

Checking for Corrosion

For coastal regions or humid climates, periodically check for early signs of corrosion like white oxidation spots or rust-colored stains. Catching it early allows corrective action like cleaning and re-sealing affected areas.

While rare with quality installation, look for any places water could be trapped to cause corrosion over time. Address these vulnerable spots.

Repairing Loose Panels

In extreme weather, high winds, or earthquakes, it’s possible for metal panels to come loose or unattached. Immediately repair any affected areas.

Re-secure loose panels by re-tightening screws into wall clips or replacing cracked/deteriorated rubber gaskets if present.

With proper installation and occasional maintenance, your building’s metal wall panels should provide decades of unmatched performance and visual appeal. Keeping them well-maintained ensures your investment continues paying dividends.

Next, we’ll look at the costs associated with metal wall panels to understand the investment and ROI.

Metal Wall Panel Costs: What to Expect

Cost FactorTypical Price Range
Metal Wall Panels$5-25+ per sq.ft. depending on metal type
Insulated vs. Non-InsulatedInsulated costs 50-100% more
Installation Labor$3-10 per sq.ft. based on complexity
Total Installed Cost$10-40+ per sq.ft.
vs. Other SidingsMore expensive than vinyl or fiber cement but longer lifespan
Cost Savings TipsUse affordable metals, simple profiles, non-insulated if possible

What is the cost to buy and install metal wall panels versus other siding options? Here is an overview of the investment involved and money-saving tips.

Metal Wall Panel Pricing

On average, you can expect to pay:

  • $5-10 per sq.ft. for steel wall panels
  • $10-20 per sq.ft. for aluminum panels
  • $25+ per sq.ft. for copper panels

This includes the panels themselves along with trim and fasteners. Insulated panels cost 50-100% more than non-insulated.

Factors Affecting Panel Pricing

Prices vary based on:

  • Metal type - Steel, aluminum, zinc, etc.
  • Insulated vs non-insulated - Insulated costs 1.5-2 times more
  • Gauge/thickness - Thicker metals are pricier but more durable
  • Coatings and finishes - Color, Kynar, acrylic or powder coatings add cost
  • Profile - Flat, corrugated, interlocking planks, etc. Simple is cheaper

Premium metals like titanium can cost hundreds per square foot but provide lasting beauty.

Installation Costs

In addition to materials, factor in professional installation:

  • Labor - $3-10 per square foot, depending on complexity
  • Equipment rental - Needed for safety and access
  • Profit margins - 15-25% markup is typical

Total installed cost ranges from $10-40+ per sq.ft. depending on the factors above. Insulated, finished copper panels with complex installation would be at the top of that range. Simple steel panels on the low end.

Comparing to Other Sidings

Metal wall panels are more expensive upfront than:

  • Vinyl siding - $3-7 per sq.ft. installed
  • Fiber cement - $7-15 per sq.ft. installed

But the longevity and minimal maintenance of metal can provide a better 40-50 year life cycle value.

Cost-Saving Tips

Ways to reduce overall investment in a metal wall system include:

  • Select affordable steel over pricier aluminum or copper
  • Use simple flat panel profiles rather than complex dimensional shapes
  • Install non-insulated panels in mild climates that need less insulation
  • Look for recycled material options for sustainability and value
  • Clean and maintain panels properly to maximize lifespan

Properly installed and maintained, metal walls provide decades of unmatched performance and visual appeal that justify the initial investment.

Next let’s recap the key benefits and applications that make metal wall panels a top choice for modern construction and remodeling projects.

Why Metal Wall Panels Are a Top Choice

Metal wall panels offer a range of unmatched benefits that make them a top choice for modern construction:

  • Durability - Rigid metal stands up to weather, fire, impacts, and wear for decades.

  • Strength - Metal panels provide secure attachment and wind/impact resistance.

  • Weatherproofing - Overlapping, interlocking panels prevent moisture intrusion.

  • Fire resistance - Materials like steel and copper are non-combustible.

  • Design versatility - From bold metals to endless colors and textures, metal allows creative aesthetics.

  • Energy efficiency - Insulated metal panels (IMPs) boost thermal performance.

  • Low maintenance - Just occasional cleaning required to maintain appearance.

  • Cost effectiveness - The longevity offsets higher upfront pricing.

For both new builds and remodeling, metal wall cladding delivers performance and beauty unmatched by vinyl, wood, fiber cement, or masonry. With so many types, finishes, and installation options, it’s easy to find metal wall systems to meet your specific building needs and budget.

If you’re considering a residential or commercial project, be sure to explore the benefits of durable, weatherproof, and versatile metal wall panels. They provide an attractive, eco-friendly, and cost-effective siding solution built to last.


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