With tremendous versatility from both an aesthetic and performance standpoint, metal wall systems are suitable for a range of commercial projects, from dairy barns to educational buildings to stadiums.
Because metal wall panels come in different materials—most commonly steel and aluminum—they also can be specified for all climates. And their breadth of aesthetic options extends their reach even further.
What Characteristics Define Metal Wall Panels?
Along with versatility of application, metal wall panels offer a range of benefits, including:
- Color flexibility: Most manufacturers offer metal wall panels in a variety of colors, from earth tones to electric blue.
- Long life: Metal wall panels last for decades, even as much as 100-plus years, depending on the manufacturer.
- Sustainability: Metal panels typically contain 35% to 85% recycled material. They are 100% recyclable and can be melted down and reused for other purposes.
- Lightweight: At about 0.4 to 0.8 pounds per square foot for aluminum and 1 to 2 pounds per square foot for steel, metal wall panels are lightweight compared to other cladding options.
Selecting Styles and Profiles
Appearance is central to choosing metal wall panels, and that starts with panel types and profiles.
Concealed-fastener systems are flush, overlapping panels in widths from 8” to 16”. These panels create a more water-tight system. They also boast a more high-end look.
Exposed-fastener systems are more economical and, at 24” to 36”, take less time to install. Exposed-fastener panels sacrifice some of the streamlined appearance of a concealed panel, but still have plenty of aesthetic opportunities thanks to deep shadow lines and the variety of color options.
On the profile front, the sky is the limit. Choose from flush, ribbed, stand-and-seam, corrugated, and more.
Selecting Finishes and Colors
The other critical aesthetic decision is finish type.
The ideal coating for metal wall panels is Kynar® Polyvinylidene Fluoride (PVDF), a multi-layer finish with the most resin content for the highest levels of UV protection; it’s commonly used for commercial projects.
A popular finish for residential use is a Siliconized Modified Polyester (SMP) two-part paint system.
The third finish option is polyester, which is recommended only for interior liner panels where there is no opportunity for UV exposure.
Typically, manufacturers offer a variety of standard and custom hues. Colors typically carry different ratings for Solar Reflectivity, Initial Emissivity, and Solar Reflective Index.
Within finishes, you also may have specialty options, such as Crinkle Coat, Cor-Ten AZP, and EuraZinc
How to Choose Metal Wall Panels
When selecting metal wall panels for each project, start from an environmental standpoint—what metal is appropriate (and permitted) in the area? Aluminum is required in coastal areas, for example. For other regions, aluminum is still the more robust choice over steel; steel will start to rust at edges and at fasteners if not properly installed. Aluminum is not prone to these issues, lasts longer, and is lighter weight—but does come at a cost premium.
For thickness, consider the building’s location and use. For high-traffic areas, choose a more robust thickness—18 gauge for steel, .050 for aluminum.
From there, approach the wall system with design in mind. And be sure to utilize your manufacturer’s representative for recommendations.
Above all, installation is critical for ensuring the longevity of metal wall panels. As an architect, get to know who will be installing the product and their experience level.
It’s important to keep in mind that metal panels are not commodities. Each manufacturer has its own unique capabilities, and innovations from each abound. The only limits for designing with metal wall panels are the imagination.