A Beginners Guide to Choosing Siding
Siding is one of the most important building components of a home. It, more than any other element, influences a home’s overall appearance and, thus, its value.
Contrary to popular belief, siding is NOT designed to act as a waterproof barrier. It is an architectural finish that protects the waterproof barrier that lies between it and the sheathing or wall framing below. Choosing siding that is both attractive and compatible with the architecture of your home is fundamental. Equally important are the quality of the material and how well it is maintained. You can have the best, most architecturally pleasing material in the world; however, unless it is properly maintained it can become an eyesore and can lead to structural problems.
Unless you are building, remodeling or residing your home you are stuck with the material that was applied when the building was constructed. That’s a good thing if you like the style of the material and it is in good condition. However, if the siding on your home is in dire need or replacement due to neglect or if the exterior appearance of your home just needs a facelift, then chances are good that you are (or should be) in the market for new siding.
Shopping for new siding can be a daunting task. There are an almost infinite number or choices in composition, size, style and color. Some are factory finished while others are finished on site. Natural wood (plank and plywood), wood composites, fiber cement, aluminum, steel, vinyl, stucco, brick and stone (or a combination thereof) are among the most widely used choices.
What should you have and what is best for your home? Unfortunately, there is no right answer. However, factors that most influence material choice should be (in order of importance) product quality, architectural compatibility, appearance, maintenance requirements, ability to repair/replace damage and cost. Some believe that cost should be rank near the top. We wholeheartedly disagree! Keep in mind that siding is an investment in one’s home and, for most, a home is the single biggest investment of a lifetime. Therefore, use the selection criteria noted and figure our how you will pay for it once you have narrowed the choices.
Wood siding is one of the oldest and most beautiful siding choices. It’s hard to beat especially when it comes to finishing a New England Cape, a Rancher or a Craftsman style home. Conversely, depending upon the species, grade and style, wood siding can be an expensive proposition. Of all the choices it can also be the most maintenance intense. If wood siding is the choice, the best defense against rot and premature aging is a strong offence in the way of paint or stain. Use the best paint or stain that money can buy. A premium quality stain or paint will protect the material from ultraviolet deterioration, unsightly mold and weathering. What’s more, top quality product will require less maintenance and will last longer – meaning that you won’t need to paint as often. Cost versus value, the most expensive product may, over the long haul, end up being the least expensive alternative.
If you like the look of wood, but are not enamored with the price or the upkeep, wood composite or fiber cement may be a perfect choice. Wood composites have been around for quite a while. Some brands have performed well while others have failed miserably. Among the best performing wood look-alikes are the fiber cement materials. They mimic the look of natural wood better than any other “man made” product. Among the many advantages of fiber cement siding are that it won’t warp, twist or melt or burn and, in contrast to natural wood, is pest resistant – a real plus if you live in termite country. Also, fiber cement is more impact resistant than aluminum, steel or vinyl. Like natural wood, fiber cement must periodically be painted and can be subject to freeze/thaw damage when not properly sealed.
When choosing a composite or fiber cement product, select a major brand that has been around for a while and that comes with a good product warranty.
Masonry — consisting or brick, block or stone – is a popular choice, although due to cost is rarely used these days to wrap an entire home. Masonry has traditionally been especially popular in the South and Midwest and wherever tornadoes or hurricanes are prevalent. However, brick and stone are used almost everywhere as an architectural element to accent another primary siding material. Of all the choices, masonry generally requires least maintenance and maintains a consistently good looking appearance. It is especially pest, fire and impact resistant. As is the case with fiber cement, masonry is subject to freeze/thaw damage and the mortar used at joints may need to be restored (tuck pointed) over time – especially in a salty ocean environment. Painting masonry offers limited protection and can be a real maintenance headache. We recommend against it. Use a high quality acrylic or silicone sealer to prevent freeze/thaw damage in cold climates.
According to building industry statistics, vinyl will soon account for more than half of all siding sold. What’s fueling the vinyl siding frenzy? Relative affordability, product improvements and good manufacturer marketing, for starters. Of the choices, vinyl requires the smallest initial investment. It doesn’t need to be painted either – a huge selling feature among consumers who would gladly trade in their paint brush for a hammock. Vinyl siding is touted to be “maintenance free.” Read our lips – “no siding is maintenance free.” You don’t paint it, but you do need to regularly clean it. And over time it will oxidize, which can mean more elbow grease than any paint job would have ever required. And be happy with the color because you’ll be stuck with it for a while. To its credit, vinyl is both water and insect resistant, but can chip or crack in cold weather. Cost can be misleading – while it is true that vinyl is less expensive initially, it estimated life (25 to 50 years) is less than some of the other choices, which can put it on the same playing field cost wise. If vinyl is in your future, look for a thicker panel (0.044 to 0.046), a deeper profile looks more like real wood siding and a double-hem mounting tends to be more wind resistant than does a single hem mounting.
Portland cement stucco remains a popular monolithic siding material in the all parts of the country. It is particularly popular in the west, southwest and southeast and for western, contemporary and Mediterranean style construction. Traditional stucco application consisted of two to three coasts of plaster with varying finishes – smooth to a rough trowel finish. This is still our favorite technique. The biggest drawback with stucco is cracking and is damage from freeze/thaw in cold areas. Cracks and stucco seem to go together like a horse and carriage; however, on stable soil with static hydration, cracks can be kept to a minimum. A bit of high quality flexible caulking that can be painted will usually do the trick. Good ventilation and paint is the best means of preventing freeze/thaw damage. Severely cracked or discolored stucco can be recoated in time.
Simulated stucco is a relatively new alternative to the cement-based material. Though not inexpensive, poor or improper installation can allow leaks that result in water damage and toxic mold that can turn your home into a full blown science experiment. Simulated stucco, more than any other product, requires a top of the line installation pro to avoid problems. If simulated stucco is in the cards, get the best of the best to install it and an equally good warranty to stand behind it.