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.
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 attractive and compatible with the architecture of your home is fundamental. Equally important is the quality of the material and how well it is maintained. You can have the best, most architecturally pleasing material in the world, but, unless it's properly maintained, it becomes an eyesore and leads to structural problems.
Unless you are building, remodeling or re-siding your home, you are stuck with the material that was applied when the building was constructed. That's fine if you like the style of the material and it's in good condition. But, if the siding on your home is in need of replacement due to neglect, or, if the exterior appearance of your home just needs a facelift, you might be in the market for new siding.
Shopping for new siding can be daunting. There are many 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) are the most widely used.
What is best for your home? 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 near the top. We disagree. Siding is an investment in one's home and, for most, a home is the biggest investment of a lifetime. Therefore, use the selection criteria noted and figure out how you will pay for it once you have narrowed the choices.
Wood siding is one of the oldest and most beautiful choices. It's hard to beat especially when it comes to finishing a New England Cape, a Rancher or a Craftsman-style home. But it can be expensive. Of all the choices, it can be the most maintenance intense. If you choose wood siding, the best defense against rot and premature aging is paint or stain. Use the best that money can buy. A premium-quality stain or paint will protect the material from ultraviolet deterioration, mold and weathering. What's more, top quality will mean less maintenance and will make the material last longer; you won't need to paint as often. The most expensive product might, in the long run, end up being the least expensive choice. For more information on siding care and maintenance go to www.cabotwoodcare.com.
If you like the look of wood, but are not enamored of the price or the upkeep, wood composite or fiber cement might be a good choice. Wood composites have been around for 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 comes with a good product warranty.
Masonry -- consisting of brick, block or stone -- is a popular choice, although, due to cost, is rarely used these days to wrap an entire home. Masonry traditionally has been popular in the South and Midwest and wherever tornadoes or hurricanes occur. However, brick and stone are used almost everywhere as an architectural element to accent another primary siding material. Of the choices, masonry generally requires the least maintenance and maintains a consistently good-looking appearance. It is especially pest-, fire- and impact-resistant. As with fiber cement, masonry is subject to freeze-thaw damage, and the mortar used at joints might need to be restored (tuck-pointed) over time -- especially in a salty ocean environment. Painting masonry offers limited protection and can be a 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 soon will 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," but 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 require more elbow grease than any paint job. Be happy with the color because you'll be stuck with it for a while. Vinyl is 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, its estimated life (25 to 50 years) is shorter than some of the other choices. 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 is a single hem mounting.
Portland cement stucco remains a popular monolithic siding material in 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 coats of plaster with varying finishes -- from smooth to a rough trowel finish. The latter is our favorite technique. The biggest drawback with stucco is cracking and damage from freeze and 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 it's not inexpensive, poor or improper installation can allow leaks that result in water damage and toxic mold. That circumstance 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 your choice, hire the best of the best to install it and get a good warranty.
For more home improvement tips and information visit our Web site at www.onthehouse.com.