Fiber cement siding is a durable choice among the variety of materials you can choose to put on your home. It has a number of attributes that make it appealing and possesses relatively few shortcomings.
It gets good marks for being nearly maintenance free, aside from the fact that it's a product that still needs to be painted. You can buy pre-painted fiber cement or do it yourself but you still won't have to do it as often compared to wood siding.
While there's nothing that says a handy do-it-yourself'er can't install this siding, it does pose some challenges and may be best left to the professionals.
There are several makers of fiber cement products and although they each have their own product lines and design features, most fiber cement products are similar. From that standpoint choosing the one that's right for you comes down to finding the best balance between product style, what it costs and local availability.
Check out the rest of this article to see what you should know about fiber cement siding, including it's high and low points, to be able to make an informed decision about whether it's right for your home.
If you're not familiar with fiber cement siding you're probably wondering what it is and why the quirky name. If you think it's fairly new stuff you'd actually be wrong, as the idea of combining cement and a fibrous material has been around for a long time (just think 'asbestos shingle siding').
This type of siding gets its name from two of the main ingredients that go into making it: Portland cement and cellulose fiber. They're combined with sand, water and usually some proprietary additives particular to the manufacturer to form a tough, durable and stable cladding material.
The common thread among all of them is that beyond any particular proprietary additives, their products all share the same base ingredients. Their marketing departments might all scream differently but that's the fact.
Image Courtesy of CertainTeed Corp.
Another common theme among them is that they all manufacture a common "classification" of products. In other words, you'll find they all manufacture planks and panels along with various trim details.
Fiber cement planks are made to mimic long wood planks. These planks typically come 12 feet long by varying widths. The width is what gives your siding it's "reveal", or the amount of plank that's visible on lap siding.
Panels are bigger sheets of siding, typically 4 feet by 8 feet. They cover a broader surface area per piece than planks and are often used to mimic vertical siding.
Most fiber cement manufacturers make a panel that looks like cedar shakes. Some also make individual shingles that mimic the look of individual shakes.
Image Courtesy of CertainTeed Corp.
Where they differentiate themselves is among choices associated with specific design features like pre-painted color options, texturing (wood grain, stucco, etc.) and those manufacturer-peculiar design ingredients they employ to set themselves apart from the competition.
For example, James Hardie Building Products developed the HardieZone™ System that offers products tailored for specific areas of the North American climate. Products are touted as being engineered to withstand the unique characteristics of these zones such as freezing cold temperatures or torrid sun and hurricane-force winds.
The asbestos shingles were made in only a few styles and there's actually one manufacturer that makes new fiber cement shingles styled to match the old asbestos ones.
GAF WeatherSide™ siding is made in the same pattern so if your house happens to have old asbestos shingles and you need to replace any, these products might be your answer. They also come in handy if you have a house with older asbestos shingles and you plan on an addition. Rather than re-side your entire house you can just use these shingles to match the older ones and get a consistent look across the whole house.
That's good for paint because paint itself doesn't stretch very well and if it's put on a surface that does, it (the paint) cracks and chips. At some point you'll have to repaint. Fiber cement doesn't "exercise" the paint so much so you won't have to paint as often as you'd need to with wood siding.
The next question that's typically asked is can you stain fiber cement siding to look like wood. The answer is yes and no; you shouldn't use a conventional stain like those developed for wood products. However there are stains formulated for fiber cement siding.
Mason's Select Woodperfect Series Semi-Transparent Coating (certainly a mouthful) is formulated to highlight the texture and grain pattern of fiber cement products. It's available from Superdeck Brand Products.
Cabot C3 Factory Finish Solid Acrylic is another product specifically aimed at cement siding. It's a 100% acrylic resin-based stain that's designed to emulate the look of wood.
Not to be outdone however, several fiber cement makers offer their own version of staining fiber cement using their own processes. In other words, you can buy this kind of siding prefinished to look like stained wood. CertainTeed's ColorMax® product line includes several stain shades. Nichiha's Sierra Premium™ shake siding is also offered in a variety of stain-look colors.
CertainTeed Stained Fiber Cement Lap Siding
Image Courtesy of CertainTeed Corp.
Nichiha Brick Fiber CementThe look of wood siding isn't the only style that's emulated by fiber cement siding products. Stone and brick are too.
Nichiha for example makes a variety of fiber cement panels in both stone and brick patterns. The brick patterns come in a variety of hues from shades of red to tan.
The look of stone is available in several styles including fieldstone, quarried stone and sandstone.
Like every other product you can put in or on your home there are plusses and minuses and fiber cement is no different. But on balance the number of advantages are greater than the number of fiber cement siding disadvantages. For the record, here's how it plays out:
Primed Fiber Cement Lap Siding
Choosing which particular fiber cement siding product and brand to go with takes a little homework on your part. It'll require you to familiarize yourself with what each brand has to offer and how that meshes with your wants and needs.
In reality however, it may just come down to your wallet, the siding installer you might use and your geographical location. Since most fiber cement siding products are similar among the various manufacturers it pays to do a little competitive shopping for the brand that best matches your cost expectations and is readily available in your area.
I installed fiber cement siding on my own home when we remodeled. When shopping for the siding I found a distinct difference in price between two major brands for basically the same product (wood-textured lap siding with a 7-inch reveal). The brand that was more expensive was, in my opinion, the one that has greater name recognition when it comes to fiber cement siding. I sometimes wonder if most of the added cost went to pay for all their marketing.
We went with the lower-priced product and I'm happy to say that it looks great and is performing just fine.
Moral of the story: Find out what's available in your area and determine the product you like (like lap siding, shakes, etc.). Then check pricing on similar products across several brands. Just because the products may be similar, the price may not be.