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House Siding Types

Choosing The Right Siding For Houses

House siding types range from the common, well known materials like vinyl and wood to the less familiar and somewhat innovative choices like tree bark. But before you decided to wrap your home in bark it pays to understand what each choice offers and their associated tradeoffs.

What you choose to cover the outside of your house will not only determine how it looks but the amount of effort and money you'll need to maintain it. There are other considerations as well beyond just looks and upkeep. Cost is one obvious factor you'll need to consider but your home's architectural style and region play into the decision too.

Fortunately there are enough choices available to satisfy most homeowners. What's helpful is that various styles of siding are available in different materials so you're not locked into one type if you want a particular look.

Take some time to become familiar with the kinds of exterior products that are available, consider the amount of maintenance that each requires and balance those criteria with what works best for your home financially and aesthetically.

Types Of Siding & Pros / Cons

Lots Of Options

You have plenty of choices when it comes to exterior siding and given the range of options it makes sense to get a good understanding of each before making any buying decisions.

house siding

The first step should be to get familiar with the various materials that are available.

Here's a list of siding choices to consider and the pros and cons of each.

Note - At the bottom of this page there's a list of some of the common terms you might come across when doing your research. While it's not an exhaustive list, it includes the ones that you'll see most often.



Wood

Wood siding is natural, attractive and comes in a variety of forms but it also requires upkeep. Wood can be painted or stained and some types of wood like cedar can be left untreated to age and patina over time.

Pros Cons

Offers long life and natural looks

Can be painted/stained so color can be changed later on if desired

Eco-friendly (renewable resource and biodegradable)

Multiple styles are available like clapboard, shingles, shakes, and vertical boards for a range of looks

Requires paint/stain more frequently than other forms of paintable siding

Flammable unless treated with flame-retardant

Natural product that's susceptible to rot, insects and other natural forms of decay (though cedar and other woods have natural decay resistance)

More overall maintenance required compared to other materials

Can be more expensive depending on type of wood, form used (individual shakes vs. boards) and required labor




Engineered Wood

Engineered wood siding is made from wood materials that are combined with glues to form boards and panels (similar to how plywood and oriented strand board are made). Their aim is to offer advantages like dimensional stability and strength but they also need to be protected from moisture to maintain their integrity.

Pros Cons

Relatively low cost

Eco-friendly (made from recycled wood industry by-products)

Dimensionally stable

Bare surfaces susceptible to moisture damage if not painted/sealed

Requires painting to provide a good seal from the elements

As an engineered product (glued/veneered makeup) it requires greater diligence in maintenance to avoid moisture related deterioration




Vinyl / PVC

Vinyl siding is made from Polyvinyl Choloride (PVC) and offers a relatively inexpensive material choice. However there are different levels of quality and grades and higher grade vinyls and molded products will be higher priced. Vinyl isn't limited to the standard clapboard look either. With vinyl you can have the looks of shakes, shingles and even stone veneers.

Pros Cons

Relatively durable product (though it can crack and melt)

Low cost depending on grade of vinyl chosen

Very low maintenance - no painting required

Available in a fairly wide color spectrum

Available in several forms that mimic wood siding (lap boards, shakes, shingles)

Won't rot and not susceptible to insect damage

Greater ability to flex and absorb energy compared to metal siding which can dent

Cheaper, lower grade vinyls look cheap

Can crack if struck hard enough particularly if the vinyl has no backing

Susceptible to fading in sunlight

No ability to change the color of the house (not paintable)

Seams visible where lap siding pieces come together

No ability for custom colors like you have with paintable surfaces (you're limited to the colors they make)

Can be difficult to successfully match a "patch" repair piece unless you have extra material




Fiber Cement

Fiber cement is made from sand, portland cement, wood fiber and other additives. It forms a stable (doesn't shrink or expand very much) and durable product that accepts paint well. It comes in various forms like panels, boards and shingles and it's made to mimic the various forms of natural wood siding. Fiber cement is available in pre-primed and painted versions.

Pros Cons

Durable product that's impact resistant, won't rot and is impervious to moisture, insects and pests

Made in styles that mimic traditional wood siding like shake and lap

Dimensionally stable - won't expand/contract to the degree that other materials like wood will allowing paint to adhere longer

Fireproof

Available in both primed and pre-painted versions

Long warranty (50 years on some products)

More expensive than typical vinyl products but expense is dependent on style of fiber cement chosen (shakes, panels, etc.)

Pre-painted fiber cement is more expensive than the primed unpainted option

Product is heavy and cutting produces lots of dust making installation more challenging

Visual similarity to real wood siding varies by individual due to some fiber cement products being thinner than wood (some products made thinner to counteract the heavier weight of fiber cement)




Fiberglass

Fiberglass is a relative newcomer to the home siding market. The main product is called APEX®, produced by an affiliate of the Marvin Windows and Doors company. When you think of fiberglass, don't think of the kind that's used for insulation. Rather, picture a very rigid material, and one that potentially has the strength and durability to last for a very long time. The APEX system uses Ultrex®, a pultruded fiberglass material developed by Marvin®. Pultruded fiberglass (pultruded refers to the way in which the fiberglass was manufactured) has been used in residential windows for some time so in that form at least, it's proved its mettle.

Pros Cons

The "no caulk" installation eliminates ongoing maintenance costs because you don't have to re-caulk and repaint every few years like with other types of material

The material's rigidity allows for longer spans of material, minimizing or eliminating seams

Excellent material properties like strength and minimal contraction and expansion

Wood grain texture is subtle, offering a more delicate grain look compared with that of fiber cement or vinyl

Overall durability and inherent material properties offer the potential for a very long-lasting performance

Offers a very sharp, defined look; mimics the look of wood lap siding without looking "fake"

The concept of using tight seams and "water management" vs. water prevention (no caulking) is a departure from other siding installation methods

You have a few colors to choose from but you're not unlimited like you are with materials that can be painted

The relative newness of this product in the marketplace bears the consideration of its long term effectiveness and color retention.




Metal

Common forms of metal siding include steel and aluminum. Steel is harder and stronger than aluminum but is susceptible to rust on scratched or unprotected areas and isn't compatible in corrosive environments. Both aluminum and steel are available in seamless styles (an on-site machine stamps out the product in custom lengths for your house) but longer strips become more susceptible to flexing and require good installation techniques.

Some metal siding is available with a PVC base coating. This provides a suitable base coat for painting and affords the opportunity to use it with the option of changing colors later on.

Pros Cons

Durable product (although softer metals like aluminum can dent)

Available in various styles, some that mimic the look of wood siding

Low maintenance - doesn't require painting

Fireproof

Can offer a seamless look because panels can be formed to required size on-site (thought extremely long panels offer installation challenges and can be wavy)

Steel can be "green" if made from recycled stock

Impractical or difficult to paint which negates being able to change the house color unless the siding has a paint-compatible coating like PVC

Colors can fade

Can dent if struck, particularly the softer metals like aluminum

Steel can rust if raw edges are exposed due to improper installation and/or the protective coating is scratched

For reasons mentioned above steel is not suitable in salt air environments

Can be difficult to successfully match a "patch" repair piece unless you have extra material




Brick / Stone

Full brick and stone siding (in contrast to veneers) offer an attractive and long-lasting shell for any home. However these materials can be expensive and require experienced installers/masons as well as proper structural support.

Pros Cons

Very durable and can last for decades if not longer

No need for painting or staining reducing ongoing maintenance requirements

Lots of decorative (style) options (colors and textures)

Fireproof

Will not rot and impenetrable to insects

Requires structural (foundational) support due to extremely heavy weight

Requires professional installation/construction

Mortar joints can deteriorate over time and require inspection to maintain integrity

Costly




Brick/Stone Veneer

Brick and stone veneer siding is made from thin slices of their full brick/stone cousins. The veneer offers similar benefits as the full brick and stone but it's lighter in weight and doesn't require the structural support. You also have the choice of using actual brick/stone or faux products made from concrete. These products are made to look like stone and brick but are lighter and tend to be less expensive.

Pros Cons

Durable and attractive siding option

No painting or stain upkeep

Many decorative (style) options (colors and textures)

Fireproof and insect-proof

Does not require foundational support like actual full brick/stone construction

Available in real (thin veneer) and faux varieties (faux usually less costly than real stone/brick)

Can be expensive depending on type of stone/brick veneer chosen

Installation is more diy-friendly than full brick/stone but tackling a large job might be better reserved for professionals

Mortar joints can deteriorate over time and require inspection to maintain integrity




Stucco & Synthetic Stucco

Stucco is essentially a cement product that's applied to a wire mesh affixed to the sheathing on the house. Synthetic stucco isn't really stucco in the traditional sense but a siding system also known as Exterior Insulation Finishing System or EIFS for short. It combines a polymer/cement topcoat on top of a foam board. That assembly is then affixed to the side of the house.

Barrier type EIFS has been the cause of severe moisture related problems due to improper management of the water and moisture that builds up between the EIFS and the sheathing and interior framing. Any EIFS needs to be installed with experienced installers and sufficient inspections to ensure proper moisture management.

Pros Cons

Traditional stucco is durable and long lasting

Very little ongoing maintenance other than checking for cracks and periodic cleaning

No ongoing painting or staining requirements (if the stucco is not painted to begin with)

Fire and insect resistant

Good architectural design flexibility (offers the ability for more complex shapes and forms on the home's exterior)

Requires attention to proper building practices

Traditional stucco has a propensity for cracking as the home expands, contracts and settles

Some EIFS systems can cause moisture problems on the underlying structure if improperly constructed

Requires professional and experienced installation




Tree Bark

Yes, you read that correctly. Tree bark has been and is still used as a siding product though it's definitely not in the mainstream. While you might think that it would be a haven for insects and natural decay it's actually more durable than you might think. The bark is what protects the tree's underlying woody tissue (which is what the insects are really after) so the bark is actually resistant to the elements.

Pros Cons

Eco-friendly option that's claimed from the wood processing industry

Offers a very unique and rustic look (can be both a pro and con depending on your tastes)

Low maintenance - doesn't require painting or surface treatments (bark is naturally more resistant to environmental effects than wood)

Long lasting - examples exist on 80 year old structures

Requires knowledgeable handling before and during installation to ensure shingle integrity

Can't change the house color later on (not a practical painting surface)

More costly and priced on the high end of typical wood siding products

Not a widely used material - mainstream applicability and wide-use practicality and durability is still unknown

What You Should Consider Before Choosing

Siding provides both aesthetic and functional purposes and any choice you make should be a blend of these two features. When it comes right down to it however, virtually all of us make the aesthetic choice first followed by the functional characteristics.

And this is understandable; your home's siding has a lot to do with the "face" that it offers to the world passing by. What good is a bullet-proof, zero-maintenance product if it makes your house look like a concrete bunker?

The good news here is that you don't have to sacrifice functionality and durability for good looks. There are sufficient style choices within each type (material) of siding that's available and no one type has an exclusive lock on a particular style. In other words, if you like a particular look you can usually find it in various forms of siding, be it vinyl, wood or fiber cement.

So before you make any final decisions take a look at these additional considerations:

  • Style & Aesthetics
    Since this is the primary determinant for most of us in choosing a type of siding, be sure you research the various materials, in addition to the aesthetics, in order to get the durability and performance you're looking for.
  • High or Low Maintenance
    Some products need more maintenance than others. The amount of ongoing maintenance that's required is a direct result of the material you choose. If you like the look of wood clapboard siding but don't want to paint or paint as often, you should consider vinyl or fiber cement respectively. Just be sure that you're ok with how these alternative materials look.
  • Long Term Durability
    Think about how durable the product you're considering is compared to other choices for the amount that you've budgeted. If your house will be surrounded by kids kicking and throwing balls

    home siding

    then aluminum siding that dents more easily might not be what you want. Wood is a time-honored siding choice but it will require more maintenance (scraping/painting) and it's susceptible to decay depending on maintenance upkeep and environmental conditions.
  • Easily Painted / Stained
    Depending on how long you plan to stay in your home you might want to change its color at some point. Choosing materials that can be painted give you greater versatility for updating your home's look. You might find a great color in vinyl or metal but who's to say that 15 years from now you'll still like the color? Besides, colors fade (including painted products) and materials like vinyl that can't be painted will leave you with no opportunity to freshen up the color.
  • Climate & Geographic Region
    Consider where you live from both a style and environmental perspective. Geographic regions play a significant role in architectural styles and you'll need to consider whether or not to be consistent with the styles in your neighborhood as well as your broader region. Climactic conditions should also factor into your decisions because some siding choices do better than others depending on the environment. For example, living in coastal regions may rule out using steel products due to the propensity of the steel to corrode.
  • Cost
    For most of us the cost is a key determinant in which product to choose. The upside is that you can achieve a specific look with a variety of materials so you might be able to get the look you want for a price that's right. The catch is whether the less expensive products meet your aesthetic and durability requirements.
  • The Value Of A Fire-Retardant Exterior
    Don't overlook the value of fireproof siding. The threat of fire from the outside environment is a reality, particularly in areas prone to wildfires and brush fires. A fire retardant product protects the more vulnerable underlying wood frame better than materials that are more easily combustible or melt away exposing the sheathing.

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Determining How Much Your Siding Will Cost

There are arguably 2 ways to determine how much this is going to cost you. The first and most obvious is to simply get written estimates from several installers/contractors. The second way is to do it yourself and this allows you to get an idea of the cost outlay before you even talk to anyone.

Relying on websites and magazine articles to provide cost figures isn't very accurate beyond giving you a rough idea of the prices for different types of materials relative to each other. There are too many variables in both product grade, manufacturer, geographic location and labor rates to provide worthwhile figures.

house wrap

To understand what this will cost you'll first need to do some shopping. Visit the big-box home improvement centers, lumber yards and/or building supply houses and look at what they charge for various types of siding. The values provided will typically be uninstalled costs. Then ask someone with knowledge about the installation process what the typical installation costs are for the products you're considering. This might include the people who sell the product or a contractor with siding experience.

Take those values and multiply them by the amount of area that will cover your home, factoring in 10% additional material to account for cutoffs, waste, etc. You'll need to know the surface area of your house in order to do this calculation. Combine the material and labor cost per square or square foot (be consistent) and multiply this by the area you need to cover. Your result will be a pretty good estimate on your siding cost.

It takes a little bit of homework but it will provide you with the best insight for the type of siding you've chosen. You'll also be able to compare the overall cost of different products.

Publisher's Comments

This is the strategy I took for figuring out the siding cost for my own home before we remodeled. I first narrowed down the material choices then went to a couple of suppliers, one of them being a national big-box home center.

I recorded the prices then had a conversation with an employee with installation experience. From there I was able to determine the cost per square (a "square" being 10ft x 10ft) for several products. I measured my house and plugged in the numbers and came up with a value that ultimately came pretty close to the remodeling contractor's quote.

Even if you're just looking for a comparison for what the various materials cost per square foot, I suggest getting out and checking some real prices. They'll be more accurate and relevant for your area than a chart in a magazine or website.

But sometimes 'figuring it out yourself' just isn't something you have the time or energy to do. In that case, use the services of professionals in the industry to get estimates on your siding project. It's done for you and you don't have to go through the effort of figuring out the material calculations on your own.

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Some Common Siding Terms

  • Batten - vertical strips that cover the seams between boards used in vertical siding.
  • Course - a single horizontal row of siding.
  • J-Channel - a piece of trim material, usually around windows and doors, that accommodates the ends of vinyl or metal siding.
  • Reveal - The amount of material that's actually exposed and visible. For example, shingles overlap each other and the reveal is amount of shingle that's not tucked underneath the adjacent course above it.
  • Shake - As it refers to wood, a shake is similar to a shingle except it is split one or both sides resulting in a more heavily textured surface.
  • Sheathing - the plywood, wood or other material that forms the outer surface of your home's structure that the siding is attached to.
  • Shingle - As it refers to wood, a shingle is a small square or rectangular piece of siding material that's sawn on both sides.
  • Square - The unit of measurement used in the siding industry. A "square" equates to 10ft x 10ft (or 100 square feet of area).

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Vinyl Siding - It's been on hung on houses for decades now and there are good reasons why. Take a closer look to see what vinyl has to offer.

Fiber Cement - This kind of siding offers benefits that overcome some of the shortfalls of other types of siding. Check out the pros and cons to see if it's a choice you should make.

Choosing Windows - How are your windows doing? If you're remodeling or building new and need siding there's a good chance you need windows too. Find out what there is to know and how to make a good window choice.





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