Buyers guide to exterior siding

Your home exterior is one of the most important barriers that protect your home, your valuables inside, and your love ones from heat, wind, rain, and other hazards. Therefore, it is important to choose a product that will guarantee the security and durability you and your family need.Siding replacement provides great opportunity to add color, definition, and character to your home, plus provides a major upgrade in your home’s appearance and value— that’s the fun part. On the flip side, it’s not an easy decision to make. There are lots of siding options, and each presents a mixed bag of cost, reliability, ongoing maintenance, and environmental responsibility. While aesthetics are always important, you may want to consider the material’s durability, ability to resist water, ease of installation and versatility.  Here’s what you should know about today’s most popular options when it comes to improving your home exterior:

Engineered Wood Siding

Image courtesy of Louisiana-Pacific.

Engineered wood siding is made of wood fibers and exterior-grade resins. It’s tough, strong and can stand up to extreme weather conditions. It comes in a variety of styles and textures, including beaded lap, rough-sawn clapboard and look-alike wood shingles. It comes ready-to-paint, primed or with factory finishes.Engineered wood siding positions itself as a lower cost alternative to fiber cement and real wood, but with similar durability. LP SmartSide brand provides 50-year warranties.Upside: Easy to work, with no harmful dust. Borate compounds added to the mixture make engineered wood siding impervious to insects. It’s half the cost of real wood siding.

Downside: Because LP® SmartSide® is a wood based product similar to Masonite it is not resistant to woodpeckers.

Green meter: Binders are low-VOC. Manufacturing uses entire trees and select wood scrap so that production waste is minimal.

Cost: $5 to $8 per square foot, installed. Expect to pay $8,000 to $13,000 to cover an average two-story house. Learn more about it.

Wood Siding

Courtesy of Interstate Lumber.

Commonly used for bungalow, Cape Cod and cottage exteriors, wood siding offers a rich look and is durable if maintained properly. This siding option has great aesthetics, but keep in mind that it requires periodic maintenance (caulking and painting or staining to prevent weather damage) and is susceptible to insect, rodent, and critters.Wood siding comes in clapboard (also known as lap or bevel siding) as well as shakes and shingles. Clapboard siding uses planks of wood installed horizontally with an upper piece that overlaps the lower piece. Western red cedar and redwood, woods known for being attractive and durable, are considered the best choices.More uniform in appearance but thinner than shakes, shingles give you a smooth and consistent look. They can be cut into different shapes to add visual interest to your exterior. Some manufacturers also offer shingles treated with fire-retardant chemicals, often a requirement in high-risk locations. Be sure to check into the local regulations in your area.If you do the maintenance right, wood siding can last from 10 to 100 years. Clear finishes should be reapplied every two years; semi-transparent stains every three years; and paints every five years. That kind of diligence adds up — a complete refinishing job is $2,000 to $5,000 on an average size home.

Upside: Wood is easy to cut and shape, and can be installed by reasonably skilled DIYers. It’s a great-looking material prized by architects, designers and homeowners for its natural beauty.

Downside: Better grades of wood can be pricey. Diligent maintenance adds to the overall cost. Retrofitting with wood siding requires removing existing siding materials.

Green meter: Wood siding is considered a highly sustainable material that breaks down easily in landfills. The best grades are made from old-growth timber

Cost: $5 to $10 per square foot, installed. Expect to pay $14,000 to $28,000 to have wood siding professionally installed on an average two-story house.

Fiber Cement

Offering the look of masonry, stucco or wood at a lower cost, fiber-cement siding has become a popular siding choice for many homeowners. Fiber-cement siding is low-maintenance, non-flammable and termite-resistant. Available in a range of styles and textures, factory painting or finishes are available.On the other side, fiber-cement siding could encounter possible moisture-related problems, and older homes built before the late 1980s may have siding that contains asbestos and requires a professional abatement contractor for removal.Depending on the manufacturer, the fiber cement siding will last 20 to 30 years. The current darling of the siding industry, fiber cement has earned a reputation for stability and low maintenance. It’s made from a mix of wood pulp, cement, clay and sand, and it can be molded to mimic wood clapboard, shingles, stucco and masonry. It readily accepts paint, and most manufacturers offer an array of factory-applied finishes.

Upside: Fiber-cement siding resists expanding and contracting with changes in humidity and temperature, so caulk and paint really hold up. It’s fire-resistant, termite-proof and it won’t rot. A 30-year warranty is the norm.

Downside: Fiber-cement siding is flat-out heavy, and installation requires special techniques and tools that add to the cost. It should be installed by a trained professional.  There are specific guidelines that need to be followed to make sure this product lasts.

Green meter: It’s extremely durable and has a long replacement cycle, which scores points for sustainability.

Cost: $8 to $13 per square foot, installed (cost higher with trim). Expect to pay $20,000 to $32,500 for an average two-story house. Read more about it.

Vinyl

The low cost, versatility and easy maintenance of vinyl siding has helped it become the most popular siding choice in the United States. While some design professionals and homeowners are turned off by the “plastic look” of some vinyl siding products, the variety of colors and styles available helps explain this siding’s popularity.Requiring few tools to install and available at home improvement stores, this is an option for those looking for a do-it-yourself product. Since mistakes can be costly, make sure to follow instructions from the manufacturer and take advantage of online how-to videos.Vinyl siding is tough and comes in a boatload of colors and textures. Because the color is throughout the material, nicks and scratches don’t show up. Sophisticated manufacturing techniques create products that do a surprisingly fine job of mimicking wood-grain lap siding, wood shingles and even stone.Vinyl siding is lightweight and, in many instances, can be installed directly over existing materials, so it’s a good retrofit option. Because it’s easy to handle, vinyl installation can be installed quickly, saving labor costs.Relatively new to the market, insulated vinyl siding features a layer of expanded polystyrene foam, providing an insulating value of R-2 to R-6. Insulated vinyl is on the checklist of items that can help a house achieve Energy Star qualification. Expect to pay about 15 percent more for insulated versions of vinyl siding than regular.

Upside: The material requires little or no maintenance, and dirt simply washes off. Never needs repainting. Vinyl has relatively low cost compared to other siding materials. The best brands offer transferable lifetime warranties.

Downside: Because the standard panels are 12 feet long, the ends of the panels must be overlapped, creating noticeable seams. You can order extra-long panels that reduce the number of seams, but you’ll pay a premium of about 30 percent more than standard-length vinyl.

Green meter: The same stuff that makes vinyl so tough — polyvinyl chloride or PVC — lasts for decades (if not centuries) in landfills. Although many vinyl manufacturers claim that the material is readily recycled, not many contractors take the time to remove and recycle used vinyl siding. Manufacturing PVC can produce dioxin and other toxins.

Cost: $4 to $7 per square foot, installed. Expect to pay $8,000 to $13,000 to install vinyl siding on an average two-story house.

Stucco

Traditional stucco is made from building sand, Portland cement, lime and water. A waterproof barrier paper and galvanized-metal screening are applied over wood walls before stucco is added to provide a good base for the stucco and protect the walls underneath. While stucco can be applied to homes with brick and stone surfaces, the classic look is commonly found on Mediterranean, ranch and Spanish-mission exteriors.Because stucco is very rigid, careful installation can help reduce the possibility of unwanted cracks. When stucco siding is properly installed and maintained, it can last the lifetime of the house.Stucco is an extremely durable siding material that pairs well with other siding materials and adds a bit of architectural panache to a retrofit job. Today’s stucco mixtures include epoxy, which prevents chipping and cracking, but installation isn’t a DIY job — you’ll need to look for an experienced stucco installer. Well-maintained stucco will last a lifetime.

Upside: Toners added to stucco mixtures result in beautiful, organic colors that go all the way through the material, making repainting unnecessary. Stucco is a low-maintenance material that’s resistant to fire and insects.

Drawbacks: There’s a lot of prep work required before stucco can be applied. Finding a reliable, experienced stucco contractor can be a challenge.

Green meter: New formulations of stucco use earth and lime instead of Portland cement — cement production is linked to CO2 emissions.

Cost: $8 to $15 per square foot, installed. Expect to pay $15,000 to $25,000 for an average two-story house.

Synthetic Stone

Synthetic stone is made in molds from a mixture of cement, sand and aggregate. Modern manufacturing techniques ensure that the final product looks realistic. It mimics any number of stone types — including granite and limestone — and the variety of shapes and styles includes split face, dry stacked and round river rock.Although it’s not often used to cover entire houses, it’s a popular choice as an accent, covering lower portions of walls or chimney exteriors.
Image courtesy of Eldorado.

Upside: The look of real stone at a fraction of the cost. Lightweight, so installation doesn’t require beefing up foundation footings. Synthetic stone is fire and insect resistant.

Downside: Although it costs less than real stone, synthetic stone is still one of the more expensive siding options. Discerning critics say it still doesn’t look like the real thing.

Green meter: Inert material that doesn’t off-gas or use toxic ingredients during manufacturing. Reduces demand for real stone and associated environmental disruption.

Cost: $20 to $35 per square foot, installed. Expect to pay $50,000 to $87,500 for an average two-story house.