Mike Holmes: Sizing Up Siding Options

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When it comes to materials, the three leading contenders are usually aluminum, vinyl, and fiber cement board.

In the past, siding was made from wood and it was called clapboard, which is just painted wood cladding, and it’s still around today. But wood requires maintenance, and clapboard needed to be painted every couple of years. Even stained wood siding needs restaining.

Some wood siding products come with a 50-year warranty against decay, or a 15-year warranty on the stain, like Maibec. I’ve used Maibec on a lot of projects and so far I like what I see. But these are superior products that not every homeowner can afford.

So people started looking for an alternative to clapboard to save time on maintenance and money. That led us straight into the age of aluminum siding, which became popular because it was basically maintenance-free, durable, and cheaper than wood. It was also textured to look like a clapboard, so homeowners weren’t shocked by it.

But aluminum dents and scratches and the finishing fades. Homeowners wanted a product that wasn’t just maintenance-free but looked a little more sophisticated, too.

Enter vinyl, which is now one of the most popular exterior siding materials. It’s usually installed above a brick veneer around the base of a house, helping to keep costs down. You don’t want vinyl siding near the ground — it’s more likely to crack and develop mold.

But even above ground, vinyl siding can become brittle and crack, exposing the sheathing below to moisture — strike one. After all, it’s a plastic product, which brings me to strikes two and three: it’s not environmentally friendly and it’s a fire hazard.

If you have two homes six feet away from each other and both have vinyl siding, if a fire broke out, all it would take is five minutes for the flames to spread from one house to the other. And once vinyl starts to burn it is very toxic.

Then there’s fiber cement board. It’s made to look like wood and it’s just as expensive, sometimes more, but it’s made from a mixture of cement, sand, and cellulose fibers.

The great thing about fiber cement board is that it won’t crack, burn or rot; it will last for years and is really good at protecting your home against water and extreme climates. But there are a couple of drawbacks.

It’s expensive, and difficult to work with, cut, and install — you must hire a pro with plenty of experience working with and installing it, which could cost you more in labor.

Plus, when cutting fiber cement board the area needs to be well-ventilated and you must wear a respirator.

No matter what type of siding you choose, installation is key to its durability and performance. I’ve seen jobs done with the best siding products money can buy, but poor installation led to rot and mold everywhere. Also, a siding warranty can be voided if the product is improperly installed.

The right installation usually means installing weather-resistant house or building wrap over the sheathing, below your exterior cladding — vapor-permeable on the exterior walls, so moisture can escape, and impermeable around windows and door jams so moisture can’t reach the structure below.

Vertical strapping is added on top of the sheathing. This allows for air movement, so any water that gets in behind the cladding can evaporate. The last step is the exterior siding.

The right products help make your home better and healthier, but you also have to hire the right professionals to install them so they stand the test of time. It’s all part of making it right.

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