When buying a new home or renovating an existing one, an important thing to take into consideration is the exterior cladding. This can include brick, stone, stucco, concrete, wood, metal, glass, and several different types of siding. All of these exterior finishes have their pluses and minuses when it comes to cost, ease of installation, durability, and level of maintenance required.
The one type of exterior finish that seems to get a great deal of attention and even can get hotly debated is siding. The two types of siding at the center of this debate are the most common ones currently on the market, vinyl and fiber cement. The internet is full of information stating which type is better than the other. Much of the information, however, is from people or organizations that have a vested interest in selling you one type of siding over the other. In other words, there are a lot of biased opinions on this topic.
In today’s post, I want to cut through some of the noise and provide you with balanced information you can use to make an informed decision regarding which type of siding is best for you. Before I go any further, and for the sake of transparency, let me state here that I have fiber cement siding on my house. I think it’s awesome, but it might not be the best option for everyone. For that reason, I’m going to cover the pros and cons of vinyl and fiber cement siding and let you decide which is best for you.
Vinyl siding has been around since the 1960′s and is currently the most common type of siding used in new single-family homes. It’s made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is one of the most widely produced plastics in the world. Vinyl siding is typically the same thickness as a credit card.
When it first came out on the market, vinyl siding had a tendency to warp in extreme climates, and it faded easily when exposed to the elements. Because of these problems, plus the fact it needed to be replaced fairly often, vinyl siding got a bad reputation as a cheap form of exterior cladding.
Fortunately, advancements in technology have improved the overall quality of vinyl siding. It now has greater strength and weather resistance and can be produced to look like many types of cladding, including wood, stone, or slate. It also comes in a wide range of colors that do not need painting.
Because it is very thin, vinyl siding doesn’t provide insulation to your home. There are insulated varieties on the market which correct this. These have the insulation fitted to the back of the siding panels. Depending on what type you buy, insulated vinyl siding can provide upwards of R-6 in additional insulation to your home.
Vinyl siding Costs
Vinyl siding will cost approximately $2.50 to $4.50 per square foot, which includes labor and materials. Insulated vinyl siding will cost approximately $3.50 to $6.00 per square foot.
Warranties: Most manufacturers have a limited lifetime warranty on materials and labor for the original owner of the home. Most manufacturers also have some types of conditions within their warranties regarding hail damage.
Vinyl siding pros and cons
Advantages: Vinyl siding is widely available from several manufacturers, is durable, and is the least expensive siding option on the market. It will not rot or get termites. It’s also easy to work with, especially for people doing DIY projects.
Disadvantages: Vinyl siding is susceptible to damage from hail or airborne debris. It cannot be painted, so if you want to change the color of your house, you need to replace the siding. It is also flammable and releases toxins if it burns. Depending on the quality, vinyl siding can also rattle when hit with rain or wind.
Maintenance: Vinyl siding does not need to be painted. Washing it once per year is typically all that is needed to maintain vinyl siding.
Fiber Cement Siding
Fiber cement siding was first marketed in 1903. It’s gaining in popularity and is one of the most common types of exterior cladding on the market today. In the early days, asbestos was added to the siding panels in order to make them stronger. This was done until the late 1980s when asbestos was banned from all building materials. Since then, fiber cement siding has been made of a mixture of wood fibers, sand, and cement.
They are thicker than vinyl siding and can better withstand harsh weather, such as strong winds or hail. Fiber cement also doesn’t expand or contract like wood or some types of vinyl siding. Unlike vinyl, fiber cement can be painted. Because it is a stable material, the paint lasts longer on it than wood siding.
Fiber cement siding is known for its overall quality and durability. It’s the siding of choice for many high-end homes, mostly because it mimics wood but is much easier to maintain. The quality and durability have also led some cities around the country to require fiber cement siding for all new construction and replacement siding on existing homes.
Fiber cement siding Costs
Fiber cement siding will cost approximately $4.00 to $6.00 per square foot, which includes labor and materials.
Warranties: Most manufacturers have limited warranties of 30 to 50 years.
Fiber cement siding pros and cons
Advantages: Fiber cement siding is highly weather resistant, will not rot, will not get termites, and will not burn. It can be painted, which makes it easier to change the color of your home. Fiber cement siding also holds paint very well.
Disadvantages: Because it’s a heavier material and requires special tools to work with, fiber cement siding is more complicated and expensive to install. It’s not a good choice for someone doing a DIY project. Improperly installed fiber cement siding can crack easily.
Maintenance: Fiber cement siding is mostly maintenance-free. Repainting is recommended every 15 to 20 years, but you may need to do it more often if your home is in a harsh climate.
As with any building materials, the results you get depend largely on the quality of the installation. If you search the internet, you can find all kinds of horror stories about how one type of siding or the other is fraught with problems. Most of these horror stories can be directly attributed to improper installations. These stories are also mostly from people or companies trying to scare you away from the competition and get you to buy their products instead.
The reality is either type of siding can provide your home with aesthetic beauty and durability for many years to come. Depending on your specific needs, vinyl and fiber cement siding offer several different options for the exterior of your home. Your decision on which type to use should be based on weighing all the options and not somebody’s hype or scare tactics.