Siding Options: How to Choose the Right Material for Your Home

More than any other exterior element, siding delivers your home’s biggest visual impact and therefore has an equally large impact on your curb appeal and resale value. While the durability of siding is among the best of any building material, most homeowners will replace siding for wear and tear or simply cosmetic reasons every 20 to 30 years.

With the many choices out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The best siding selection will balance cost, care and plain old good looks. Here’s a look at the most common siding options, including the pros and cons of each.

Vinyl siding is the most popular siding in the nation. It is inexpensive compared to other forms of siding, easy to install and largely maintenance-free. This type of siding does not dent or even show much wear and tear. Vinyl siding is sold with or without an insulating backer, which can add substantial cost to the siding without adding much in the way of energy efficiency.

Siding Options: How to Choose the Right Material for Your HomeThe most common vinyl siding complaint is wavy siding, which tends to occur more frequently on the warmer south and west sides of a house. Wavy siding results when siding is nailed too tight and expands and buckles. Vinyl siding is made with nail slots (rather than nail holes) punched into it and is not supposed to be nailed tight. If the siding is perfectly installed, you should actually be able take the siding panel in your hand and move it back and forth.

Fiber cement is one of the more modern and most durable products around. Some versions look a lot like the asbestos shingles of yesteryear, but this product actually has a completely different formulation. Products such as HardiePlank from James Hardie are comprised of cement and wood fibers for a durable and affordable solution that mimics the look of natural wood. Although fiber cement siding can be a bit pricey, it is absolutely indestructible and it looks great, too.

Classic masonry stucco is durable and low-maintenance. Earth- and lime-plaster varieties are among the green varieties making a comeback around the U.S. If properly installed, stucco can last forever with very minimal maintenance. Cracks will occasionally form and can be repaired with silicone or epoxy repair compounds. If your stucco was installed over a wood frame, there’ll have been masonry lath (steel screening) nailed to the home first. In this case, keep your eyes peeled for areas that bulge. That could indicate that the fasteners holding the lath in place may have rusted out and a repair is due. Otherwise, an occasional light pressure washing will keep your masonry stucco looking as good as the day it was first installed.

Exterior insulated finish system (EIFS) is a type of siding that became popular in the 1980s when high energy prices made insulated siding a wise choice. When done well, EIFS is beautiful, like real masonry stucco. However, the system has been plagued in the residential market by reports of leakage and the resulting lawsuits. While manufacturers have been working diligently to resolve the problems and the EIFS systems have changed over the years to include ways for it to drain moisture that gets past the surface, we are still reluctant to recommend it.

Siding Options: How to Choose the Right Material for Your HomeSolid wood siding is high-maintenance, with the added drawback that the most durable varieties come from old-growth trees. You can avoid the latter by selecting only FSC-certified or repurposed wood products.

Wood siding must be regularly maintained with staining or painting. It takes good prep work, repairing or replacing sections of wood rot, caulking holes and gaps to improve energy efficiency. 

Cedar is a great siding material as it is naturally insect-resistant. It has been used as siding for well over 100 years and suits many different styles of architecture, from Georgian to Colonial to Dutch Colonial, and can be used to create ornate designs, like scallops, around a gable.

Plywood siding, called T111 (and pronounced tee-one-eleven), looks like rough-sawn vertical planking. Plywood siding is good option that delivers structural stability along with protection from the elements.

Composites or engineered wood have a relatively short life expectancy and well-documented history of failure. If you have composite siding, it’s not a question of if you’re going to have to replace your siding, but when. If an overly anxious contractor drove the nails in a bit too far during installation, they pierce the outside surface of the siding and that lets water seep in.  As a result, the siding tends to swell up and rot.  While composites might do well in a dry climate, we wouldn’t recommend them for anyplace else.

If you choose a composite product, stay green by looking for FSC-certified and urea-formaldehyde-free engineered wood to get strength and resilience without harmful off-gassing. 

Brick and stone siding lasts forever and needs very little maintenance. The walls may shift somewhat and cracks over windows and doors are common, but rarely serious. These should be sealed to avoid moisture penetration. Keep an eye on adverse drainage conditions that can cause mortar joints to become excessively wet, such as roof runoff from an overflowing gutter splashing on the ground and up against the brickwork. Brick and stone walls can be cleaned periodically and a pressure washer works well for this. But be careful with that handy tool, because too much pressure will erode the brick and there’s no repair for that!

It’s important to choose your home’s siding material carefully, since it is the one element that has the strongest visual impact. Considering your budget, the climate of your area, your visual preferences and your tolerance level for maintenance will help you arrive at the right siding option for your home.

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