More than any other exterior element, house 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 house siding products 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.
The 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 Siding
Fiber cement siding is one of the more modern and most durable house siding 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 – making it a personal choice for best siding.
Classic Masonry Stucco
Classic masonry stucco is durable and low-maintenance house siding. 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
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.
Solid Wood Siding
Solid wood house 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
Composites or engineered wood have a relatively short life expectancy and well-documented history of failure. If you have older 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 older composites might do well in a dry climate, we wouldn’t recommend them for anyplace else.
Newer composite shingle products however are completely different. They are beautiful, durable and long lasting.
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 & Stone
Brick and stone house siding lasts forever and needs very little maintenance, making it a best siding choice. 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!
Cultured stones are synthetic veneer products that look like stone but are lighter, less expensive and easier to install than natural stone. They can be used on everything from siding to chimneys and fireplaces. The combination of affordability, availability and consistency of color of manufactured stone veneers makes the possibilities endless for luxury-loving consumers.
Another benefit: Manufactured stone enables you to roll out backyard improvements as your budget allows. Say you want to create an outdoor living space. Using cultured stone veneer, you can start by building a retaining wall this year, add a built-in barbecue and more trim later, and the tones will match perfectly with what you’ve already started.
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 best siding option for your home.
Some old-style siding is still out there, notably cement asbestos shingles and aluminum. If your Money Pit was built during the 1950s and 1960s, you might have cement asbestos shingles. In this application, asbestos is held in a cement binder and therefore cannot be easily released to the air, so you don’t have to change it. If you do want to remove it, remember that in some parts of the country disposing of asbestos can be a chore, so be sure to check in with your local waste management folks to understand what’s involved before you begin.
There is also no need to remove aluminum siding that is in good condition. If it is faded and worn, you should know that the siding can be painted. For best results, the siding has to be cleaned, primed and spray-painted. Use an oil-based primer, because latex primer contains ammonia creates a gas when it comes into contact with the aluminum siding, which can lead to poor adhesion.