Smart Choices for Siding

Most homeowners understand the concept and value of curbside appeal. It can make or break a house sale, or simply ensure your home makes a good impression on neighbors, guests and passersby. Landscaping contributes to a home’s overall exterior cachet, but the façade carries the brunt of the aesthetic burden. And for most homes, that façade is comprised of some type of siding.

It’s common to focus on color or price when choosing new siding for your home. But just as you should not judge a book by its cover, smart homeowners should not choose siding based solely on the cosmetics.

Instead, they should consider the other potential benefits that new exterior siding can provide — namely, a green or sustainability quotient, resistance to fire and pests, the siding’s durability and weathering index, and the amount of maintenance required to keep the siding looking good for years to come. By carefully evaluating your home’s requirements, as well as your own goals when choosing siding, you can ensure you make the right decision with the best long-term benefits.
Going Green
Solid wood siding benefits the environment and protects your home while it enhances the exterior. As a renewable resource, wood often can be harvested locally. Specify wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which ensures these materials came from carefully managed forests.
Homeowners can also specify siding made from salvaged or reclaimed materials. For example, the ranch community of Marabou in northwest Colorado stipulates that all construction must use locally reclaimed wood.
One good green option is cedar siding. According to the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, sustainable forestry practices guarantee that 95 percent of all cedar harvested goes toward board; the remaining 5 percent gets composted. Cedar provides another benefit — it insulates a home in a naturally efficient way. Cedar’s inner structure, comprised of thousands of tiny air pockets, results in an R-factor rating of 1.09 per inch.

Fiber-cement siding can be considered green because it’s so durable that homeowners have to replace it less often, which translates to a diminished ecological impact. According to Connie McCullah, a national speaker on green remodeling, fiber cement is inert and does not emit fine dust or toxic compounds after installation. Furthermore, fiber-cement siding can be recycled or used as road fill, and if hauled to a landfill it does not pose an environmental or health risk. However, fiber-cement siding will improve its green profile when manufacturers begin using domestic rather than imported lumber during the product’s manufacture.

Engineered wood siding (also known as hardwood sheet or plywood siding) is another eco-friendly option. This type of siding is strong, lightweight and straight, and uses 10 to 50 percent less wood material than solid wood options. It does not crack, split or warp and holds paint longer, reducing maintenance costs. Compared to solid lumber, which is often discarded due to warping, twisting or knots, the use of engineered siding results in far less waste. In the past, some homeowners reported moisture problems with some types of engineered wood siding, usually due to installation defects or improper maintenance, but manufacturers seem to have resolved those issues with resin binders that prevent moisture-related problems.

A number of engineered wood siding products are available. One example is Parklex 1000, a nontoxic, extremely durable composite wood siding panel that resembles real wood. Made with 90 percent certified wood material, it is composed of a Bakelite inner core sandwiched between wood veneers on the front and back. The result is a virtually maintenance-free panel that is resistant to mold, mildew and fungus, and is 100 percent recyclable. Developed and used extensively in Europe, it is available in the U.S. through Finland Color Plywood Corp., based in Venice, Calif. Other types of engineered wood siding include LP SmartSide from Louisiana-Pacific, EnduraSiding from Temple-Inland and Catawba siding from Georgia-Pacific.

Some steel siding, such as Cor-Ten AZP Prepainted Galvalume Steel Sheet from U.S. Steel, has a high recycled content, which makes it eco-friendly. Steel siding is so durable that companies like Kodiak Steel and Champion Steel offer 40- to 50-year guarantees on their products against dents from hail and baseballs, corrosion from debris and abrasions, and stains caused by stormwater runoff.
Where There’s Fire
If fire is a threat to your home due to its location, you can choose from a number of fire-resistant siding options, including fiber cement, as well as masonry siding options like stucco, brick and stone.

Fiber-cement siding does not ignite when exposed to a direct flame, nor does it contribute as fuel to a fire. What’s more, some types of fiber-cement siding, such as siding from CertainTeed, has received a one-hour fire rating, which indicates it can withstand flames for a full hour. The Portland Cement Association and other cement-based industry organizations have recently joined together to inform the public that fiber-cement siding’s zero burn rate can go a long way toward helping homes survive wildfires.

More fire resistant than vinyl, stucco has also received a one-hour fire rating. For best results, experts recommend applying stucco as a conventional hard three-coat system.

Since brick’s primary ingredient is clay, which is noncombustible, it is recognized as fire resistant. Tests conducted at an independent facility demonstrate that hollow brick performed well during a one-hour fire-resistance test. What’s more, brick creates an envelope around a home and decreases the possibility of embers penetrating the home and igniting fires. If your home has a brick exterior, ask your insurance company if you qualify for a discount on home insurance rates.

Like brick, natural and faux stone stand up well to fires. Cultured Stone from Owens Corning, for instance, which is available in veneer panels 1.75 inches thick, is rated as noncombustible and, when tested, no flame or smoke developed. Of course, natural stone, much of it used in fireplaces, is also noncombustible. Limestone and granite cladding are extremely durable.
Keeping Pests Away
Fiber cement, aluminum, steel, brick and natural stone are options for homes located in areas where damage by insects is a possibility. According to the Portland Cement Association, fiber-cement siding cannot be penetrated by insects or birds. Lisa Santerian of CertainTeed Corp. notes that “wood-boring insects,” including carpenter ants and termites, have no effect on its WeatherBoards or ColorMax fiber-cement siding.

Both aluminum and steel are insect-resistant. Aluminum siding may need to be electrically grounded, so check this out with your town’s building code before installing it. Unfortunately, aluminum is a poor insulator and scratches and dents easily, but the low maintenance, wide range of colors and cost effectiveness improve its overall profile. Natural stone and brick, as well as their respective veneers, also deter insects.
Weathering the Storm
Some types of siding are more effective than others in handling severe weather, such as high-wind conditions with wind-driven rain. Stucco, for instance, can withstand a variety of climates, surviving nicely through wet/dry and freeze/thaw cycles and even the extreme heat of the desert. During application, professionals typically incorporate a secondary water management system that serves as a weather barrier for the house. The system is usually constructed with a tarred felt paper between the sheathing and the cement plaster. Any moisture that penetrates the stucco stops at the felt paper, just short of the wood-framed wall. Since stucco is porous, the moisture evaporates out.

Vinyl siding is not weatherproof in and of itself, but when upgraded with the Fullback Thermal Support structural insulation backer system from Progressive Foam Technologies or the Polar Wall Plus! insulated siding panel system from Norandex-Reynolds, a division of Owens Corning, the vinyl cladding becomes more moisture resistant and can withstand winds in excess of 200 mph.

Fiber-cement brick, stone, shake, and smooth panels and boards from Nichiha USA, based in Atlanta, can withstand wind speeds of more than 150 mph, according to the manufacturer, making these siding products good options for homeowners in hurricane-prone states such as Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

Experts hope to continue to improve the weathering characteristics of siding. The Research Center of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) will soon begin a one-year climate-controlled test on wood-based sheathing and a variety of siding products. Researchers will measure the impact of wood moisture, humidity, temperature, precipitation, wind and solar intensity on siding in a mixed-humid climate. The results will help determine optimum design and construction decisions for exterior walls.
Make it Last
Finally, homeowners who want their houses to stay in tip-top condition but don’t have time for routine maintenance chores can choose from a number of durable and low-maintenance siding options. Vinyl siding, for instance, typically requires only an annual cleaning with a brush and hose or pressure washer. Fiber-cement and engineered-wood siding require lower maintenance, although both do need some attention from homeowners to remain in optimal condition. Alternatively, wood siding generally requires more maintenance time.

Two top-of-the-line metal siding systems — titanium-zinc siding from Rheinzink and Revere’s EverGreen prepatinated architectural copper sheet — require no maintenance at all. Rheinzink preweathered panels come in several styles and designs, including scalloped and flat-lock tiles. The siding weathers at a rate proportionate to the humidity of the locale, developing a natural soft, blue-gray zinc carbonate patina.

When exposed to warm, humid conditions, the patina of Revere’s copper sheets varies in color due to the differing distribution of patina crystals that slowly morph into copper chloride hydroxides. Although the copper is eminently durable, be aware that rust runoff from metal nails and fasteners can severely discolor the siding’s patina. The proximity of mortar or cedar can have a similar effect.

In real estate, location rules. With siding, the watchword may be climate. Smart homeowners need to consider the climate in which they live, the design of their homes and the above-discussed benefits of individual siding systems. Lastly, they need to factor in personal taste and their cost threshold. The result should be a new exterior that is functional as well as flattering.
Janice Arenofsky has written for Newsweek, The Christian Science Monitor and E/The Environmental Magazine, among other publications. She’s based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
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