By Carolin Santangelo
A quiet debate continues over which exterior veneer is preferable for our coastal clime.
Should you choose vinyl or fiber cement siding? Fiber cement siding is the product you may know as ‘Hardie board,’ made by the James Hardie Bldg. Products, though other manufacturers, including Certainteed, GAF, etc., make an equivalent product. Some of these manufacture both siding types.
Take any two builders and one may strongly proclaim fiber cement siding, the other, vinyl. Pose the question to the same two builders on another day, or for another project, and you may receive alternate answers. A smart builder will thoroughly quiz the homeowner to determine what is appropriate for the homeowner’s purposes.
Fiber cement siding may ‘look’ more like wood, if only slightly; it is often stamped with a wood-grain texture, and its painted surface usually is an egg-shell finish. Vinyl has a crisp, almost perfect look; almost too perfect in a sense. Its finish also can be a variety of wood grain textures, with a typically more glossy finish.
Both products will stand up to our coastal conditions as long as they are applied correctly. (Manufacturers will nullify warranties if not installed correctly.) Vinyl siding can be rated for hurricane winds; check manufacturer’s specifications to be sure your selection will meet windstorm code requirements. Windstorm engineers also differ in their opinions of the materials.
Some engineers recommend fiber cement siding for use in their analysis of buildings, asserting it provides more rigidity to the structure. (As such it is a heavy material, and requires two people to install.) Other engineers will perform analysis for either vinyl or fiber cement siding, not differentiating one in preference over the other. Again, each is dependent on installation techniques, which the engineer will oversee during the replacement or new construction project.
Cement siding and an initial application of paint may cost only slightly more than the same project carried out in vinyl. Maintenance of vinyl nearly ends after installation, with a spray of the garden hose usually all that is necessary to clean it. Upkeep on cement siding, despite claims to the contrary by siding and paint manufacturers, in our area appears to often require repainting in as little as five years, (an issue which may stem from improper application) though longer periods may be possible, if conscientiously applied to manufacturer specifications.
Cement siding color is limited only by your imagination. Virtually any is possible, though some dark colors might not hold up in our hot sun, and some may not be acceptable to your home owners’ association.
Color may seem insignificant, but check with your HOA before starting any project. Pre-applied colors direct from fiber cement siding manufacturers are now available in a palette of a dozen to 16 colors and stained wood effects, (varies by region) and most with a 15-year color fast guarantee.
Vinyl siding color is limited to a manufacturer’s palette – often just 10, occasionally up to 40 standard colors. Alcoa is offering its Dream Color program, with up to 700 available, on a custom order basis. This is an option that may provide just the look you want in vinyl; though if you order it, you own it.
There will be no second-guessing your selection, and no do-over. Premium vinyl products come with a limited lifetime warranty against color fading. You must make a confident choice, and like that color for a very long time, since there won’t be a reason or opportunity to repaint in a couple of years.
Both vinyl and cement siding are available in shingle or shake styles to coordinate with varieties of siding profiles. Either siding is impervious to insects or rot. Should it be necessary to replace, vinyl is highly recyclable, and requires no finish or solvent to clean or maintain. Fiber cement siding often contains recycled product in its composition, and additionally is fire resistant.
While some clients opt for fiber cement siding, others are perfectly happy with vinyl for their home. Even though I’ve been hands-on with all of our own construction projects, it will be too soon for me if I never hold a paintbrush again.
That’s why the choice for our own seaside home was vinyl, and it came through Ike unscathed. These hands are now meant for nail polish and holding nothing more burdensome than a cool, yummy refreshment.
You, too, should assess how each choice may impact your lifestyle. Either way you go, your home’s exterior can enjoy good looks and a long life.
Carolin Santangelo is a home designer and owner of Seaside Home Design, LLC. Contact SeasideHome@windstream.net, or (409) 632-0381.