Choosing the Best Siding Material for Your Project
If homeowners had a pop quiz on what type of siding materials or siding styles are found in their neighborhoods, you might be surprised at the results. Because siding is ubiquitous in suburban America, its style and materials are seen every day everywhere, but rarely analyzed, except by professionals or homeowners looking to upgrade or replace their home’s exterior.
On a mission to help further educate those who care—or should—about siding, we’re offering a crash course in Siding 101 in this post, so readers can pass that pop quiz, should it happen.
Siding helps to protect a home or building’s exterior, offers some insulating properties and affects the aesthetic of whatever structure it’s applied to.
When speaking siding style, most people have probably heard of board-and-batten siding, which consists of vertical boards running parallel to each other and connected by thin strips of siding material, called batten strips, that cover the seams between boards. (Professionals may call this panel siding, which just refers to the long, tall boards—whether they’re used with batten strips or not.) They may think of it as vertical siding, as opposed to horizontal siding, which is almost always lap siding.
Understanding Lap Siding
Lap siding, also known as horizontal siding, is a style of cladding where the boards overlap with one another to create a water-resistant barrier.
This design has been used for centuries, providing homes and buildings with protection from the elements while adding visual appeal to various architectural styles.
Types of Lap Siding Materials
The types of lap siding run the gamut from wood siding through fiber cement, metal and vinyl to various forms of composite. All cladding has its advantages and challenges, which can make it tough to narrow the choice. If homeowners want the natural beauty of wood, despite its higher maintenance demands and pest vulnerability, they can decide based on their individual cost/benefit analysis.
The same is true for fiber cement, which is tough and weather resistant, but can be difficult to repair or modify and lacks environmentally friendly features. Vinyl can be inexpensive initially and stands up to pests and weather but lacks aesthetic appeal and can crack in temperature extremes. Metal is recyclable, but can have a hefty upfront cost and has distinctive personality not all homeowners embrace.
Composite, which is durable and has an almost set-it-and-forget-it maintenance schedule, can be an environmental star, such as RISE Building Product’s siding made from re-purposed synthetic fibers and polymer waste, such as automotive, flooring and other high-quality products, that would otherwise go to landfills.
Homeowners—and contractors who offer products for application—need to know what’s important for their budgets, their home’s aesthetic and architectural feel, their climate’s weather patterns and their environmental impact and decide based on knowledge. This post can begin to help in that process.
Wood siding exudes natural beauty, offering a warm and inviting appearance that complements traditional, rustic, and historic architectural styles. It comes in various species, grades, and profiles, providing versatility in achieving different design aesthetics.
Pros of Wood Siding:
- Natural Beauty: The authentic look of wood siding enhances the charm and character of any structure.
- Versatility in Styles and Finishes: Wood siding can be stained or painted in a wide range of colors and finishes to suit your preferences.
- Thermal Insulation: Wood has inherent insulating properties, contributing to energy efficiency.
- Renewable Resource: Wood is a sustainable and eco-friendly siding option when sourced responsibly.
- Repairability: Damaged wood siding can be easily repaired or replaced, extending its lifespan.
- Appealing Weathered Look: Over time, wood develops a unique patina, adding to its charm and character.
Cons of Wood Siding:
- High Maintenance Requirements: Regular maintenance, including painting, staining, and sealing, is necessary to prevent decay and weathering.
- Susceptibility to Moisture Damage: Improper maintenance or exposure to moisture can lead to rot and decay.
- Vulnerability to Pests: Wood siding is susceptible to termite and insect infestations if not adequately protected.
- Higher Cost: Wood siding is generally more expensive compared to some alternative materials.
- Combustibility: Wood is a combustible material, increasing the risk of fire.
- Fading and Discoloration: Continuous exposure to sunlight can cause the wood to fade and lose its original color.
- Availability and Sourcing Challenges: Sourcing sustainable wood may be challenging in some regions.
Fiber Cement Siding
Fiber cement siding is a composite material made from a blend of cement, cellulose fibers, and sand. It offers a durable and versatile alternative to wood and other siding materials.
Pros of Fiber Cement Siding:
- Durability: Fiber cement siding is resistant to rot, pests, and fire, providing long-lasting protection.
- Low Maintenance: It requires minimal upkeep, saving time and money on regular maintenance.
- Versatility in Styles and Finishes: Fiber cement siding can mimic the appearance of wood, stucco, or masonry, offering a range of design options.
- Weather Resistance: It withstands harsh weather conditions, including rain, snow, and UV rays.
- Long Material Lifespan: Fiber cement has a longer lifespan compared to traditional wood siding.
Cons of Fiber Cement Siding:
- Higher Initial Cost: Fiber cement siding can be more expensive than some other siding materials.
- Professional Installation: Due to its weight and specific handling requirements, professional installation is recommended.
- Prone to Cracking: Incorrect installation or exposure to extreme temperature fluctuations can cause cracking. Can be prone to delamination in heavy freeze/thaw climates.
- Difficult to Modify or Repair: Once installed, fiber cement siding is challenging to modify or repair.
- Low Impact Resistance: It may not withstand impact damage as well as other materials.
- Silica Content: Cutting fiber cement releases silica dust, which poses health hazards.
Vinyl siding is made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) resin and is known for its affordability and low maintenance.
Pros of Vinyl Siding:
- Low Cost: Vinyl siding is one of the most budget-friendly options available.
- Low Maintenance: It requires minimal upkeep, needing only occasional cleaning.
- Wide Range of Colors and Styles: Vinyl siding offers various color choices and styles to match different designs.
- Excellent Resistance to Moisture, Rot, and Pests: Vinyl is resistant to water damage and insects.
- Good Durability and Long Lifespan: Vinyl siding can last for several decades with proper care.
- Easy Installation: It is suitable for DIY projects due to its lightweight and simple installation process.
- A mix of pro and con: While repairing a panel is difficult, replacing full panels of vinyl siding is fairly easy, although matching color and fade level can be a challenge.
Cons of Vinyl Siding:
- Prone to Cracking or Fading: It may crack or fade over time when exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations.
- Limited Design Flexibility: Compared to some other materials, vinyl siding offers fewer design options.
- Susceptible to Impact Damage: Vinyl can be damaged by impacts such as hail or strong forces.
- Difficult Individual Panel Repair: Repairing individual panels may not be feasible, requiring full panel replacement. But, while repairing a panel is difficult, replacing full panels of vinyl siding isn’t hard. The challenge is matching color and fade level.
- Environmental Considerations: Manufacturing and disposal of vinyl raises environmental concerns, including concerns around vinyl being made from PVC, the largest contributor to the world’s burden of dioxin and one of the most dangerous known man-made carcinogens, according to scientists.
- Limited Aesthetic Appeal: Vinyl may not provide the same authentic look as natural materials like wood.
Metal siding is available in various materials, including steel and aluminum. It is valued for its durability and resistance to extreme weather conditions.
Pros of Metal Siding:
- Exceptional Durability: Metal siding offers superior longevity and can withstand harsh weather conditions.
- High Resistance to Weather: It protects against wind, rain, and UV rays.
- Low Maintenance: Metal siding requires minimal cleaning and occasional repainting.
- Fire-Resistant: It is non-combustible, adding an extra layer of safety to buildings.
- Excellent Pest Resistance: Metal siding is not susceptible to termites or rot.
- Lightweight and Easy to Install: The lightweight nature of metal makes installation relatively easy.
- Recyclable and Environmentally Friendly: Metal siding is recyclable and eco-friendly.
Cons of Metal Siding:
- Higher Initial Cost: Metal siding can have a higher upfront cost compared to some other materials.
- Susceptible to Denting or Scratching: Some metal alloys may be prone to denting or scratching.
- Temperature-Related Expansion and Contraction: Proper installation techniques are necessary to accommodate expansion and contraction with temperature changes.
- Limited Design Options: Metal siding may not offer as many design choices or color options as other materials.
- Noise During Heavy Rain: Metal siding can produce noise during heavy rain or hailstorms.
- Heat Absorption: Metal siding can affect energy efficiency if not properly insulated.
Composite siding is available in wood composite and synthetic composite. Wood composite siding is a mixture of wood fibers and binders, offering the appearance of natural materials with increased durability and lower maintenance. While composite wood siding is designed as a lower cost version of traditional wood siding, it often has the same vulnerabilities to moisture, mold, color fading and mildew.
Like all engineered wood products, wood composite siding uses wood flakes, shavings, or sawdust as a base, fibrous material, chopped or ground, denatured, and recombined with binders, biocides, and stabilizers, according to Fine Homebuilding. “These binders and biocides provide predictable longevity that manufacturers use to issue limited but long-term warranties.”
While the most common materials used are shredded wood or sawdust, some products have different components for added durability and strength, including Oriented Strand Board (OSB), which is made from sawdust combined with a bonding agent for extra strength. It can look like real wood, but OSB can be susceptible to water damage.
Synthetic polymer siding is made from pure resins of polypropylene, which is more durable, heat tolerant and impact-resistant than vinyl, but some of the sturdiest synthetic polymer siding comes from composites.
Because a composite is a combination of materials (hence the word composite), it’s smart to understand which materials are included in the composite you’re evaluating. We already discussed the material components of wood composites, including wood fibers, cellulose, vinyl, wax, inorganic minerals, and various recycled materials.
RISE synthetic polymer products address the need for durable and workable siding that building professionals value, but also addresses resource sustainability that homeowners—and all of us on the planet—need.
RISE constructs its products with 94% recycled materials and re-purposed synthetic fibers and polymer waste, such as automotive, flooring and other high-quality products, that would otherwise go to landfills. The RISE manufacturing process compresses the polymer waste into dense and durable siding.
Pros of Synthetic Composite Siding:
- High Durability: It is resistant to rot, pests and weather damage.
- Low Maintenance: Stable substrate minimizes upkeep needs.
- Excellent Dimensional Stability
- Environmentally Friendly: Made from recycled materials, making it eco-conscious. Again, this is where RISE really shines as a composite siding. The use of post-consumer and post-industrial synthetic fiber and polymer waste as core ingredients is key to the high performance of all RISE synthetic products.
- Long Lifespan: With proper installation and maintenance, it offers a long-lasting solution. For example, RISE offers a 30-year substrate warranty, which covers RISE siding products for a period of 30 years from the date of the original consumer purchase from an authorized RBP distributor.
Cons of Synthetic Composite Siding:
- Higher Initial Cost: It may have a higher upfront cost compared to some other materials.
- Professional Installation: Installation may require expertise due to specific handling and fastening requirements.
- Must Be Prefinished or Field Painted
- Heavier Than Other Options: Composite siding can be heavier, affecting installation.
Best Applications for Composite Siding:
- Residential Homes: Ideal for achieving the appearance of natural materials with increased durability and low maintenance.
- Coastal Regions: Composite siding performs well in high-moisture environments, high UV areas and coastal areas with high salt spray.
- Extreme Temperature Fluctuations: Suitable for areas with harsh weather conditions.
- Eco-Conscious Projects: A sustainable siding option for environmentally friendly initiatives, such as modern homes, school buildings, businesses and small-scale commercial buildings.
- Renovations or Retrofits: Perfect for upgrading existing siding with long-lasting and low-maintenance material.
- Commercial Buildings: Although composite siding seems like an easy choice for homeowners, landlords and building owners can consider the same quality to balance aesthetics and durability for multi-family complexes and offices.
Factors to Consider for Your Project
When choosing the best siding material for your project, several factors should be taken into account, most importantly what you deal with day in and day out, such as weather, your home’s architectural style and feel and if you’ll have the budget to replace siding if it fails—or you hate it—within a few years.
Homeowners who value environmental factors, such as sustainability and natural resources, need to consider them, too.
Climate and Weather Conditions:
- Moisture Levels: Evaluate the material’s resistance to moisture, including rain, humidity, and snow. Consider whether the siding material is prone to rot, warping, or mold growth—if you live in a high-moisture environments.
- Temperature Fluctuations: Assess how well the siding material performs in extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. Some materials may expand or contract excessively, leading to potential damage or gaps.
- Wind Resistance: Consider the wind load requirements and wind resistance ratings of the siding material. Evaluate the material’s ability to withstand high winds, especially in areas prone to storms or hurricanes.
- Sun Exposure: Determine how well the material holds up against prolonged exposure to UV rays. Evaluate its resistance to fading, discoloration, and potential degradation caused by intense sunlight.
- Severe Weather Considerations: Assess the material’s resilience against extreme weather events specific to your region, such as hailstorms or heavy snowfall. Consider the material’s ability to protect the underlying structure from potential damage.
Architectural Style and Design:
- Historical Authenticity: Determine if there are any specific siding materials historically associated with the architectural style of your project. Consider using traditional or period-appropriate materials to maintain authenticity.
- Modern or Contemporary Designs: Explore siding materials that offer sleek, clean lines, and a modern aesthetic. Consider materials such as fiber cement or metal siding, which can enhance the contemporary look of your project.
- Traditional or Rustic Designs: Look for siding materials that provide a warm and classic appearance. Wood siding or composite materials that mimic wood can be excellent choices for traditional or rustic designs.
- Color and Texture Options: Evaluate the range of colors and textures available for each siding material. Consider how well the material can be customized to match or complement the existing design elements.
- Architectural Accents: Determine if the siding material can be combined with other materials or architectural accents, such as stone or brick. Consider how the siding material can enhance the overall visual appeal and create a harmonious design.
- Material Cost: Compare the initial cost of different lap siding materials. Evaluate the cost per square foot or per unit of siding material.
- Installation Cost: Assess the installation expenses associated with each siding material. Consider whether professional installation is required and the associated labor costs.
- Long-Term Cost Implications: Evaluate the maintenance and repair costs associated with each material over its lifespan. Consider the durability and lifespan of the siding material to assess potential future replacement costs.
- Energy Efficiency: Determine the energy-saving properties of the siding materials. Consider how well the material contributes to insulation and thermal performance, potentially reducing energy costs in the long run.
- Return on Investment (ROI): Assess the potential increase in property value or resale value that each siding material may offer. Consider the impact of the material’s durability, aesthetics, and energy efficiency on the overall ROI.
Maintenance and Longevity:
- Maintenance Requirements: Evaluate the regular maintenance tasks needed for each siding material, such as cleaning, painting, or sealing. Consider the time, effort, and cost involved in maintaining the siding material over its lifespan.
- Resistance to Rot and Pests: Assess the material’s susceptibility to rot, decay, termites, or other pests. Consider whether the siding material requires additional treatments or protective measures to enhance its resistance.
- Weather Resistance: Evaluate the material’s ability to withstand the local climate and weather conditions. Consider its resistance to fading, warping, cracking, or other damage caused by exposure to sunlight, moisture, or extreme temperatures.
- Durability and Lifespan: Assess the expected lifespan of each siding material. Consider the material’s resilience against wear and tear, impact damage, and potential deterioration over time.
- Warranty: Evaluate the warranty coverage offered by manufacturers for each siding material. Consider the length and scope of the warranty and any specific maintenance requirements for warranty validity.
- Ease of Installation: Evaluate the complexity and skill level required for installing each siding material. Consider whether the material is suitable for DIY installation or if professional help is recommended.
- Installation Methods: Familiarize yourself with the specific installation techniques and tools required for each siding material. Consider the availability of resources and expertise needed for proper installation.
- Time and Labor: Assess the time and labor involved in installing each siding material. Consider whether the installation process can be completed within your project’s timeline and budget constraints.
- Compatibility with Existing Structure: Determine whether the lap siding material is compatible with the existing structure and its components, such as insulation or sheathing. Consider any necessary modifications or additional preparations needed for installation.
- Finishing and Detailing: Evaluate the finishing and detailing requirements for each siding material. Consider the need for additional elements, such as trim, corner pieces, or special techniques to achieve the desired aesthetic result.
If you plan to DIY, find as many resources as you can, like this on vinyl siding installation to help you plan.
- Sustainability and Eco-Friendliness: Assess the sustainability and eco-friendliness of the siding material. Consider factors such as recyclability, energy efficiency, and the use of renewable resources.
Making an Informed Decision
Choosing the best lap siding material for your project requires careful consideration of several factors, including climate and weather conditions, architectural style, project budget, maintenance requirements, and environmental impact. Each material has its distinct advantages and limitations, so it’s essential to weigh these factors against your specific project needs and priorities.
Whether you prioritize durability, aesthetics, cost-efficiency, or sustainability, there is a siding material that can meet your requirements.
By making an informed decision based on these considerations, you can ensure a successful and long-lasting siding installation that enhances the beauty and protection of your property. Also do your research and consider multiple sources for different insights.
When it comes to lap siding materials, a vast array of options is available, each option with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Wood siding offers unparalleled natural beauty and authenticity, making it an excellent choice for traditional and rustic styles. RISE composite siding stays beautiful, no matter the weather, so it keeps the curb appeal to any upscale and modern home.
Composite siding is considered the most durable siding material, as it is resistant to rot, pests, and harsh weather conditions.
Vinyl siding is the easiest lap siding material to maintain, requiring minimal upkeep such as occasional cleaning with soap and water.
Lap siding installation can be done by homeowners with moderate DIY skills, but for a flawless finish and to ensure proper installation, professional help is recommended.
Composite siding typically offers the best value for the money, as it combines affordability with durability and low maintenance requirements.
Consider the climate’s moisture levels, temperature fluctuations, and potential for extreme weather.