The Pros and Cons of Different Siding Types
Siding is a popular choice for home exteriors and for good reason. Not only does siding improve the curb appeal of a home, but it also protects it from the elements. But, before deciding what kind of siding is the right choice for your home, let’s walk through the basics of siding and consider the benefits and drawbacks of each material.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of different siding materials for your home’s exterior, including maintenance, costs and design options.
The Pros of Specific Siding Types
Siding is a type of cladding and cladding is usually categorized into four distinct groups: stone, stucco, brick and the material that consumers tend to associate with siding, such as vinyl. Cladding can include exotic materials, such as metal, but 98% of cladding falls in the four categories.
Siding is subdivided by material type, including natural wood, vinyl, fiber cement, aluminum, steel and composite. It’s divided further by application, such as lap siding, board and batten, panel siding, vertical siding and shakes, and by specific dimension, including 4″ reveal lap siding, 7″ reveal lap siding, 8″ OC board and batten, perfection shakes and random edge shakes.
It’s helpful to understand the hierarchy when you hear others use cladding and siding interchangeably.
“Though house cladding has a significant practical application, many homeowners are primarily concerned about its effect on the ultimate appearance of the house,” according to Architecture Lab. “Profiles, colors, material, and even the fixing procedures will play a significant role in this regard.”
Given this complexity around what covers a home, consumers usually only choose what type of siding material they want, not what type of cladding.
When homeowners update their homes, they often use the same cladding type, but replace it with a different material type, such as replacing old vinyl, old aluminum and old wood with a modern material such as newer vinyl, fiber cement, engineered wood or composite. So, let’s focus on choosing the appropriate material type for the siding replacement based on durability, maintenance needs, costs and options for design.
Siding is applied to homes and other buildings to improve the structure’s appearance and to protect, weatherproof or insulate the structure. If protection is foremost, consider that durability is one of the biggest advantages of siding in general and durability is key to protection.
To determine the right siding material for your home, you must bear in mind the cost-benefit ratio of initial money spent and durability. (If it’s new construction siding, it’s probably less expensive than repair or replacement siding because existing walls and framework won’t need to be restored, but consumers rarely choose new construction siding—they just buy what’s already in place.) The lifespan of new siding plays a significant role in determining its value. But not all siding is equal in strength and stability.
Some siding materials, such as fiber-cement siding and vinyl siding are fire-resistant (vinyl is fire-resistant up to 750 degrees) and insect proof, but water can damage fiber cement siding during freezes and thaws if its paint is allowed to degrade.
Metal siding? It’s beyond tough and stands up well to harsh weather conditions, including snow and extreme temperatures.
Overall, durability is the core determinant in siding’s lifespan—it pretty much establishes how long siding can protect and perform. Vinyl siding lasts about 30 years, which seems like a fair stretch of time, but natural stone can last more than 100 years.
Durability alone isn’t the determining factor when choosing siding, but if a siding material is hardy, even if it’s more expensive initially, it won’t need to be replaced as often.
Siding can be a low-maintenance option for a home’s exterior. Wood siding is beautiful, but requires regular painting or staining. Fiber-cement siding is low-maintenance, non-flammable and termite-resistant. Stucco siding, which can work in certain climates, has a low maintenance life of nearly 50 years, according to Forbes.
Vinyl siding is popular in part because of its low maintenance requirements, but it can be prone to mold growth and rotting sheathing if not installed with a waterproof seal. (Mold and sheath rot are maintenance attention-getters.) Whether primed or pre-painted, fiber cement must be refinished periodically. Want to know more about exterior siding maintenance? Go here.
You can clean your siding with a pressure washer or a mild detergent (liquid dish soap works wonders) solution. See The Family Handyman’s tips on cleaning vinyl siding. Some siding may require more frequent cleaning, depending on local climate and environmental factors.
And there are, of course, some no-nos. Don’t use cleaners containing organic solvents, including undiluted chlorine bleach, nail polish remover, liquid grease remover or furniture cleaners. (Yes, people do all of these!) Avoid highly abrasive scrubbers, including steel wool, wire brushes or paint scrapers.
Siding can be an affordable option for a home’s exterior. The cost of siding depends on several factors, including the material, the size of the home and the complexity of the installation. Vinyl siding is typically the most affordable option, while fiber cement and natural wood siding can be more expensive.
Remember, it’s important to consider the long-term value of siding, as it can improve a home’s energy efficiency and increase its resale value. Consider, too, the cost-benefit ratio of initial money spent and durability—cost-up-front compared with replacement costs.
Siding is available in a wide range of colors, textures, and styles, which allows customization of a home’s exterior. Whether the homeowner prefers a classic or modern aesthetic, siding options abound that can complement any home’s design.
Some popular siding styles include lap siding, shingle siding, board and batten and vertical siding. Aside from the basics, consider how to use siding in a larger design way, such as vertical vinyl siding for accents, siding for contrast and mix and match siding.
Let’s talk lap siding first. Lap siding is a frequently used siding application, and complements many home designs and architectural styles. Lap siding is installed horizontally. Its name comes from the way each siding course overlaps the one under it.
Sub-varieties of lapboard siding include Dutch lap and clapboard siding. Lap siding, in general, is used to make a house visually appear longer or wider.
Board and batten siding is made from two pieces—wide planks called boards joined with thinner strips, the batten, that cover seams between the boards.
It’s a distinctive look and chosen for its vertical and nearly three-dimensional aesthetic, as it no longer has a functional purpose with modern siding. Because the siding boards are mounted vertically, board and batten siding can elongate an exterior and make it appear taller.
Vinyl siding is traditionally placed horizontally in panels, but because vinyl siding is flexible, it’s easy to take it out of the horizontal-only zone. Consider vertical panels below the roofline, parallel to the entryway or around the windows for an unexpected look.
Contrasting a lighter trim against a dark siding can be used to create a modern style and vibe. While classic light or natural-color siding remains an in-demand choice, consider dark window frames or darker-colored accents to create depth and drama.
Don’t forget the door when considering contrast. To find the spot-on juxtaposition to the siding, consult the color wheel for its perfect contrast.
Mix styles and patterns in your siding for an up-to-date exterior. Although mix and match has been around forever, new combinations that highlight different parts of the house or different colors that create more contrast are fresh today. For a peek at mixed siding designs, see Houzz inspiration photos.
Cons of Specific Siding Types
While siding is designed to be durable, it can still be damaged by severe weather, impact or improper installation. Common types of siding damage include cracks, dents, and warping. If siding is damaged, it’s important to address the issue as soon as possible to prevent further damage to a home’s structure. Depending on the severity of the damage, the siding may need to be repaired or replaced.
Although high-quality siding can last as much as 30 years, the climate it endures can cause it to age after within 10 to 15 years. Dark siding can fade in sunny climates. Painting vinyl siding is a non-starter, as the paint will probably peel and crack in a short time.
Siding planks can split or break with the expansion and contraction of temperature. Hailstorms have been recorded punching holes in vinyl siding, which can’t be patched. Homes in areas with frequent or catastrophic fires should consider what wood will do (chemistry and physics!). Wood is also vulnerable to rot, insects and woodpeckers.
Certain types of siding may lower a home’s value, too, particularly if the building is historically significant.
Also, according to The Spruce, vinyl siding tends to flatten the exterior of a home architecturally.
“Special molding and trim are obscured, resulting in a two-dimensional look. Since many homebuyers regard vinyl siding as inferior, it may result in lower offers for your home if you should decide to sell.”
Several types of siding can be unfriendly for the environment. Although vinyl siding homeowners are directly affected by what’s on the outside of their home, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains strict workplace exposure limits for employees in vinyl siding plants, which reflects the toxicity of manufacturing the siding material.
According to The Spruce, recycling post-consumer PVC is difficult and expensive and only a few recycling centers accept any items containing PVC. When siding gets to a landfill, it is burned, which can create respiratory issues for those who live nearby.
Although wood isn’t toxic, it’s a limited resource and forest-harvesting causes its own environmental damage.
If the environmental impact of siding is an issue for you, consider that RISE exterior synthetic polymer products help preserve natural resources because its process reduces the need to cut trees for wood-based siding, it avoids mining to support fiber cement products, and it shrinks the amount of chemical refining for the manufacture of PVC siding and trim. Natural stone is also an option, albeit an expensive one.
Siding installation can be a complex process, especially if it’s a large or complex home. While some homeowners may be able to install siding themselves, it’s usually best to hire a professional siding contractor. Improper installation can lead to issues such as water damage, energy loss and compromised durability.
Vinyl siding particularly depends on proper installation, as substandard installation means ugly troubles in the long-term. If vinyl siding is nailed too tightly, it will expand, crack, bulge or warp.
Also, vinyl siding can allow moisture to permeate below the surface. Wood siding and other traditional cladding materials allow the wall to breathe; water vapor may move through the wall construction, but it can escape during colder weather. But, according to The Spruce, vinyl siding is usually installed over a layer of styrene insulation board, which can trap the water vapor within the wall cavity.
“Water also enters the wall cavity through gaps at the edge of siding if it is not caulked. Vinyl siding must be able to move independently of the wall surface,” according to The Spruce.
“While a water-resistant house wrap is typically installed under the siding, it is punctured by nails during the installation process, contributing to leaks…excessive moisture can rot the wood structure of your home, not to mention that decaying wood invites termites and mold.”
Frequently Asked Questions
The most popular types of siding include vinyl, fiber cement and natural wood. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages around durability, cost and maintenance (plus its environmental impact), so it’s important to consider your specific needs and preferences before deciding which is best for you.
Most siding materials only require occasional cleaning, typically once a year or as needed. However, some factors such as local climate and environmental conditions may require more frequent cleaning.
Some types of siding, such as natural wood, can be painted or stained to achieve a different look. However, other types of siding such as vinyl are not meant to be painted.
Siding can be a good option for a historic home if the design and materials are chosen carefully to complement the home’s original architecture. However, in some cases, historic preservation regulations may require that the home’s original siding be restored or maintained.
After you consider the benefits and drawbacks of siding, weigh the options and determine if it’s the right choice for a specific home—and which siding product seems smart for homeowners and their resources. Factors to consider include the climate, the design of the home and the size of the budget. Choose a reputable product and installer, as mistakes in siding material or application can be costly.