Choosing your Siding
Updated: Dec 13, 2018
I'm not trying to be dramatic here but I would say that choosing your siding is the most important decision you will ever make... forget about where to go to college or picking your spouse, those were easy compared to choosing the siding for your new house! For the most part once you choose it, that's it! No do overs. Ok so there's a slight chance I'm exaggerating a BIT, but it is a very big commitment. And it is probably the most important to do extensive research on right away because once you choose, and it's up, you're fully committed and it's not something you can just redo if you made a bad choice. Well I guess maybe you could but it will cost you some serious money.
I think most people go into building a new home with at least an idea of what they want the exterior to look like, but if you're not there yet I suggest going to Pinterest and Houzz and exploring exteriors to find at least an idea of what you want before you continue your research on products. There are so many beautiful options for home exteriors but for the sake of this post I'm only going to write about the ones I'm familiar with and looked into for our home. So if you know you want to do some sort of Shake, Flat Board, or Board and Batten look, or a combination of any of the them, then you're in the right place.
We knew we wanted a 7"- 8" flat board look around the entire house so once we had that figured out we narrowed down our siding options. The four main products we looked into were vinyl, wood, fiber cement board (the most popular being Hardie Lap siding), and cellular composite siding (AKA Royal Celect siding). I'm not claiming to be an expert here but rather just want to share with you the things I learned for the first time when doing my research and what I found was most important to take into consideration about each when making our choice. First up...
Vinyl has become one of the most widely used siding options in the US and here are the main reasons why: vinyl is a very low maintenance product that doesn't need a lot of upkeep. It is very low in cost to buy as well as to install. Some even attempt to DIY with the installation of vinyl. And because of it's low production cost there are a large variety of companies that produce vinyl products. That gives the consumer a ton of choices when it comes to style and color as well as places to buy.
Things to Consider:
Some feel that vinyl siding has the tendency to look like plastic. However, depending on what style you're looking at, you may find a shake and color combo that fools the eye into thinking its real wood. We have vinyl on our current home and unless you're up close touching the shake, you really can't tell its not real wood. The sides of the house are a different story though; I can tell that it's vinyl dutch lap from a mile away and looking at the seams drives me nuts. For this reason it is incredibly important that before making your choice, you see it in person. And something super important to realize when looking at samples in a showroom; the sample you see is the actual product that is going to be attached to your house. So if you don't like the look of the sample, you most likely will not like what it looks like on a larger scale once its up. If at all possible try and go see it in use on a large scale before committing. Pictures can be deceiving.
Also, if you're not doing a shake, and are looking more into flat planks and want a wider plank like we do, then I would be very cautious of vinyl. I spoke with several representatives of various vinyl siding companies and they won't produce much of anything wider than 5'. This is because of the nature of vinyl to bend and look floppy when it's cut and installed in that way. I was told however that if you do an insulated vinyl it will prevent that from happening, but then it also increases your cost and at that point you mine as well look into some of the other options first. Also be aware when doing a vinyl horizontal siding of the visible seams. Every siding product is going to have seams, the shakes hide them the best, but with vinyl you will 100% see the seams.
Another important thing to note is color choice with vinyl. We originally really wanted to do a deep navy blue house but we found that not a lot of the vinyl siding companies made a true navy blue, or many other dark colors for that matter, since any dark color has it's risks of fading. And because vinyl siding really isn't made to be painted when fading occurs, a lot of vinyl companies don't offer too many darker color options. I had a girlfriend try and paint over her vinyl siding because she hated the color of her house, and it was just a BAD idea. So don't let anyone tell you that you can always paint it if it fades. Sure you can, because you can paint anything, but it doesn't mean you should... it won't look right and you will likely have chipping and pealing in a short amount of time. I did read that a lot of the better vinyl companies, like Certainteed, have come up with new fade resistant technologies. And that they will guarantee the colors not to fade for an extended amount of time; but because you can't paint it if it does fade, just make sure you are backed by some sort of warranty before going with a dark colored vinyl.
Not pictured because we didn't go down the path of ordering wood samples... and we all know what wood looks like.
There are some people who are so committed to real wood siding that they won't even consider anything else. And I totally get it, real wood is authentic and beautiful. Every other siding option I'm even discussing here wants to look like real wood because its character and curb appeal are super desirable. Of course there are many who prefer other looks like stone or brick or stucco, but for the most part it's that classic wood clapboard or shingle look that all the other siding products are trying to replicate. A side from being beautiful there are some other great benefits to real wood. For one it's another that is very easy it is to install, and another common DIY siding option for anyone with mid-level carpentry skills. It is also the most environmentally friendly siding option as obviously real wood is 100% biodegradable. Another draw to wood is that, unlike vinyl, it can be painted virtually any color one can imagine. However that does bring me into our 'things to consider' category because unlike some of our fake wood siding options, it MUST be painted and maintained regularly....
Things to Consider
... and the maintenance can be a bitch. I don't mean that it just has to be painted regularly to keep it looking nice, although that is the case (especially if you're looking into a darker color that will have a higher likely-hood of fading), but it does have to be either painted, stained, or sealed every few years in order to prevent any type of damage. Unpainted or stained wood siding can become warped and either crack or rot in a short amount of time. Water damage can also occur if not properly maintained and that can cause the wood to become dis-formed or even rot. With most types of woods you also have to apply protection to keep insects from seriously damaging your home, and if not properly protected insect infestations can lead to real structural damage that can become very costly and time consuming to fix. So for someone who isn't looking to have a high maintenance (in terms of comparison to the other siding options) exterior, I would suggest looking into the other siding options before thinking real wood is what you want. Because where it might not be THAT much more money up front to use real wood, the cost and effort it requires over the lifetime of the house might be more than you're willing to invest. And for us that was exactly the case...
Fiber Cement Board
If you're just starting your search for the right siding, and you're anything like me when I first started, you might be asking yourself "what the hell is fiber cement board?" Well let me tell you! It's actually a very common siding option, and is more commonly referred to as HardiePlank or Hardie Lap Siding, because of the popularity of the James Hardie brand. My dad (who is a builder and uses the Hardie siding very regularly) first brought it to my attention when I told him we were considering vinyl because we didn't feel like we wanted to deal with the maintenance of real wood. He felt, and I don't disagree with him, that the use of vinyl on the type of house we are building would hurt its resale value. And because I don't blindly take anyone's suggestion on pretty much anything (yes not even my fathers); I started my research. And this is what I found out...
Fiber cement board is a mix of cement, sand and recycled wood particles. This combination creates a very durable siding material that stands up extremely well to outside elements. Most notably sea salt air, harsh storms, and fire as it is 90% inflammable. This is obviously a huge draw for anyone that stays up at night worrying like I do... Another huge draw for the product is its ability to look exactly like real wood. It comes in a variety of styles as well as pre-finished color options that, unlike real wood, need little to no maintenance for up to 20 years (or so says Hardie's website as well as my father). Most importantly (at least as far as color options go) if it doesn't come in the exact color you want, it can be painted, unlike vinyl. But I will say that after digging into HardieLap Siding and after receiving many color options from them, they have all the best colors. Honestly I don't think anyone will have a hard time finding the exact color they want. And their navy blue is actually a beautiful true dark navy that so many companies just can't seem to get right. Honestly from the moment we received our sample I was on board with the HardieBoard because not only did it come in the exact color I wanted, but it was also available in the 7' lap boards that I wanted. And of course the staying up at night worrying aspect... Then came my husband coupled with our builder and I was forced to look at the cons.
Things to Consider
I was truly sad when this ended up not being our perfect fit. I know, spoiler... but we didn't go with the Hardie Board for the following reasons:
First and foremost, my husband knew a guy who had his whole house sided in Hardie Board and unfortunately the installation was done wrong which caused irreparable damage. It just so happens this is the number one thing that can go wrong with this particular product, and when it does, it goes REALLY wrong. When installed improperly and not sealed correctly, water can seep in through cracks and get absorbed into the recycled wood particles in the boards; which causes a whole mess of rot and damage. So his friend actually had this happen and they ended up having to pay a fortune to have their house resided and to fix the issues caused to the frame of the house done by the trapped water. So that was the first strike...
Then comes our builder, who like my father has also been around a long time; however, they specifically avoid fiber cement board for pretty understandable reasons. (Also for anyone wondering why my dad isn't building our house for us it's because he lives in Florida and we live in NY!) First and foremost our builder used to own a materials company that sold Hardie products and he said one of the most annoying things about it is how fragile it is to transport and install. Apparently by the time the product actually gets to your site for installation, generally speaking about 1/4 of it is damaged. And then on top of that it is an extreme pain in the ass to install and is very time consuming, therefor adding to the cost. So between it already being generally more money than the other siding options we've discussed in the first place, the lost material from delivery or installation issues, and the added time to install; they had just decided to stay clear of it all together. Obviously they were willing to use it if that was what we wanted but they just didn't recommend it. I also did read about deterioration and delaminating issues as well, but that was from a non-fiber cement board competitor so who knows how factual that is.
So after all this I still was hanging onto some hope, because to be honest, I didn't care about most of the aforementioned. I had a recommendation from my father who has been using it for a long time with no issues, and of course most importantly they had the EXACT color and style I had been looking for this whole time. I know... priorities. Anyways then we were educated on our forth product, and the competition was all over.
Cellular Composite Siding
Enter cellular composite siding. Even the name sounds fancy doesn't it? My husband first got a boner (sorry, not sorry) for this product when we went over to an old friend of his from High School. He had recently built a house near where we are building and we saw the Royal Celect Siding in person, and I have to admit it looks really really really nice. By far the nicest curb appeal and overall look than any of the other options I've talked about so far. Dare I say it looks even nicer than real wood?
So what the hell is it? Cellular composite siding is made from recyclable cellular material. I'm not really sure what that means exactly but I was told it's similar to materials used in PVC fences. Just from touching the samples we were sent, you can tell how durable it is. It is said to be unaffected by moisture and other external elements. It also has a deep grain texture that replicates real wood so well that you honestly can't tell the difference. On top of that it doesn't have any of the issues that come with real wood siding, or any of the other siding options we were considering for that matter. Unlike real wood it remains unaffected by moisture and won't warp or crack or bend. It is said to be essentially maintenance free and you don't have to worry about repainting or resealing after a number of years. For me, the real winning aspect is in the seam, or should i say the lack there of? Remember I said before I have a thing about seams, and again all siding products have seams, but Celect siding has a patent pending interlocking joint system that makes the seams virtually invisible! I'm sorry if I'm getting way too excited about something as boring as siding, but it is amazing. Again I saw it in person and you can't see them; trust me, I was looking! It truly is a thing of beauty and that was what sold it for me. However, like with everything else there are things to consider...
Things to Consider
Because after all it's not a miracle product. It's just really really pretty. However, the biggest issue for me was with Royal Celects lack of color options. Again, priorities... but seriously I had my heart set on a deep navy blue and I have to give that up by choosing to go with Celect. They have this "grove" color (pictured above) but it is honestly more of a teal/green than it is a dark blue. They also have a "wrought iron" (also pictured) which is a beautiful dark gray that I really do love, for anyone looking for that color. But unfortunately it just isn't what I had my heart set on. It still is a top contender for us though, so we are now choosing between the Wrought Iron or doing an all white house with black windows and trims; which I'm not going to lie, isn't a terrible second option and is growing on me more and more everyday.
That does bring me to another thing to consider, and that is that this product hasn't been around that long. So where some of these products have more negative things to be aware of, such as fading and shifting, at least you can be aware of what the potential issues will be. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the cellular composite siding develops its own list of cons. So I'm not trying to say it's miracle siding by any means... In fact one of the reasons were hesitant to go with a dark color with the Celect is because it really hasn't been around long enough to prove that it is as fade resistant as they say. However it is backed by a 25 year color protect warranty so that does help, if you're ok with repainting or residing your house in the future if it does fade. So because of that we may just end up going in the direction of the all white house with black windows, because that is a beautiful and timeless look, and with the product being so pleasing to the eye, it's hard now to go back to looking at anything else!