Choosing Exterior Siding
The exterior siding you choose will serve to protect your home from the elements. Along with aesthetics, it's important to evaluate products based on performance, maintenance and durability.
Board and batten siding. © Joel Guindon
There is no stage of home construction that you should rush through, but if there were, it wouldn't be siding. Whatever product you choose, purchase and installation is not cheap, so you don't want to do it again anytime soon.
Your siding needs to protect your home from the elements, while at the same time allowing air flow so your interior wall can shed moisture. And it has to accomplish both these tasks with style, as it will be the first thing you will see every time you come home.
Depending on the profile of your site and design of your home, gaining access to some higher parts might be difficult. In construction, 'difficult' translates into either dangerous, time consuming or expensive depending on how much of your own maintenance you do.
For that reason we have laid out a brief look at a variety of products, giving you an idea of the performance you can expect, cost, general maintenance requirements and durability.
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Pros: It makes for a great looking traditional finish to a home. Certainly with FSC wood, extraction can be sustainable, and very little pollution is generated in production and manufacturing. Wood is abundantly available to us in Canada, provided that forests are managed properly.
- Cons: It is not the most durable choice to protect your home from weather, and clearly it's not the best to resist fire. It can be susceptible to damage from insects and rodents, as well mold and rot from moisture.
- Cost: $5 to $15 per square foot installed, depending on type of wood and style.
- Expected lifespan: 25 to 55 years
Note: There are companies that offer pre-painted wood products, a quality that you cannot match on a ladder with a brush. Several coats of paint are applied, to both sides, so your job is simply to cut it, paint the ends, and install it. A reputable company will give you a warrantly up around 15 years, and up to 30 if you apply a coat within that first 15 years.
If you prefer to paint your siding yourself, it will be a lot easier (and a better quality) if you do it on the ground before installation. It will require significant space to paint, but also to build drying racks.
© Céline Lecomte
Composite wood refers to the repurposing of waste wood into usable products. Small chips and sawdust can be steam pressed into a very close likeness of actual wood siding, including the addition of realistic looking 'grain'.
- Pros: It makes use of post-industrial waste that might otherwise head for a landfill. Installation can actually be easier than conventional wood, due to not having knots to contend with.
- Cons: Composite wood faces the same challenges as solid wood in regards to performance and risk. Though raw material use is effectively eliminated, there is higher pollution during manufacturing than raw wood.
- Cost: $3.50 to $ 11.50 per square foot installed.
- Expected lifespan: 25 years and over.
Cedar is a wood commonly used outdoors because it is highly resistant to rotting. Left untreated its lifespan isn't as greatly affected as other woods, but the look certainly is. Cedar will turn grey through exposure to weather and UV rays, and since that won't be even, the resulting colour won't be either. So required maintenance depends a lot on your taste.
Pros: Wood is a natural product, and due to the length of cedar shingles (approximately 18"), they can make use of shorter pieces of wood such as stumps that would often be left in forests, or post industrial waste. If you don't mind the look of greying cedar, you won't need to do a lot of maintenance.
Cons: Very expensive and time consuming to install. And if you DO mind the look of greying cedar, like all wood products, it will require regular repainting, staining or oiling.
Cost: Due to the size of shingles and the cost of cedar, you can expect to pay around $30 to $40 per square foot installed.
Lifespan: In and around 50 years, much longer with treated shingles and proper installation.
Note: In this writer's experience, a step that is often missed in the installation of cedar shakes is creating an air space and drainage plane. One of the cheapest and most effective spacers can be a dimpled foundation membrane cut into 2" strips. This method allows for an air space, but also allows vertical drainage, where a strip of solid wood limits air flow and drying.
Brick and stone
© Marlon Bunday
Pros: Very low maintenance and its performance is excellent. Brick and stone resist weathering, and are virtually unassailable from pests, insects, mold, and fire.
- Cons: Regarding brick and fabricated stone products, production is very clean but demand a significant amount of embodied energy throughout the extraction and production process. Moreover, it is not easy to install.
- Cost: Very expensive.
- Expected Lifespan: longer than yours.
© Yanni Milon
Stucco refers to a thin coating of cement that is applied to exterior walls.
- Pros: Performs well against pests and rodents; raw materials are relatively abundant; fairly resistant to fire.
- Cons: Concrete is highly polluting and energy intensive in its production; poor resistance to weathering; difficult to install and maintain.
- Cost: $5 to $12 per square foot installed.
- Expected lifespan: 50-75 years.
Acrylic siding materials are composed of concrete, glass fiber and polystyrene. Suppliers sometimes claim that in addition to siding they also act as insulators, but there isn't much truth to that. Any insulation value it
© Céline Lecomte
might have would be ineffective if you install it properly, which includes an air space between it and your main wall system.
- Pros: Performs well against pests and mold and it's quite versatile.
- Cons: High pollution and embodied energy in the extraction and manufacturing process; materials can be scarce; poor resistance to weather and fire; not easy to install and maintain.
- Cost: $8 to $ 12 per square foot installed.
- Expected lifespan: 25 years and over.
© Céline Lecomte
Fibre cement was developed by James Hardie industries over a century ago. The original product was made from cement and asbestos, modern day production has replaced the asbestos with healthier alternatives. Fiber cement board can be molded to any style, even to look like wood.
- Pros: Very strong and very durable; resistant to fire, insects and decay.
- Cons: High pollution and energy consumption during production. This is a popular product in warmer dryer climates, but it doesn't perform as well in northern climates. While the product itself is durable, paint will often chip off during the freeze / thaw cycle.
- Cost: $10 to $25 per square foot installed, depending on style.
- Expected lifespan: 40 years or more
© Anderson Anderson Architecture
Pros: Highly resistant to weathering, excellent performance against mold and parasites, easy to install and maintain. It's durable and fairly versatile, and when the day comes that someone is taking down your home, it will unquestionably be recycled.
- Cons: Production (mining) is not at all green, metal has a high embodied energy.
- Cost: $5 to $ 12 per square foot installed.
- Expected lifespan: 40 years and over.
Many types and styles of metal siding can be found. Pre-finished steel, galvanized steel, copper, zinc, most commonly of course would be aluminum siding.
Vinyl / PVC siding
© Céline Lecomte
Pros: Highly resistant to weathering. Very good against pests and mold. Fairly easy to install and easy to maintain.
- Cons: PVC is among the most polluting of industries. It is a product made from oil which is not renewable, and production is highly energy intensive. Performance against fire is quite poor, and fumes can be extremely dangerous.
- Cost: $3 to $ 9 per square foot installed.
- Lifespan: 40 years and over.
One of the greatest ways you can protect your home is through design. Good overhangs will mean that the majority of rain will not even touch your walls, this fact alone will greatly increase the lifespan of whatever cladding you put on your home.
Rain and UV rays are the two main factors that will cause the siding of your home to age and deteriorate, sizable overhangs can help protect you from both. Along with protecting your siding, shading techniques play an essential role in passive solar design to avoid overheating.
It's important to remember that the exterior wall surface of your home needs to be able to breath. Due to moisture in building materials, exposure to rain and high relative humidity at times, walls need to be able to dry. Interior vapour barriers means they must be able to breath to the outside. Whatever siding you choose, be sure to leave a ¾ inch space between the siding and interior building envelope to allow for air circulation.