Which siding is best for my home?

Comparing Vinyl Siding & Fiber Cement

For homeowners contemplating replacement of their siding or for their new home, material choice is a critical decision that can impact how one feels about their house for years to come.  In this post, we will compare the benefits and costs between vinyl siding and fiber cement panels –  also called Hardiplank. It’s important to consider the appearance and aesthetics, the maintenance, the impact for home resale and the cost for both types of siding. 

Vinyl Siding

The most popular home siding material is vinyl, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Vinyl siding, which was first introduced in the 1960s, has gained recognition because of its durability, affordability and ease of installation. Unlike fiber cement siding, it is not nailed directly to the side of your house. This allows for expansion and contraction; a necessary trait in regions with a wide range of seasonal temperatures.

Fiber Cement Siding

Fiber cement siding is often called “Hardiplank” or “Hardie board”, named from the most popular brand of fiber cement siding which is manufactured by James Hardie. Fiber cement planks are formed by combining wood pulp with Portland cement. As a result, the planks or individual shingles do an excellent job of mimicking the look of traditional wood siding. It is also installed in much the same way as traditional lapboard or wood siding being nailed directly to the structure.

Appearance

Because of the skill and inventiveness of both vinyl and Hardie board manufacturers, both types of siding come in a wide variety of attractive options. When first designed and released, fiber cement more closely mimicked natural or cedar shake shingles. However, vinyl siding is now produced to closely resemble wood grain and the naturally uneven aspect of traditional shingles.

Fiber cement is available in a variety of colors. For unlimited color options, some fiber cement products can be installed unfinished allowing you to select custom paint colors. The ability to change your exterior color scheme in the future is much easier. On the other hand, vinyl siding comes in a much wider range of varieties and colors. Vinyl siding products can be made to mimic almost any natural siding look, allowing you to more affordably give your home character.

That being said, if your number one concern is a natural look without the expense of natural materials, you are likely to be more satisfied with fiber cement. While there are vinyl products that look good, keep in mind that fiber cement siding is manufactured to look nearly identical to natural materials. The installation of fiber cement also replicates the slight irregularities of a natural material installation. Because fiber cement is in-part a wood product, it will hold paint and have a surface luster that is nearly identical to wood products.

Finally, if you live in an area that is designated as historic, there are typically restrictions on which kinds of building materials can be used. If this is the case, it is highly unlikely that vinyl siding will be approved. However, many historic districts will accept the use of fiber cement as an alternative to natural wood. For those renovating on a budget, this is a plus. Confirm with local building officials that fiber cement is acceptable.

Energy Efficiency & Sustainability

In their standard form, neither vinyl siding nor fiber cement contribute to insulating your home. However, they both provide protection from weather and critters. Where as brick and stucco can crack, well-installed vinyl or fiber cement siding will keep your home sealed tight.

For those who wish to increase their home’s energy efficiency,  there are vinyl siding options that come with a layer of insulation. While most homes in most climates are insulated between their interior and exterior walls, an additional layer between the exterior walls and the siding will greatly increase your home’s insulating ability or r-value. Insulated siding will keep warm air inside your home during the winter and keep the heat of the sun outside during the summer. Vinyl siding does absorb heat during the summer, and an insulation layer will prevent that heat from transferring into your home.

On the other hand, fiber cement is made from more sustainable materials. Because the wood pulp used in the manufacture of fiber cement is made primarily of wood waste, it doesn’t require the harvesting of trees like natural shingles nor the use of fossil fuels like vinyl. Finally, while there are plenty of eco-benefits to vinyl, disposal of used vinyl siding is a big concern. Disposal of fiber cement is much easier on the environment.

Durability

Both vinyl siding and fiber cement siding were invented as more durable alternatives to natural materials. While wood siding is very beautiful, it is susceptible to rot and sun wear, meaning it needs to be replaced regularly. This is both an inconvenience and a sizable expense. Whether you are installing vinyl or fiber cement, you can generally expect there will be no need to replace it other than a desire for change of appearance.

Fiber cement has one drawback. It does absorb moisture. If you are installing fiber cement in an area where moisture collects, that moisture could eventually damage your home. Despite this,  fiber cement should last 50 years or so in standard installation. In fact, many fiber cement products come with lifetime guarantees.

While vinyl siding, when installed properly, creates a tighter seal, remember, it does expand and contract. If there is an issue with your vinyl installation, this natural process can quickly become a problem. If it expands or contracts in such a way that a gap in the coverage appears, water can enter through that gap. Unfortunately, for most homeowners, this small leak will go unnoticed until enough moisture has entered to make its presence known on the interior of the home. This could result in expensive repairs.

Vinyl siding is water resistant, not waterproof. While this distinction may not be too big of a deal under most weather conditions, places where wind-driven rain is common — especially hurricane-prone areas — water can find its way behind your vinyl siding, causing some of the same issues mentioned above.

Additionally, wind and debris can more easily damage vinyl siding, causing visible impact and pulling sheets off of the side of your house. If you live in warmer, sunnier climates, this weakness can be exacerbated, as sun and heat can make otherwise flexible vinyl more brittle. In fact, in hurricane regions, fiber cement may actually perform better in terms of both water and wind resistance.

Fiber cement is easier to repair if damaged by weather. If a portion of a vinyl siding panel is damaged, the whole panel needs replacing. However, if the same amount of damage is done to fiber cement siding, it may be possible to just replace individual shingles.

In both cases, durability is contingent upon proper installation. While vinyl may be slightly more durable, if installed properly, both Hardiplank and vinyl siding are far more durable than natural options.

Maintenance

While it requires far less maintenance than natural materials, fiber cement does require more maintenance than vinyl. To begin with, unless you are opting for the pre-painted version, fiber cement does need to be painted immediately after installation; so either you’ll paint it yourself or hire a contractor to paint it for you. Either way, it is more involved and/or costly than a vinyl siding install. Additionally, fiber cement does fade over time and will need to be re-painted. Finally, in order to be watertight, fiber cement siding needs to be caulked. This will need to be redone at some point as your siding wears.

As for vinyl siding, other than periodic cleaning and spot repairs in the event of inclement weather, vinyl is very low maintenance. In fact, most years, you will need little more than some soapy water and a garden hose to keep your vinyl siding in like new condition.

Fire Resistance

In the unfortunate event of a fire, you want your home to be built with as many flame retardant materials as possible. In terms of siding, natural wood materials are obviously the most susceptible and dangerous, so both vinyl and fiber cement are preferred alternatives. However, in comparison between the two, fiber cement is definitely more flame retardant than vinyl.

When exposed to very high temperatures, vinyl will melt. For this reason, it is important to keep your outdoor grill away from the exterior of your home. The high temperatures of a grill can cause your siding to melt, warp and even discolor. Fiber cement, however, is in the highest flame resistance class with the same rating as brick.

Cost Difference

Depending on who you ask, the answer will vary.

From an initial installation standpoint, vinyl siding is definitely less expensive. According to an RSMeans 2018 Residential Cost data report, vinyl siding costs $201 per 100 square feet to install while fiber cement costs around $300. This is due to the fact that vinyl siding is easier to install from a labor standpoint and comes pre-painted. If you are paying a contractor to paint your fiber cement, that’s an added cost.

While there still isn’t a lot of data in terms of resale value,  there are reasons to expect that fiber cement will do well to recoup costs when a home is put up for sale. Because fiber cement looks so natural, it has the ability to elevate the curb appeal of a home.

On the other hand, because there are more long-term maintenance costs associated with fiber cement as opposed to vinyl, it can also be more expensive over the life of the siding installation. However, the maintenance costs of fiber cement are significantly lower than the costs of natural wood materials.

If you are still undecided, we are here to help you weigh your personal pros and cons. Because we have years of experience working with both materials, you can be confident that we will help you come to the decision that makes the most sense for you, your family and your home!