Different Types of Siding and How to Choose What’s Best for You

By: Jaymi Curley

House Siding

Vinyl Siding

Made from PVC, vinyl siding has been around since the early 1960s, and as of the 2010 census, it is the most commonly used siding in new, single-family homes. Historically, however, Monte notes that vinyl has gotten a bad rap. “In its early days, it was seen as just a cheap siding alternative,” he says. ”It’s got a stigma to overcome.”

Early forms of vinyl siding were known to warp in extreme climates and to fade easily with prolonged exposure to the elements. So, though it was inexpensive to clad a home in vinyl siding, after a handful of years there was little choice but to invest in siding replacement in order to maintain the home’s visual appeal.

However, with advancements in the technology of manufacturing, the last decade has seen amazing strides in vinyl siding production, creating what Monte calls a “resurgence of interest.”

Careful design and engineering have produced vinyl siding that can perfectly mimic the look of many types of cladding and architectural accents, including wood, stone, and slate. In addition, current vinyl siding has improved strength and weather resistance and comes in a broader selection of factory colors.

  • Advantages: durable; widely available; least expensive option; many brands come with lifetime warranties
  • Disadvantages: repairs require replacement of entire sections; style/color selection is not as wide as other types of siding; cannot be painted; flammable; releases toxins if burned
  • Cleaning/maintenance: wash annually with soap and water (high-pressure washing is discouraged)
  • “Green” characteristics: vinyl siding as a whole is a “green” siding option due to its production and recycling processes

Insulated Siding

Insulated siding is a vinyl product with the added benefit of insulation. “It’s usually just included in the vinyl siding category,” says Monte. “The difference is that it has the insulation glued inside— the insulation is made to fit the profile of the vinyl siding, and the two are bonded together.”

Another type of insulated siding has a similar backing, but the foam core, though still manufactured to fit the shape of the siding, is left unbonded as a separate piece. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is the most common insulation material used in insulated siding.

Since its inception in the late 1990s, insulated siding has gained significant recognition for providing increased energy efficiency due to its ability to counteract the “thermal bridging” effect in homes.

Thermal bridging occurs where the interior and exterior of a home are connected, or bridged, by a poorly insulating material; an example of this kind of bridge would be the wall studs that interrupt the insulated stretches of a wall and allow heat to flow between the home’s interior and the outdoors.

Using insulated siding helps erect a barrier to prevent heat loss (or gain) at the points where the studs contact the outer wall of the house and at other areas where thermal bridging commonly occurs.

  • Advantages: creates straighter lines and lays flatter than conventional siding, making it more effective on irregular walls; reduces outside noise; reduces the amount of heat loss or gain from the house.
  • Disadvantages:costs more than standard vinyl siding.
  • Cleaning/maintenance:wash annually with soap and water (high-pressure washing is discouraged).
  • “Green” characteristics: foam insulation increases the siding’s R-value, which helps make a home more energy efficient.

Fiber Cement Siding

Fiber cement comprises wood fibers mixed with sand and cement. The siding is much thicker than vinyl and has a better ability to withstand harsh weather such as strong wind or hail. The material is very stable and does not expand and contract at the same rate that true wood and vinyl siding do.

This stability allows paint to last longer on its surface, so it does not require refreshing as often as wood siding. In addition, most fiber cement brands can be painted, so homeowners can change their design plans down the road without having to replace the siding itself.

“Fiber cement siding has a great reputation for quality and durability,” says Monte. “These products have long warranties, and they’re very visually appealing. There are some cities around the country that require the use of fiber cement if you install replacement siding.”

The low maintenance requirements for fiber cement coupled with its weather resistance have many homeowners happy to make the investment in this type of cladding for their home.

  • Advantages:not susceptible to termites; highly water resistant; incombustible; holds paint well; lots of options in texture and color.
  • Disadvantages: installation is more complicated as the product is very heavy; costlier than most types of vinyl siding.
  • Cleaning/maintenance:mostly maintenance free; must be repainted periodically (recommended every 15 to 20 years).
  • “Green” characteristics: most brands contain at least 10 to 20 percent recycled materials.

Engineered Wood Siding

“The newest thing on the market is engineered wood siding,” says Monte. “We at Brennan Enterprises are now offering the product.” Engineered wood siding is manufactured by combining wood by-products like sawdust and wood shavings with bonding agents.

The result is a material that has many of the aesthetic features afforded by real wood siding but is stronger than wood and can be factory painted, giving the product and paint a much longer life expectancy than that of natural wood.

Some moisture-related siding failures have been noted in older product formulations; however, the majority of those problems seem to be associated with improper initial installation, which is why it’s important to hire a quality contractor.

Engineered wood will require painting every five to ten years to maintain its integrity. The siding can be bought with primer or color already applied. “The manufacturers have a whole rainbow of color choices; they’ll even do custom colors,” says Monte. “It has a 50-year manufacturer’s warranty against rotting or defects, so I think we are going to start seeing more of this product in use.”

  • Advantages: lighter weight provides an easy installation; sold pre-primed or painted; custom colors available; takes less lumber to create than traditional wood siding; infused resins make material resistant to insect damage.
  • Disadvantages: susceptible to moisture-related problems unless properly installed and maintained.
  • Cleaning/maintenance: must be painted for weatherproofing purposes; periodic maintenance required—pre-treat with bleach or vinegar solution and wash with mild detergent solution; sand lightly to remove stains.
  • “Green” characteristics: made primarily from recycled wood, waste wood, and wood from smaller, quick-growth trees.