New alternatives? Old favorites? We've got siding covered. This guide will help you pick your way through the choices for your home's exterior.
Solid wood. If properly maintained, wood -- lap siding, vertical boards, shingles, and shakes -- will last for generations, and there's nothing else like it for a rich look. However, the hassle of protecting and maintaining wood drives many homeowners to other siding choices. Wood expands and contracts with the seasons, so it is prone to splitting and cracking. It is also prone to mildew in humid parts of the country.
Redwood, cedar, and cypress stand up well to rot and insects. These woods can be left to weather in benign climates, but most species require regular maintenance -- you'll need to restain or repaint every few years.
Vinyl. In addition to offering siding that looks like cedar boards, vinyl companies offer such decorative details as trim that mimics fish-scale shingles and replications of historic wood clapboard siding. Today's vinyl siding looks better than ever (particularly seamless vinyl), resists assaults from the wind, and won't rot, dent, flake, scratch, or blister. It can become brittle in very cold weather.
Metal. Steel and aluminum siding, offered in a variety of prefinished colors, comes in vertical (such as board-and-batten) and lap styles. Many brands offer profiles and textures that are almost indistinguishable from wood. Most of today's metal sidings are dent- and wind-resistant and require little maintenance.
Engineered wood and hardboard. Made up of bits of wood that are bonded together with special resins and treated with fungus repellents and insecticides, these products often stand up to moisture, mildew, and termites better than wood. Products come in both lap and vertical siding styles and are easy to install. Engineered materials stand up well to the harmful effects of the sun, bad weather, abrasion, and chemicals.
Hardboard is considered the granddaddy of engineered wood products. It is usually composed of pressed wood fibers. It comes bare, primed, or finished. A knot- and grain-free alternative to solid lumber, hardboard resists splitting, cracking, hail, and wind damage.
Brick and stone look-alikes. Real brick and stone surfaces are sometimes perceived as maintenance-free. However, masonry requires occasional care. Loose mortar joints must be removed or replaced -- a process called tuck-pointing. If you want the look, but not the maintenance, check out the latest in brick and stone veneers. While true brick or stone walls must rest on a foundation, new thin-brick and manufactured-stone products adhere to walls with mastic or mortar and can be applied right over most existing siding.
Fiber cement. This siding is made from wood fibers, cement, and sand. The result is a durable material that resists termites and rotting and is slow to burn. Fiber cement makes special sense near oceans, where building materials must withstand salt air and winds, and in particularly hot, humid climates (like Malaysia, where it's been used for decades). It's available in a variety of styles and colors. Most fiber-cement products must be painted, but because they're rarely affected by expansion and contraction and don't hold moisture, their paint finishes last a long time. They can be heavy, and difficult to repair.
Stucco. Many of today's traditional stucco products are formulated with epoxy, which practically eliminates cracking by allowing some surface movement. Stucco is usually applied in three coats, and the final coat can be tinted or painted.
Synthetic stucco. Exterior Insulation Finishing Systems (EIFS), sometimes called synthetic stucco, typically combine foam plastic insulation with a two-layer synthetic coating. Look for "water-managed" types that provide an escape for moisture.
Longevity. Vinyl warranties typically range from 50 years to the lifetime of the product's original owner. Look for brick and stone veneer products to be guaranteed for 50 years. Some brands of fiber-cement are warranted for up to 50 years.
Metal-siding manufacturers offer warranties that last 25 years or longer.
Painted stucco eventually will need repainting. Properly installed, synthetic stucco (EIFS) is nearly maintenance-free and won't crack.
Engineered wood and hardboard siding products usually have 15- to 25-year warranties.
Fiber cement siding (a near ringer for the appearance of wood) is 80 cents to $1 per linear foot. Professional installation will double that cost. Another popular siding option, vinyl, arrives in 8-inch x 12-foot sections, with two squares (enough to cover 200 square feet) per carton. The per-carton price varies from $43 to $65. (Vinyl soffit panels, which are often installed as vertical siding, are 12 inches wide and divided into three 4-inch-wide sections.)
Brick and stone look-alikes are far less expensive than their natural kindred. The cost starts at $2.25 per foot with a top end of $4 per foot.
The biggest drawback to solid wood siding is cost. Demand and restricted supply have nearly doubled prices in the last 10 years, so that it costs about twice as much as vinyl or fiber cement.