Siding is a bear of a task. It’s essentially the skin on the face of your house. It’s also your home’s first line of defense against weather and pests and the most immediately notable aesthetic factor in exterior design. Careful consideration should be given when tackling a siding remodel to choose the best material for your needs, and to choose the best contractor for your material. In any given situation, there may not be one best answer, but by breaking down what each material excels at, we can become more informed consumers and rest comfortably knowing we got exactly what we wanted and what we expected.
Any serious discussion about siding needs to start with vinyl. To be perfectly clear, vinyl has had a bad rep, and some poor early manufacturing techniques in the 1960’s rightfully earned it that reputation. Early vinyl would warp and fade and homeowners would find themselves replacing their vinyl unreasonably frequently. But the decades have brought about a renaissance in vinyl manufacturing that addressed these early missteps while preserving the big advantages of an easy installation and an economical price point. Improvements in strength and weather-resistance have been prioritized as well as aesthetic considerations to give new options that mimic the look of wood, stone, and slate. The nature of the material means that dents and gashes are possible, but only in cases of direct damage as opposed to natural wear. It’s permanent color means saving on painting bills and the only maintenance required is an annual soap wash (again, due to the nature of the material, high-pressure washing is discouraged as it may cause unnecessary damage). If you’re looking for an energy-conscious choice, insulated vinyl may be for you. Insulated vinyl is the same product except filled with form-fitted expanded polystyrene (you know it as styrofoam). Insulation increases the siding’s ability to retain heat, which means a lower gas bill in the winter.
Natural wood siding gets its highest marks in environmental “green-ness” and energy efficiency. Lightweight panels mean less work for your contractor which means a cheaper install cost for you and it has something of a built in warranty in that if a section is damaged, you can replace only that small quantity section. Stains and paint give limitless design options without having to start from scratch to achieve a new look, but a true cost estimate of wood siding really needs to include the cost of painting and termite control over the lifetime of the material.
If wood and vinyl had a baby it would look something like fiber cement. Originally, the “fiber” was asbestos, but now it is exclusively made with organic cellulose. Like wood, it gets painted, though not as often. And unlike wood, it is not susceptible to termites, rot, or fire. Yes, it is heavier (and therefore costlier) than vinyl, but it exceeds vinyl in its ability to withstand expansion and contraction over the seasons.
Metal siding hit its height of popularity before vinyl dominated the market. It’s easy to see what attracted builders and homeowners to it: you never have to worry about mold, rot, or water damage; you never have to worry about insects penetrating it; and you never have to worry about color-fade. Copper, zinc, aluminum, or steel will give an instant sleek, modern look and can be formed into shapes and curves impossible with any other material. A scratch will need to be painted or polished quickly though, as failing to keep up with the maintenance will expose metal’s age-old weakness: rusty scratches.
Most economical siding options are known by the costlier material they are attempting to mimic. Stucco changes the game and makes no attempt to hide what it is. This mix of cement and sand has been used for centuries and stucco artisans have used that time to refine endless techniques to achieve different shapes and textures. Stucco has a unique install process in that it will always be a custom job done on-site, so your choice of contractor will determine the unique character of the final product. It dries quickly in normal rain, though it isn’t suitable in the most wet of wet climates, it can crack but the repair cost is near negligible, and it resists insects and rot.
If you love brick, you love brick, and there’s nothing anyone can say that will change your mind. What brick has going for it is that it’s time-tested strengths really do live up to the hype and the sticker price. Brick will last 100+ years, you never have to repaint or refinish it, and it is so insect and fire-resistant that brick siding will actually lower the cost of homeowners insurance. Almost all modern brick is done as a brick veneer. Still handmade, but constructed on the outside of a wood frame instead of serving as the actual frame of the structure.
Castles were made of stone for a reason. Stone siding is flat out impenetrable to nature and beats every other material in resisting the elements. The only maintenance it will need over literally hundreds of years is high-pressure washing. The look and feel of stone is so sought after that stone veneer has emerged as an accessible option at roughly half the cost. Veneer is similar to stucco in that its lower moisture and temperature resistance means it isn’t suited for extreme climates.