Few things make a bigger impact on your home’s appearance—whether new construction or remodeling—than the siding you choose. Not only can the right siding make your place look great, it protects from damage from wind, weather, humidity, and insects.
Unlike the Three Little Pigs, few people in Central Virginia make their homes of straw or sticks, which can be blown down by an itinerant Big Bad Wolf or the occasional derecho. Bricks, on the other hand, have been a popular siding since Thomas Jefferson’s time.
And today, there are many additional options for house siding that Jefferson never heard of, each with its charms and caveats. For example, vinyl and other synthetics are becoming more attractive, often mimicking wood in a realistic way, yet costing far less.
Here’s a primer on the most popular sidings with their pros and cons from the least to the more expensive.
Vinyl or Plastic
Vinyl, with its low cost and easy upkeep, is the most popular siding in the country and technology has changed for the better just in the past five years. Deeper “graining” makes it look more like wood from a distance and it comes in a variety of colors and styles including lap siding, board and batten, shingles, and simulations of brick or stone. While vinyl doesn’t warp and is completely unappetizing to insects, it can crack, dent, or even melt.
Plastic siding usually comes in wood-mimicking shingles or shakes and demands little upkeep. It’s generally thicker than vinyl and is more resistant to impact damage. It’s also considerably more expensive than vinyl.
Fiber-cement siding is a mix of cement, cellulose, and sand. Fire-resistant and low-maintenance, it is of zero interest to termites. It can mimic masonry or stucco and presents a surface very closely resembling real wood, yet costs about the same as vinyl. It often comes pre-painted from the factory and although a bit more expensive than painting it yourself, the color will last much longer. Fiber-cement comes in lap siding, shingles, and vertical styles.
The most classic of sidings, wood offers traditional charm, but it can be pricey. Clapboard is generally less expensive than shingles, but still costs more than vinyl or fiber-cement. Wood resists impact, so it will not dent like vinyl or chip like fiber-cement, but it can warp and burn. It’s also subject to rot and can be attacked by insects as well as some birds like woodpeckers.
There are several choices of wood with cedar and redwood being particularly durable. Wood can be painted, stained or left natural and requires maintenance and refinishing from time to time. On the other hand, when well maintained, wood siding can last for a hundred years or more.
Shakes and shingles—which are often treated with fire-retardants—can be milled in various shapes and offer particular interest in a gable or other architectural feature.
Another siding, less common in Central Virginia, is stucco created from Portland cement, sand, and lime. It is generally mounted over metal screening with a waterproof membrane, and when applied well it can last for many years. It is sometimes used in combination with brick or stone finishes,
Bricks have been used for hundreds of years and come in different shapes, sizes, and textures. Bricks are sturdy, durable, and classically handsome and particularly popular in this region. These days, brick siding is commonly a veneer mounted on the frame of a building with a waterproof membrane between the bricks and framing. Contrasting brick patterns and colors can punctuate the appearance and tinted mortar can provide extra interest.
Brick, partly because of the expense of installation, is one of the most expensive siding choices, but it can last almost free of additional maintenance for hundreds of years. Just look at Monticello!
Stone is durable and handsome, but is generally the most expensive siding choice because of both the material and the labor cost of installation. Still, stone’s texture and drama are impressive. A less expensive option is a stone-veneer siding of either natural stone or one of the modern synthetics including vinyl.
Once you’ve Chosen your Material
First, if you live in a development with architectural requirements, be sure your homeowner’s association approves your siding.
Next, obtain bids from several installers. Check with the Better Business Bureau and, if possible, previous clients. Don’t install new siding over old unless the existing siding is absolutely sound. In addition, new siding should attach to the house’s framing, not just the previous siding. Ask about waterproofing materials, caulking, and the possibility of adding extra insulation.
By Marilyn Pribus
Marilyn Pribus lives with her husband in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. They are happy with their fiber-cement siding, although they duel with carpenter bees on the wooden soffits every spring.