As more and more homeowners incorporate green building techniques in combination with style, affordability, and durability one product is rising above it's peers in the field – fiber cement siding. Although the product has been around since the 1970's, modern manufacturing methods have increased the availability as well as the style choices available to homeowners. The product has seen massive appeal not only for the homeowners who get to look at it everyday, but also the builders and contractors who are sourcing materials, doing bidding, and actually installing the product. Here's a look at 23 reasons why fiber cement is so revered across the board.
1. Long Life Span
All of the benefits of fiber cement combine to give it one of the best benefits in the siding industry-longevity. Fiber cement is a composite of sand, cement, and cellulose fibers which are not only sustainable materials, but ones that withstand the weather, wear, and insects compared to other siding materials. While the upfront costs of fiber cement may be higher compared to vinyl or aluminum, pro-rating those on an annual basis over 50+ years actually makes for a more affordable deal. In fact, a University of Minnesota study recommended fiber cement as the best blend of cost, durability, and environmental impact.
2. Versatility in Style
Fiber cement offers a striking beauty just in the material makeup alone. Compound the natural looks with advanced manufacturing methods and the options for curb appeal aesthetics are bountiful. For example, Allura USA features over 22 different colors and 6 different textures to choose from. Customers can enjoy a stucco or wood grain look (among others) at a fraction of the price and much less maintenance.
3. The Best Way to Emulate Wood
Try as they might materials like aluminum or vinyl simply cannot emulate the look of wood. Whether it be from their natural gloss or the inability to print realistic grains on their surface faux wood vinyl siding is rarely believable far away, let alone up close. Fiber cement on the other hand is perhaps the most realistic option for a wood look without wood staining, repainting, and sealing. The texture of fiber cement has a natural wood feel and the grains can be produced as if they were formed over years in the forest.
4. Installation Options for Aesthetics
In addition to the various colors and textures of the material itself, there are plenty of options in the actual shape and installation types for fiber cement board. Allura USA features lap siding, shingles and shakes, or panels that can be installed as is or for the board and batten look. These aesthetics can be mixed and matched within the same project to create a totally unique look from a popular material. Fiber cement soffit and trim also add to the one-of-a-kind looks that the product can create.
5. Material is Fire (and Heat) Resistant
Vinyl siding can easily become melted when operating a barbecue grill, running a lawnmower, or even smoking a cigarette in the vicinity. Likewise in the unfortunate event of a house fire all (untreated) cedar siding does is become fuel. Fiber cement components on the other hand are 1-hour, fire resistance rated and will not ignite under direct flame or heat. Fiber cement has a flame spread rating of 0 and is a Class I material, which for comparison so is brick.
6. Largely Weather Resistant
The fire resistance of fiber cement is great for the safety of your home and family but to get the most out of the investment the product has to last awhile. Because of it's composition of sand, cement, and cellulose fibers the fiber cement will not be damaged by hail like aluminum siding may be. Extreme heat and humidity can also wreak havoc on some siding types but the makeup of fiber cement makes it dimensionally stable and protected from being damaged in these conditions. The product will also not wear or deteriorate (excessively) under constant UV exposure.
7. Resistant to Warping and Rotting
Fiber cement looks like wood but doesn't act like it. This is a good thing when it comes to absorbing moisture from rain, snow, and heat and humidity. Wood will traditionally swell, warp, and rot which significantly limits its life span but that is not an issue with fiber cement. What's great is that the material does not even need to be sealed to enjoy these benefits.
8. Ideal for Tornado and Hurricane Prone Areas
The strength and moisture resistance of fiber cement is what makes it a great choice for tornado and hurricane prone areas. Wind-blown objects and excessive gusts can completely destroy vinyl or aluminum siding whereas fiber cement simply absorbs them. This is great not only for homeowners, but contractors who do not need to use valuable time and resources making siding repairs for their customers. Fiber cement siding is very prominent on the Atlantic Coast and the Great Plains among many other regions.
For the absolutely lowest priced siding up-front there is no comparison to vinyl. Of course the looks and style leave much to be desired and do little to increase the curb appeal or market value of the home. According to Homewyse the cost to install fiber cement siding in the exact middle of the USA (Lebanon, KS) is between $8,900 and $12,700 or anywhere from $4.49 to $6.39 per square foot. Compared to the high marks for wood ($7.03 per sq ft.), aluminum ($7.01), or vinyl ($5.18), fiber cement is very competitively priced.
10. Minimal Maintenance Required
One of the great things about fiber cement is that maintenance is not required but is available. What this basically means is that the product does not need to be stained or painted like wood but can be touched up unlike vinyl or aluminum. There is also no regular pressure washing needed like there is with vinyl and aluminum. The only real maintenance that may want to be performed is the reapplying of caulk along the fiber cement edges if it starts to rot after 7-8 years.
11. Made From Sustainable Materials
Cedar is a sustainable and recyclable material but remember the wood must come from somewhere. Fiber cement on the other hand is a mixture of sand, cement, and fibers that contain recycled wood. Disposal plans are still being developed for fiber cement board, mostly because the product has only been around for 30-ish years and lasts 50 or more. Compared to vinyl siding production fiber cement is much more sustainable, being inert compared to the toxins that are released along every level in the life cycle of vinyl.
12. Approved for LEED and Historical Building Renovations
It can be hard to not only fulfill green building recommendations, but also doing so under the guise of historical building and city permit codes. Fiber cement accomplishes both as evidenced by Allura siding being eligible for certain LEED credits. In addition, cities such as Rhinebeck and LaGrange in New York State have approved fiber cement siding for use in their historical district with many other cities following suit. Both homeowners and contractors have more options when it comes to finding suitable finishing materials on projects in these areas.
13. Entire Installation Provides Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency for a home is recommended anywhere you can get it. Fiber cement siding as an entire installed system provides great thermal resistance, comparative to wood but significantly improved over vinyl or aluminum. Starting with the sheathing layer of plywood, OSB, or foam and continuing with the house wrap the underlayment of a fiber cement installation does a great job of preventing heat transfer. Combine that with the density of the siding itself and installing fiber cement (along with upgrading windows) should provide significant utility bill savings.
14. Installation Isn't That Difficult
One of the supposed biggest disadvantages of contractors installing fiber cement siding is how difficult it is to work with. Granted the material doesn't cut as fast as vinyl or aluminum and the long pieces are more brittle than wood but labor costs and resources aren't that increased. Fiber cement installation is a two person job but any type of siding should be if done with quality. Gaps do need to be left on edges to account for the expansion and contraction of the fiber cement material (and in wood) but if anything that increases the cutting tolerances.
15. Fiber Cement Cuts a Variety of Ways
Another common gripe among installers is the disdain with the amount of dust kicked up during cutting. This is true when using a circular saw but there is more than one way to cut the material. Using either a dedicated sheer or a drill attachment cuts the material slower, but it does so without kicking up anywhere near the amount of dust. Plus, even circular saw dust attachments do a great job of collecting airborne particles without sacrificing cut speed.
16. 50-Year Warranty or More
Many household building products boast about their longevity but do little to back up that claim. Shingles are a great example, offering a 15 year warranty but one that is prorated to pennies on the dollar of the original purchase. The Allura 50-year warranty provides up to double the replacement reimbursement from the 1st to 35th year and full price from the 36th to 50th. This is a huge advantage for homeowners knowing they'll likely only need to side their house one time and for contractors knowing that a company stands by their materials.
17. Material Has Been Around 100 Years
Some consumers may feel that a 50-year warranty on fiber cement siding is simply calling a bluff. After all, fiber cement siding has only been around since the 1970's and is still 15-20 years away from knowing whether it lasts the full 50 or not. The truth is, fiber cement has been used as siding since the 1970s but the product itself was patented in 1901 under the name “Eternit” roughly translated in Latin to mean everlasting. As modern fiber cement manufacturing processes advance it only makes sense to think that the longevity of the product will extend as well.
18. Also Available in Panels
One of the biggest allures of metal roofing for construction contractors is the fact that 3' X 14' sections of roof can be covered in seconds compared to laying and layering multiple 12” X 36” of individual shingles. Fiber cement siding has the ability to offer that increased coverage as well in the form of architectural panels. The panels come in sizes up to 4' X 10' and are a great way to not only add unique style, but cut down the installation time as well. Even lap siding products are available in widths ranging from 4” to 12” and 12' long.
19. Can Be Painted On-Site (Or in the Factory)
The main theme of fiber cement is options. From the various styles and colors available to widths and more. Another great option is having the fiber cement siding come primed only (paint on site) or in the finished colors. Painting the siding can be a great way for homeowners to save on some materials costs or to change the color of the siding down the line using acrylics. Contracts can also touch up any blemishes that may result in the handling of the materials.
20. Expands and Contracts Less than Wood
Although their will need to be expansion gaps left to account for expansion and contraction in the changing climate, the amount is much less than wood. This helps the contractor who can get away with less than an 1/8” gap instead of recutting the plank. Less expansion and contraction also means that the seam joints will spread apart less, which lessens the possibility of water damage. Since the boards will shrink and expand less, they should be installed closer together at butt seams to avoid gaps.
21. Can Be Face Nailed If Needed
While most fiber cement boards are blind nailed for aesthetic reasons, they can also be face nailed if needed. The ability to face nail a fiber cement board both on the top as well as the bottom or middle makes it more secure in high wind climates. The nails on the face can easily be covered with touch up paint and are difficult to distinguish anywhere other than up close. Comparatively, vinyl or aluminum siding can only be fastened at the top nailing lip.
22. Replacing Single Boards is Easy
In the event that a fiber cement siding board is damaged, fixing and replacing is much easier than other materials. By simply prying up the adjacent boards in the area the damaged board can be removed and replaced. Even just sections of the compromised board can be cut out and removed instead of the entire piece and multiple adjoining rows as with vinyl, aluminum, and other multiple overlapping siding.
23. Installs Straighter
Aluminum and vinyl siding are considered easy to install because they simply snap into place. This is both a convenience and a possible risk as a 6'4” 285 pound worker's “tight” snap is different than the 5'6” 120 pound guy on the other end. Plus, it can be easy to trust the 'snap' instead of measuring each piece which can lead to a crooked installation that needs to be removed down to the missed piece. Installing fiber cement takes longer because you need to measure each placement, but it also ensures the rows are being put on straight.
Fiber cement siding definitely has it's advantages which will push for the material to become much more mainstream sooner rather than later.