Green building products and sustainable design top many homeowner’s lists of things to consider when remodeling or improving their homes. This includes the siding that is used to cover the home’s exterior. Homeowners today have a lot of choices for what to use for their siding, and all of these choices come with a list of attributes to consider. Wood is often seen as one of the more eco-friendly alternatives, but requires a lot of maintenance and upkeep. Vinyl is seen as a lower-maintenance alternative, but is it a truly green solution? Fiber cement siding is more eco-friendly than vinyl, as well as more durable and more attractive, giving you the best material possible for covering your home.
What Vinyl Is Made Of
Vinyl siding is made up mostly of something called polyvinyl chloride, which is a kind of plastic. Like all plastics, vinyl siding cannot be considered a green material for several reasons:
1. High levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are given off when it is produced – in fact, producing vinyl siding gives off twice as much carbon dioxide as producing the same amount of fiber cement siding.
2. Manufacturing plastics like vinyl siding require significant amounts of energy, and give off significant amounts of pollution •Vinyl siding, like all plastics, will not biodegrade over time, so old siding that is disposed of will sit in landfills for hundreds of years.
3. It’s difficult to repurpose vinyl siding, and no recycling programs currently accept leftover or used material.
Not all vinyl may be recyclable even in the case of a new program starting up, as the quality of the PVC used to make the product can vary tremendously from one to the next. This means that lower quality and cheaper types of vinyl not only will produce more significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other forms of pollution, they will end up in landfills after their use.
What Fiber Cement Siding Is Made Of
Fiber cement siding is made very differently from vinyl. It contains no plastics, and is instead made up of a mixture of water, sand, glass (often recycled), Portland cement, and cellulose fiber. Because nearly all of these materials can be found in nature or can come from post-consumer content, there is far less in the way of carbon dioxide and other waste produced in the manufacturing. There’s also little to no VOCs given off during the material’s production, and depending on the manufacturer and the blend of materials, it can contain high amounts of recycled content, making it a much greener product. In fact, it’s very common for manufacturers to include a mixture of things like:
•Recycled, post-consumer wood fiber
•Recycled, post-consumer glass
•Fly-ash in the place of cement, which further reduces the amount of carbon dioxide given off during production and helps ensure a more recyclable final product
In addition, fiber cement is much easier to repurpose than vinyl siding is, meaning that less of it is going to end up in landfills. Left over fiber cement panels or planks can be used for a variety of other products, keeping the product of waste disposal sites. At the same time, fiber cement siding lasts a lot longer than vinyl siding, so it doesn’t need to be replaced or maintained as frequently, lowering the amount of waste and VOCs produced. In fact, maintaining fiber cement can be greener than wood and other types of siding, as the material does not need to be scraped and repainted on a regular basis, helping to ensure that fewer VOCs are given off during its lifetime.
Studies done in Minnesota by the Sustainable Housing Initiative have also found that fiber cement siding can be reground and used as fill in some cases, which further helps to make the product a greener alternative to vinyl. Fiber cement is also recyclable, which can open up the possibility of a greener product in future use. Vinyl siding cannot be repurposed in this way, nor does it last as long as fiber cement, which means that it will pollute the environment more not only during manufacturing, but also after its use as well.
Make the Greener Choice for Your Home
It’s not enough to look for building materials that are durable and attractive for your home; it’s also important to consider the type of impact on the environment that these materials will have as well. When considering lower cost and lower maintenance materials than wood siding, it’s important to remember that fiber cement is a much greener solution to this problem than vinyl siding is. Because the mixture of fiber cement is also able to change and incorporate more recycled content, it also stands to reason that this material can become greener over time, while vinyl cannot. Make the greener choice for your home to ensure the best material possible for your exterior and the environment at once.