If you’re research siding for the first time then you’re probably wondering what the difference is between fiber cement siding vs vinyl. These two siding options are by far the most popular amongst homeowners and the two most likely choices for your home. In this siding comparison we will compare their appearance, durability, energy efficiency and maintenance, as well as a fiber cement siding vs vinyl siding cost comparison.
For more siding comparisons take a look at the differences between aluminum siding vs vinyl siding
From the road, vinyl and fiber cement look much the same – mostly like painted wood, though faux stone siding is available in both materials.
Look and Feel: Get close, and fiber cement with its beefier thickness has a much more authentic and hardy appearance than vinyl, which can look a little flimsy. Touch the materials, and the difference is stark, as vinyl “gives” and fiber cement does not.
Styles: Both materials come in classic lap siding, Dutch lap, and board & batten plank siding. Smooth and woodgrain texturing are options in either material, as are wood-look shake and shingle panels.
Faux log siding is produced in vinyl but not in fiber cement.
Color options: In terms of color selection, vinyl comes in a wider spectrum than fiber cement. Where the latter has the advantage is that it can be painted to any color you prefer. In fact, if you don’t find a fiber cement color you like, order primed siding and paint or hire a paint contractor to paint it your perfect color onsite.
Vinyl siding is rarely painted because paint doesn’t adhere well to it.
Vinyl siding has a “through” finish, meaning all the PVC is colored, so scratches don’t show a core of a different color. Scratches through the finish of fiber cement show the core – and they must be repaired promptly to prevent the core from absorbing moisture, expanding and requiring replacement of the affected piece.
Fading? Sure, vinyl is produced with color-fast dyes. And some premium siding comes with a fade warranty of at least 10 years. But in time, even the costliest siding will show at least light fading if a new piece is held next to it.
Fiber cement finish can fade too, though factory finishes come with a warranty of 10 years or more. And it has the advantage of being paintable to renew the finish if it fades or you simply want a new color. But beware – once you start painting fiber cement with exterior paint, it will need repainting on roughly the same schedule wood does – every 3 to 10 years depending on your climate and the quality of paint used.
The edge goes to fiber cement in this category.
Fiber cement is just tougher. It withstands winds above 100 mph better than vinyl, and they’re about equal in the face of large hail and wind-driven debris under most conditions. Vinyl, however, is more easily cracked when impacted in cold weather that makes it brittle.
Both resist pests – insects and hungry woodpeckers that mistake the material for wood. Heat will melt vinyl well before it would damage fiber cement.
Vinyl does have a little “give” when hit with something sharp, like a falling branch. The same object might put a scratch or take a chip out of fiber cement.
Fiber cement, when properly maintained, will last more than 50 years. Vinyl, even when cared for, must be replaced in 20-30 years depending on initial quality and the local climate.
ENERGY EFFICIENCY & ENVIRONMENTAL CREDENTIALS
Neither are super-green building materials, but here are a few areas where we can distinguish them.
R-value: Plain vinyl and fiber cement have an insulation value under 1. Insulated vinyl siding is available that boosts it to an R1.8 to R-2.0. There’s no insulating option for fiber cement. The result is a slight reduction in energy used to heat and cool a home sided in insulated vinyl siding.
If you want exterior insulation, your best option is to use rigid foam poly-iso (polyisocyanurate) or XPS foam boards beneath the siding.
Recycling: Some vinyl siding is produced with recycled PVC. And vinyl is recyclable when removed from your home – though too much of it still ends up in a landfill because the homeowner or contractor isn’t proactive about recycling.
Most fiber cement goes to the dump. However, when it breaks down, the materials it is produced from – wood fiber, sand/silica/cement – don’t release harmful substances.
Discarded vinyl will eventually leach dioxins. If it burns, the release of the harmful gases is immediate.
Embodied energy? Carbon emissions? Vinyl siding takes slightly more energy to produce than fiber cement. And it is estimated by Green Home Guide that emissions are moderate for the production of both materials.
If you’re going green, aluminum siding has a high recycled content and is easily recycled. Wood siding is produced from sustainable materials. Both are better options. Discover the difference between white cedar vs red cedar siding.
Vinyl is about as easy to maintain as it gets.
Wash it down with the hose a couple times a year and use a cloth and detergent to remove stuck-on messes if necessary – birds will be birds – and its good looks are restored.
Basic cleaning is similar with fiber cement, but it comes with a longer checklist of extras. First, look for scratches through the finish, and get some paint on them pronto. Why? The inner core contains absorbent wood fiber. It will swell with water, and there’s no remedy.
Any fiber cement board that is cut during installation must be painted and sealed on the cut, or the same problem happens. So, inspect those cut pieces, and keep the inner core covered with paint or caulk. Finally, if the manufacturer recommends caulking at laps to prevent moisture penetration, inspect and repair the caulk as needed.
Vinyl siding is the low-cost leader, but that shouldn’t imply it is junk – especially when you choose “better” or “best” grades in the range of .046” to .050” thickness.
Vinyl siding averages about $6.00 installed when a mix of planks and accent shingle panels are used. The maintenance cost is about zero.
Fiber cement cost averages around $9.00 per square foot when a mix of materials is used, so 50% more. And the painting costs once the factory finish wears thin push the 25-year cost much higher than vinyl.
Looking further out, there’s hope for fiber cement. About the time vinyl siding will need replacing, fiber cement will be good for another few decades with periodic repainting.
For most homeowners, the higher initial cost of fiber cement isn’t a deal breaker. The choice comes down to personal preference, neighborhood standards and whether you’ll be in your current home long enough to make the higher cost worth it to you.
Best wood imitation: Fiber cement
While both look like genuine wood from the road, fiber cement stands out as the better imitation the closer you get. Plus, it is more substantial to the eye and touch, so it wins this category.
Best siding for color choice: Vinyl
Sure, you can paint fiber cement any color you want. But if you’re looking for more color options out of the box, vinyl is the easy choice.
Greenest siding: Toss-up
Vinyl can be recycled, but it contains dioxins that will be released sooner (fire) or later (landfill) if it isn’t recycled. While fiber cement isn’t recyclable, it’s pretty harmless too. It might take up space in a landfill, but won’t affect air or groundwater quality.
Best siding for value: Vinyl
It’s close, but the higher upfront and maintenance costs of fiber cement make vinyl a more affordable choice in the first 25 years. After that, and vinyl is replaced, fiber cement that is still in good condition, needing only a new coat of paint, proves a good value too.