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Fiber Cement Siding – Pros, Cons and Options

Fiber cement siding is steadily cutting into vinyl siding’s market share due to its compelling blend of painted-wood appearance, outstanding durability and very competitive price. This cement fiber siding guide will allow you to make an informed decision about whether to use this material for your siding project. We will give you some background, compare and contrast fiber cement with vinyl, look at fiber cement siding pros and cons and fill you in on all the different fiber cement siding options. For Fiber Cement Siding prices and installation cost click here.

Fiber cement sidingSource: www.jameshardie.com

What is Fiber Cement Siding?

Knowing what is in fiber cement board makes it clear why it offers so many pluses as a siding material. It is made of:

  • Wood pulp that adds flexibility/reduces brittleness
  • Silica sand or fly ash that bulks up the material
  • Portland cement containing limestone, clay and iron that binds and hardens the material
  • Water that activates the cement

To make siding planks or panels, the liquid mixture is partially dried and then pressed into thin sheets on huge rollers. Several sheets, still wet enough to fuse, are pressed together to form the board. Some rollers are embossed with a woodgrain pattern that is left on the board to mimic authentic wood. The sheets of fiber cement board are then baked to dry and harden them. The last major steps include cutting the large sheets into dimensional planks and panels. Some are painted or primed while other products are left unpainted.

As an alternative, the liquid material can be poured into molds to produce the look of brick, stone or cedar shake.

The first type of fiber cement board was created in by Austrian Ludwig Hatschek in 1901 and dubbed “Eternit” (Everlasting) due to its hardness. The material initially included asbestos fiber for additional strength, a practice that was phased out several decades ago.

In the 1980s, fiber cement (or fiber-cement) siding began its ascent to rock star siding status behind innovations introduced by the James Hardie Company in Australia. Boasting a long list of advantages, Hardie Board became a global building material popular in the United States. Seeing the obvious benefits of this material, other manufacturers including Nichiha, GAF and Allura went big into fiber cement siding. See our Fiber Cement Siding Manufacturers and Reviews guide for more information on these companies and their product lines.

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Fiber Cement Vs Vinyl Siding

This head-to-head comparison of cement fiber siding and vinyl siding exposes their relative strengths and weaknesses. So let’s look at the pros and cons of fiber cement siding compared to vinyl.

  • Fiber cement siding is rising in popularity and used on about 15 percent of new construction in the US
  • vinyl siding use has fallen to about 27 percent of new construction

Where they are equal:

  • Both materials resist insects
  • Both fiber cement siding and vinyl siding return about 80 percent of their cost when a home is sold
  • Both materials are recyclable
  • Neither material provides significant insulation value

Where vinyl siding is better than fiber cement siding:

  • Factory-painted fiber cement will have to be painted after 10-15 years, while vinyl siding is colorfast
  • Fiber cement board requires occasional re-caulking in addition to repainting while vinyl siding needs washing but little else
  • Bare fiber cement siding will absorb moisture and may rot; vinyl siding won’t do either
  • Fiber cement siding projects cost 30 percent to 50 percent more than vinyl siding projects (but vinyl will have to be replaced once during fiber cement’s lifespan)
  • Fiber cement materials are not certified by an independent quality-control agency; vinyl siding is certified by ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) International

Where fiber cement siding is better than vinyl siding:

  • Fiber cement won’t burn; vinyl will melt
  • Fiber cement siding won’t become brittle with age or extreme cold; vinyl can become brittle with either
  • Fiber cement withstands hail and wind-blown debris better than vinyl siding
  • Properly maintained fiber cement will last 50+ years while the lifespan for vinyl siding is 20 to 30 years
  • Fiber cement board has a profile that more accurately replicates wood than vinyl siding

Where there are trade-offs to be considered:

  • Fiber cement siding is available in fewer styles and colors than vinyl, but it can be painted or stained while vinyl cannot be

Pros and Cons of Fiber Cement Siding

Many of these were alluded to in the comparison with vinyl siding, so here’s a brief summary of fiber cement siding’s good and bad qualities.

Fiber cement pros:

  • Up to 15-year paint and 50-year material warranties
  • Excellent impact resistance
  • Resists insects; woodpeckers aren’t attracted to it as they are to natural wood
  • Effectively mimics wood, stucco, brick and stone
  • Available in pre-painted material and takes paint and stain very well, providing unlimited color options
  • Costs less than wood clapboard or log siding and is competitive with vinyl siding over its lifespan
  • Higher fire rating (1A) than wood (varies)
  • Handles freeze/thaw cycles without issue
  • Recognized by the US Green Building Council for sustainability because it may use recycled wood pulp and is recyclable
  • More cost-effective than wood, brick and stone

Fiber cement cons:

  • Factory-painted material requires repainting after 10-15 years; material painted after installation needs to be painted more frequently
  • Caulked seams need to be inspected annually, and caulk may begin to loosen in 5-15 years
  • DIY installation is not recommended due to the experience required to handle and hang the material

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Fiber Cement Siding Options

fiber cement composite

The most important question for many homeowners is, “What will my house look like with fiber cement siding?” Let’s explore all your fiber cement siding options. All of these are available in unpainted, primed and pre-painted material.

Lap Siding Planks: The most popular fiber cement siding option remains siding planks that are installed in the same manner as wood clapboard siding. The planks come with pre-drilled nail holes. Some of your plank options are:

  • 25” to 9” in wide
  • Planks 9’ to 12’ long
  • Styles include heavy cedar grain, moderate wood grain and smooth
  • An excellent palette of colors including those that look very much like stained wood

Vertical Panel Siding: These fiber cement board sheets allow you to customize the exterior of your home to look like it is clad one of several traditional materials. Your panel choices include:

  • 4’ wide
  • 8’ to 10’ high
  • A range of styles replicate grooved wood siding, wood panel siding, wood board & batten siding and textured or smooth stucco
  • A good range of colors including stained-wood tones

Shingles, Shakes, Scallops, Bricks and Stones: The fact that fiber cement can be poured into molds while in a liquid state means that it can be formed to any shape. These are the more expensive fiber cement siding options, but they give you amazingly authentic looks without the maintenance issues of genuine wood or high cost of brick or stone. Sheets of shingles, shakes, scallops bricks and stones are available in many sizes, colors and styles.

Read our House Siding Options guide for a full rundown on styles in every siding material.

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