Securing a Future in Siding

Vinyl remains a strong choice even for historic homes, while fiber-cement is gaining ground with new options.

July 31, 2003


Lemonds Siding & Window Co. in Hastings, Neb., used vinyl siding by Alcoa Home Exteriors Inc. on this award-winning historical restoration project in Hordville, Neb. Photos by Karen Kempf.

For remodeling contractors, few things are as tough to match as exterior siding. You probably have come across many sizes and styles of hardboard siding, asbestos wall shingles, wood shingles, vinyl siding, aluminum siding, board and batten, plywood panels - the list goes on and on.

Just doing repairs on a building, much less matching existing siding when building an addition, often takes a fair amount of research and legwork. Hopefully, the materials you need still are being manufactured or at least can be found at a salvage yard. If your company does large-scale, historical renovations, the task can be daunting.

The easiest and sometimes most cost-efficient way to match is to not match at all but to remove and replace or cover the existing siding. In this article, we look at two types of products on the market - vinyl and fiber-cement - that help remodelers justify a total replacement.

Historical uses of vinyl siding

I live in a historic district designated as a Historic Overlay Zone, and the Historic Preservation Board must approve all exterior improvements. Vinyl siding is forbidden. Having served a three-year term on the board, I doubt vinyl siding ever will be approved for use in any application on our wonderful collection of bungalows, Victorians and Craftsman-style houses.

Does this mean vinyl siding should never be used on older properties? Not at all. Many examples exist of highly successful historical remodels in which vinyl or similar products were used.

"Vinyl can be done well on historic renovations due to its flexibility and abundant lap sizes," says Karen Kempf, co-owner and sales manager of Lemonds Siding & Window Co. in Hastings, Neb. "We can often imitate the original siding to maintain the historic look of the house."

Lemonds recently won three Awards of Distinction from the Vinyl Siding Institute, including one for a historical project in Hordville, Neb. (see photos).


On this remodel, The Sawhorse Co. is using Hardiplank Select Cedarmill 81/4-inch lap siding and Hardishingle staggered-edge panels.

Innovations in vinyl

Contoured foam underlayment is one of the biggest breakthroughs in vinyl siding technology. Several manufacturers sell products tightly fitted to the underside of the vinyl siding, increasing energy efficiency and impact resistance. Most installers use a foam sheeting under the vinyl siding. This leaves hollow areas at the fat part of the profile. The new foam snugs under the whole profile, filling the void and increasing impact resistance.

Progressive Foam Technologies Inc. markets its underlayment product under the brand name Fullback. According to the manufacturer, the material is shaped to fit precisely behind nearly any vinyl siding profile sold in the United States. The material is made from expanded polystyrene and has thermal expansion properties similar to vinyl siding's. It costs about 10% more than conventional foam sheathing.

Another manufacturer, Crane Plastics, fuses its product directly to the back of a vinyl facing, creating a solid insulated wall system. The insulation and siding are installed simultaneously, and depending on the product selected, the system has an overall R-rating of 4 to 4.5.

This system costs about 35% more than conventional vinyl siding but can result in much lower labor cost than if you used a separate insulative foam underlayment.

Also, Crane says the product helps bridge wall irregularities and interlocks tightly at seams to create a straight, solid wall appearance without the waviness sometimes associated with vinyl siding. This is great for remodelers when covering old walls that have lots of "character."

Both products are engineered to allow moisture to escape, greatly reducing the potential for mold growth.

Gains in fiber-cement siding

Fiber-cement siding has been used for some time in new construction and now is making big inroads into remodeling. From new profiles and widths to pre-stained finishes, the innovations in fiber-cement siding just keep coming.

Long known for its strength and dimensional stability, fiber-cement siding is composed of cement, sand and cellulose fiber that has been autoclaved (cured with pressurized steam). It has great weathering characteristics and resists rot, fungus, termites, mold and fire.

Most manufacturers give a 50-year warranty on their fiber-cement siding products, which are generally more expensive than vinyl siding. The installed costs, however, are typically less than with masonry or synthetic stucco.

John Dybsky, marketing manager for James Hardie Building Products, says fiber-cement siding "gives contractors a chance to upsell. It is a great alternative to vinyl siding, and for product-based remodelers, it gives their clients another option to consider." A great benefit for homeowners is lower maintenance - fiber-cement components hold paint better and longer than wood-type products, generally seven to 15 years instead of the typical three to five years.

My company has used fiber-cement siding on several remodeling projects, usually whole-house remodels and additions where we could match the existing siding easily. Here are several tips we have learned the hard way:


Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options
Insulative siding options

Tip No. 1: Expect the siding job to take a little longer than if you were using, say, hardboard or cedar siding, especially if your crew has never installed fiber-cement siding. If you use subcontractors, make sure they are experienced and know what they are getting into. Too many subs think they can throw up a few boards for a tract house builder and then call themselves "siding experts," ready to install anything called siding. They usually get into trouble when they underbid the job on time, waste and trim details.

Tip No. 2: Many remodelers prefer to use other materials such as cedar and hardboard around windows, doors and corners. This practice is sometimes a throwback to when fiber-cement siding was just coming out and the manufacturers were not providing their material in adequate sizes for trim applications. Now, all kinds of pieces are available, such as 5/4 boards in at least four widths and perforated panels for vented soffits.

Tip No. 3: Invest in equipment. With fiber-cement siding, the wrong tools can lead to dull saw blades, ragged cuts, excessive dust and a frustrating experience.

Most manufacturers advise using a carbide-tipped saw blade, snapper shears or a guillotine-type cutter. Hardie even has developed the "Hardie Blade," a four-tooth, polycrystalline, diamond-tip blade. It is manufactured and distributed by Hitachi and can cut up to five sheets at a time. Don't cut wood with it, and it will last a lot longer.

Tip No. 4: Any product containing silica should be treated with respect. Always use a dust mask and safety glasses when sawing, and either cut outside or in a very ventilated area. And don't try to lift too many pieces at once - this stuff weighs 2.3 pounds per square foot.

Tip No. 5: Before you sell your clients on using a great new product with pre-stained colors and fancy trim pieces, get confirmation from the manufacturer that the material will be available not only when you place the order, but throughout the construction process as well. We had one client decide to replace a wall of existing masonry with the fiber-cement siding we were using. You can imagine how pleased we were to discover that our material had been discontinued. It took several weeks and lots of heartburn to locate and ship what we needed from another distributor two states away.

Having said all of that, we still have found great success with fiber-cement siding and will continue to market it to our clientele. Both fiber-cement siding and vinyl siding have secured their futures in remodeling.

Kenton Pass is the founder and co-owner of The Sawhorse Co., a design/build remodeling and custom home building firm in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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