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Siding comes front and center

The top 8 reasons why homeowners are selecting siding to reflect their lifestyle.

April 24, 2013
Mixing and matching siding materials and styles has become a popular way for hom

Mixing and matching siding materials and styles has become a popular way for homeowners to personalize their houses.

A number of factors must be considered when it comes to helping a client choose the correct siding for their home. From an aesthetic or architectural standpoint, there’s a wide variety of materials and styles available—not to mention an enormous color palette. At the same time, the increasing prominence of home performance, energy efficiency, and other related concepts has added a new layer to the conversation as homeowners become more conscious of the house as its own entity.

Despite all of these complications, however, manufacturers are largely finding that it all comes down to one simple thing: how the home looks. “Architectural beauty is the driver,” says Jerry Blais, vice president of marketing for Ply Gem. “Homeowners are trying to improve the overall aesthetic of the home, and they don’t want to give up anything as a result of that.”

Apart from the crowd

Like any other aesthetic trend, the ideal look that homeowners desire has changed over time. During the peak of the housing boom, notes Jennifer Jenkins, siding segment manager at LP Building Products, the “mass cookie-cutter type homes” dominated the landscape, as builders and remodelers simply tried to keep up with the demand. But things have started to change over the past few years.

“Now when people are staying in their homes longer, when it’s time to renovate the home, they want to create a personal style,” says Jenkins, “something that sets them apart from the rest of the block.”

Michael Cobb, vice president of marketing and sales for Nichiha, agrees, adding that it’s largely based on what builders and remodelers have to work with at the time. “Fifteen years ago, many contractors were boxed into only having a lap siding, horizontal type product,” he says. “Now there are so many more choices and styles.”

Homeowners are definitely taking advantage of that ability to choose their siding, whether it relates to materials, styles, or colors. In fact, with such a proliferation of options, many are realizing they don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach, mixing and matching multiple styles, colors, and materials on a single home.

The result, says Jenkins, is something each individual or family can call uniquely their own. “Consumers are looking for more ways to enhance the curb appeal of their home and create a design style that reflects their own personality and style,” she says.

Blake Hobson, director of sales for ProVia, concurs, adding, “People are trying to differentiate themselves any way they can. It’s not just about price anymore.”

Material concerns

The range of materials available for siding or trim allows homeowners to create whatever style they’re looking for. In general, according to Jenkins, right now they’re looking to create a warmer, more natural look that doesn’t require much or any maintenance. Below we examine some of the most frequently used materials today:

1. Vinyl

The trend toward “natural-looking” homes may explain why vinyl, traditionally a popular choice, has started to dip somewhat in popularity. That movement, though, depends on who you ask.

Blais argues that it’s still the top cladding choice in the U.S., especially with the continued improvement of insulated vinyl siding, which is largely driven by improving energy codes. Foam is typically the material used, which gives additional insulation value to the entire wall and also improves the structural integrity of the vinyl itself.    

Staying in line with her claim about the status of “cookie cutter homes,” however, Jenkins says that one-size-fits-all vinyl siding is becoming less prominent, noting that it’s “mostly just if they’re having to replace all of their siding.” She also notes that while vinyl offers a wide array of initial colors, it can’t be repainted very easily if homeowners change their mind.

Jenkins sums it up succinctly: “Consumers will either go vinyl or not vinyl.”  

2. Fiber cement  

If vinyl has been around forever, fiber cement is the new kid on the block, and its popularity has been growing over the last several years. “Every year we see and feel the market share growth of fiber cement as part of the cladding universe,” says Cobb of Nichiha, which specializes in fiber cement building products. 

Why are more homeowners and contractors going for it? There are several reasons, according to Cobb. First and foremost is its versatility—fiber cement can be used in a variety of applications and styles. “We’re seeing more homes using, for example, cedar shake. We see panels used in a board and batten type look. We’re seeing a lot of stone accents as well,” says Cobb. 

Hobson has also noticed fiber cement’s star rising lately, noting that there’s “not much competition out there,” which allows consumers to focus on the benefits rather than the price. “It gives people a lot of options and still gives them the texture that they’re looking for,” he adds.

3. Stone veneers

“People have always loved stone,” says Blais, “it’s just not always been affordable.”

The other part of the problem with stone veneers, he claims, is that traditionally they’ve been difficult to install. “It’s still more of an art than a science, and many contractors are not necessarily comfortable with it.”

Technological improvements over the last several years have made installation less of an issue, says Jenkins. “In many cases, the stones are already configured, so it’s just like putting a puzzle together,” she says.

Ply Gem Stone’s True Stack, released last year, is one such example. It’s a modular system that doesn’t require the use of mortar between the stones (in what’s known as dry stack).  

Blais notes that homeowners are now making use of stone in a variety of formats—such as board and batten and shake and shingle, among others. They’re using it for everything from accent walls to wainscoting to outdoor living spaces.

Adding to the plethora of choices, Blais has also noticed that homeowners are getting stone veneers in “a variety of colors that really make the exterior pop.” Colors and styles, like in other categories, change from region to region. In the Northeast, for example, Ply Gem is seeing stone combined with vinyl, while in the Southwest, stone and stucco is more prevalent.

4. Contractor favorites

While aesthetics may be the most important thing to consider about siding from a homeowner’s standpoint, the perspective is different for contractors. For them, according to several manufacturers, it’s more about the material itself and how it performs.

“Installers want a product they’re comfortable with,” says Hobson, citing factors such as the height of the panels and how they hang. “Ease of installation is definitely a factor for these guys.” 

For this reason, Jenkins sees more contractors trending toward wood products.

Fiber cement scores high on the ease-of-installation scale as well, according to Cobb, which has contributed to its growing popularity. That, as well as the strong performance of the material itself, has more contractors specifying it on projects. “They like it because there are very few callbacks for additional work,” says Cobb. “This ultimately results in more referrals for them.”

5. Color goes to the dark side

While color choice is largely still based on regional factors, several manufacturers are finding homeowners are looking for a combination of darker colors for their siding. Traditionally, there haven’t been many options on this end of the spectrum, admits Hobson, but this increased demand has put manufacturers into an experimental mind set. ProVia, for example, debuted Cocoa last year across several of its product lines

Blais notes that, especially in the vinyl category, “colors have come pretty far over the last 10-15 years” and that the spectrum is now trending toward darker colors.

6. Performance-enhancing siding

While curb appeal and personal style might be the primary drivers when it comes to choosing siding, they aren’t the only game in town. With homeowners living in their houses longer, obviously they want to keep it in the best shape possible for as long as possible. Increasingly, they’re looking to siding to help drive that home performance to new levels.

7. Durability

According to Jenkins, durability is the second most important siding concern for homeowners after architectural beauty. In other words, their siding has to be able to stand up to regional weather conditions, environmental conditions, and regular wear and tear.

For maximum strength, she says that nothing beats engineered wood products. They provide that natural look popular among homeowners while protecting against impact, rot, and decay.

Fiber cement has been lauded for its durability as well, with increased resistance to fire, rot, and insects, according to Nichiha’s Cobb.

8. Green/energy efficiency

In the siding category, most of the energy efficiency concerns center around improving the insulation of the walls of the home. Probably the biggest contributor in this area is any kind of insulated siding, which has seen significant growth over the last several years, according to Hobson and others. ProVia’s CedarMax line falls in this category, offering the protection of insulated siding with the look of natural cedar.

“Basically the insulated siding is going to help you eke a few more miles per gallon out of your house,” says Hobson, “and there’s a lot of benchmarks out there that people are using to track how their home performs.”

Hobson points out that while much of the focus on energy efficiency started around federal tax incentives, few of those programs remain in place today. Those initiatives did get consumers thinking about energy efficiency, however, and he says they continue to pursue it as a way to improve their return on investment in their homes.

As Jenkins notes, though, a high ROI is often essential in order to make customers willing to pay the extra money for green products.

Keeping up with the Joneses

With so many new trends emerging over the last several years, manufacturers realize it can be difficult for remodelers to keep up. That’s why many of them are providing tools to help them figure out what homeowners are looking for.

The greatest innovation along these lines has come in the form of virtual applications that let remodelers and/or homeowners see what their chosen siding will look like before a single board is placed. ProVia, for example, features a program that creates architectural renderings of a home for remodelers and their clients to look at.

Along similar lines, Ply Gem offers users access to its Designed Exterior Studio on its website. They select a style of home and an area of the house to work with; from there, they can change the siding, windows, and more to visualize their dream exterior. The Designed Exterior Studio is part of The Designed Exterior by Ply Gem program.

These and other such tools help remodelers work with clients to give them that unique, architecturally beautiful look they crave. PR

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