But few other home improvements have such a dramatic and immediate impact on curb appeal. According to the same report, homeowners can expect to recoup around 80% of the cost of a vinyl siding project upon resale, making it one of the most financially rewarding home improvements.
It’s also one of the most confusing, because there are so many options. And like the first impression your home makes on visitors, siding is a high-stakes decision that, with any luck, will last for decades. So here’s what you need to know before choosing a stunning new look for your home.
In the modern market, residential siding options can be simplified into two main categories, said Joseph Danz, president of Boston Exterior Remodeling in West Roxbury. “There is a synthetic coating and there is a real wood coating.” Homes have worn many species of wood over the years, but the two main types of wood siding are red cedar and white cedar, both of which are naturally rot-resistant due to the fragrant tannic acids present in their heartwood.
Red cedar, which grows in the west, is a taller tree with a denser grain, so it can be used for larger shingles, clapboards (those long horizontal strips), and shingles (similar to shingles , but with a thicker, rougher cut that gives them more texture and weight). Eastern white cedar, grown in places like Nova Scotia and Maine, is a smaller species used primarily for shingles — like the ones you see in Nantucket.
Cedar is the most durable siding material available, said Phil Kaplan, director of Kaplan Thompson Architects in Portland, Maine, and co-host of the Green Architect’s Lounge podcast – at least, if it was harvested responsibly. He recommends asking for wood certified by the board of forest stewardship. “More people should really start looking at FSC wood,” he said. “The price premium is not as high as before.” Because eastern white cedar is grown nearby, it has the least embodied carbon—that is, the emissions resulting from its harvesting, production, and transportation to the job site—of all the coatings.
Cedar can be pre-stained or pre-treated with oils to extend its life (if staining or painting, be sure to coat all sides with a shingle or clapboard before installation for maximum durability). But even untreated, cedar is durable. “Cedar shingles will last 20 to 25 years on the wall if left untreated,” MacDonald said. “If they’re dealt with, you’ll get even longer out of them.” Red cedar tends to darken as it ages, while white cedar usually turns gray.
The main drawback? Cedar siding is expensive, especially right now. Between the COVID shutdowns and supply chain issues, MacDonald said it’s become more expensive, if not impossible, to source the materials needed to outfit an entire cedar home. “Lumberyards had a really hard time getting this at a good price, so it’s not something you can really quote these days,” he said. “Because a lumber yard will only sell you – if it even has any – a limited amount, usually not enough to make an entire house.”
There are also a handful of newer and niche wood siding options, including some that rely on natural treatments to extend their lifespan. Acetylated wood, for example, is treated with acetic anhydride (a much stronger relative of vinegar), and roasted wood is essentially cooked at very high temperatures to strip it of its energy, making it less susceptible to pests and to mould. “These actually wood-based products are much more sustainable; they don’t rot,” Kaplan said.
When it comes to rot resistance, however, vinyl and other low-maintenance, unnatural materials have won favor with builders and homeowners. In 2020, 72% of new homes built in New England were vinyl clad, according to census survey dataagainst 16 percent dressed in the second, wood.
And while traditional vinyl siding — the ubiquitous double-row panels of 4-inch clapboard, seams and all — is the most affordable siding option, “there are little tricks of the trade to make vinyl really doesn’t look like vinyl,” Danz said, like taking care to put on authentic window trim. “It’s not the days when Sears would walk around the neighborhood and sell you thin vinyl siding that only came in three colors.”
If a homeowner can afford the upgrade, Danz likes to use a product called Grayne: a cedar-like synthetic coating made of PVC. “It looks like individual cedar shingles, but it comes in the form of a panel,” he said. “The other plus is that it has 2% waste and a class A fire rating – that’s unheard of.”
As a vinyl upgrade, MacDonald is a fan of CertainTeed Cedar Footprints, made of PVC and available in a variety of textures, sizes and colors. However, the complicated installation increases labor costs and waste. “It’s a very specific cut and nail pattern, so instead of the 10% scrap factor you have with wood or fiber cement or vinyl siding, it’s more like a 20% scrap factor “, he said, especially when installed on an old Victorian. with nooks and crannies or varied windows. “Labour costs double [of standard vinyl siding]then buying the hardware costs almost four times as much,” he said.
Other composite coating options include GenuineExteriorbased on polymer and fly ash (a by-product of coal combustion); Eternal, which is approximately 80% PVC-based resin mixed with inorganic materials (such as crushed stone or fly ash) and long-lasting acrylic colorant; and SmartSidemade from strands of wood treated with zinc borate and bonded with wax and non-PVC resin.
From a practical standpoint, another reason Danz loves Grayne is that it’s easy to remove if a homeowner wants to install a deck or add-on later. “Everlast is a nice product, but it has this locking mechanism where they stack on top of each other, so you can’t remove a panel halfway through the wall,” he said.
Another composite material, fiber cement siding, has become extremely popular over the past two decades. It usually contains cellulose, cement and sand or fly ash. This makes the product durable if installed correctly, but also heavy and difficult for contractors to use. Fiber cement is not vulnerable to insects, fire or rot – and although it requires less maintenance than wood, it does occasionally require a fresh coat of paint, which it holds up well.
Some fiber cement panels, however, contain silica dust, which can be harmful to installers when cutting it to size. And owners have had mixed results with the product; CertainTeed has paid more than $100 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that its fiber cement siding warped and cracked prematurely.
“We’re not touching the fiber cement siding,” MacDonald said. “It attracts a lot of dust, [and] the product breaks easily.
“In Central America it seems fine, but in New England it’s eaten alive,” Danz agreed. “I removed more cement panels than I ever put in.”
“Not all fiber cements are the same,” replied Andrew Bella, Sales Manager/Northeast Region for James Hardy, perhaps New England’s best-known producer of fiber cement products. “Hardie fiber cement products have been specifically engineered for the climate to withstand the harsh New England weather, resisting damage from water, pests, rot, high winds, extreme temperatures, hail and even fire.”
It’s what’s underneath that counts
For all the attention to siding, it’s the elements underneath that really do the hard work of protecting your home from the elements. “All coatings are sacrificial to some degree,” Kaplan said. “The liner, by itself, is not what keeps water out.”
This job relies on a weather barrier, such as Tyvec or Typar house wrap, or a peel and stick membrane such as Vycor or BlueSkin, which is applied over the sheathing (the boards or plywood that make up your exterior walls ). “[The siding] effectively protects the water barrier from direct exposure to sunlight and rain to keep this water barrier in good condition,” Kaplan said.
This is one of the reasons Danz always removes old siding instead of installing new material directly over the old. “You’re only as good as what you’re nailing something to when you’re doing these overhauls,” Danz said, and the old siding could be hiding rotten siding or other issues. “We only have one formula, where we take everything apart, fix the rot, add Vycor.” (Danz prefers Vycor over BlueSkin because it’s more transparent, so he can see what’s behind the membrane. But both products are a step up from regular home wrap, providing a watertight seal. air in addition to water resistance.)
In cedar applications, in particular, there is one last important undergarment: a rainscreen. Whether it’s a layer of mesh that sits behind the shingles or a series of thin batten boards that create an air channel behind the clapboards, allowing the sheathing to s drain and dry out.
“It basically creates a space between the liner and the water resistant barrier that allows air to get in behind it, so the liner doesn’t push directly against the liner, where it tends to rot if it’s wet,” Kaplan said. . And openings at the top and bottom should have real screens to keep insects out.
It’s time to accessorize
Anyone who’s bought a new coat knows that it’s a great opportunity to get a matching hat or scarf, if there’s room in the budget. Likewise, there are other home projects that go well with the new siding.
If you’re looking to upgrade windows, for example, without resorting to replacement windows (which add a frame into the existing frame, robbing you of valuable daylight), a siding project is the perfect time to do it. It’s also a great time to blow some insulation into your walls, which most Massachusetts residents can do for a great price thanks to Mass Save. “The best insulation you can have is still the one in your walls,” Danz said.
After all, in New England, it doesn’t matter how nice your new coat is if it doesn’t keep you warm and dry on a cold January night.
Jon Gorey blogs about homes in HouseandHammer.com. Send feedback to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @jongorey. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp.