The Skinny on Siding: A Go-To Guide For Picking the Perfect Siding Material

Make informed decisions before investing in new siding—from engineered wood and fiber cement to steel, natural wood, luxury vinyl, and more

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Real Cedar

Selecting siding for a home located in the Midwest is about far more than curb appeal. Your siding’s functionality is of equal, if not greater, importance due to our ever-changing seasons—from summer’s sweltering humidity to winter’s sub-zero temps.

If you’re looking to update your exterior’s aesthetic, stop the paint-every-few-years cycle, or simply add value to your home, investing in new siding—whether engineered wood, fiber cement, steel, natural wood, or another option—is a win-win for homeowners. In fact, few remodeling projects offer a similar return on investment, according to Remodeling’s 2020 Cost vs. Value Report. The United States’ average siding ROI? An incredible 77.6 percent.

But which siding is the best choice for your abode? Each material has pros and cons, of course, so the first step in making an informed decision is determining what matters most to you in regard to cost, return on investment, aesthetics, maintenance, and more. Step 2? Keep reading.

James Hardie

Fiber Cement

Often comprised of cement, fine sand, wood fibers, and water, fiber cement is one of the most durable and popular siding options on the market today—thanks largely in part to James Hardie, one of North America’s largest siding manufacturers. “The value we offer to homeowners is the intersection between design and aesthetics and functional performance,” says Marc Setty, director of marketing at James Hardie. “Those things add up to lasting beauty, right? We deliver endless design possibilities. Whether you’re after a traditional look or a more modern, contemporary home, our fiber cement exteriors are engineered for climate.”

Setty is referencing HardieZone, a siding designed for specific temperature and moisture conditions that reflects the needs of cold-climate residences. Resistant to critters, cracking, and combustion due to its Class A fire rating, Hardie siding also employs an exclusive ColorPlus Technology to provide a prefinished option with a baked-on finish that fights fading. The durability, low level of maintenance, and optimal cold-weather performance of fiber cement explain its price tag, which, according to Setty, ranges from $8-$14 per square foot fully installed. “It costs a lot of money regardless of which product you go with,” Setty says, “but it’s very clear why this is a premium product.”

The siding is backed by a 30-year non-prorated warranty, meaning the value doesn’t depreciate over time. “The value is just as strong in year 30 as it is in year one,” Setty says. “Generally, you’re going to see [fiber cement warranties] anywhere from 30 to 50 years, but the value will go down every single year.”

Even though fiber cement is often criticized due to its weight, Setty says it’s a non-concern for homeowners: “It is going to be heavier than natural wood, and a lot heavier than plastic, but how often are homeowners actually picking up the siding?” he points out. “The vast majority of the time, you’re going to be working with a skilled professional who is going to do the project for you.”

Allura—which boasts a 50-year limited warranty and dozens of color options—is another fiber cement siding brand to consider. Alternatives include GAF WeatherSide, Nichiha, and Cemplank Cemboard. Depending on the manufacturer and installation techniques used, fiber cement can potentially absorb moisture, causing it to expand and/or contract seasonally.

Real Cedar

Natural Wood

Prefer the more traditional and rustic look of natural wood? Well-loved for its versatility, natural beauty, and lakeside-cabin aesthetic, natural wood siding options run the gamut from cypress and fir to white pine. Despite its supply, demand, and cost issues, cedar remains one of the most popular wood siding options due to its durability.

“Cedar is the gold standard for wood siding products,” says Paul Mackie, cedar specialist with Real Cedar, the leading resource and brand behind Western Red Cedar Lumber Association. Naturally long-lasting, stable (it doesn’t move like other wood species can, Mackie explains), lightweight, easy to transport, and sustainable, “it’s what all the substitutes are trying to look like,” he says.

As for the drawbacks of natural wood? “Anything outside is the enemy, like moisture and sunlight,” Mackie says. “And, there are no warranties on wood siding, but what you have instead is proven performance. You can get a 25- to 30-year warranty on factory-applied finishes.” Additionally, natural wood siding will require maintenance (think scraping, repainting, restaining, and recaulking) to prolong its lifespan. It may not be as resistant to damage as other options, but it’s easy to install, provides protection you can trust, and features an exterior look you’ll love.

“The primary thing that drives the demand of cedar is its natural beauty,” Mackie says. That demand has at least tripled since the beginning of the pandemic, he adds, leading to increased prices: “The price of wood products is up significantly, and it’s the result of expanding demand and affordable financing rates. It’s a premium product and sells at premium prices.”

Western red cedar and other natural wood siding options are distributed by BlueLinx in Aitkin, Duluth, and Minneapolis; Weekes Forest Products in St. Paul; and Midwest Lumber in Stillwater. It can also be purchased from various home improvement stores (like Lowes) across the Twin Cities metro. Look into SBC Cedar and Shakertown for cedar shake shingles, or visit your local Arrow Building Center for additional cedar siding options.

LP SmartSide

Engineered Wood

Designed to emulate the classic, often-desired look of natural wood, engineered wood comes without the disadvantages. LP SmartSide siding and trim products, for example, are manufactured in Minnesota and use a proprietary SmartGuard process to make the siding a strong, hard-wearing material. “It provides resistance to damage from moisture, termites, and fungi,” explains David Klarich, national business development manager with LP Building Solutions. “It’s a combination of resins, waxes, and overlays. We take a wood product and make it really durable by breaking it down and rebuilding it back together.”

As a result, LP’s performance, authentic appearance, and textured cedar grain patterns not only complement every style and size of home, but also provide protection year round. LP’s warranties imply the same: “On any of our siding products, we have our 5/50 warranty,” says Klarich. “The first five years is an all-inclusive labor warranty and includes materials, tear off, everything. Every single component is covered. Then, up to 50 years, it’s a material-only, prorated warranty,” he continues. “Our ExpertFinish prefinished product (available in 16 colors) has an additional 15-year paint warranty as well.”

According to both Klarich and the Cost vs. Value Report, hardboard siding options like engineered wood have some of the best ROI. “Engineered wood has either been the No. 1 or No. 2 spot on that list for the past several years,” Klarich says.

Even though engineered wood is strong and incredibly resistant to impact, any exterior damage can cause potential headaches, as the siding (depending on your manufacturer and installation team) can warp if it absorbs moisture. Additionally, periodic cleaning may also be required—LP suggests visually inspecting the engineered wood at least once per year and cleaning it with mild detergent and water.

Want an alternative? TruWood and KWP (which consists of 100 percent pre-consumer recycled wood) also offer high-quality engineered wood siding options.

EDCO

Steel

Steel is another siding investment worth serious consideration. Chris Doucet, vice president of sales and marketing at Hopkins-based EDCO Products, explains why: “It’s a maintenance-free product that essentially lasts forever.” Steve Spaulding, EDCO’s product manager, chimes in: “It’s also greener in many ways. Steel is 100-percent recyclable, and the steel we use contains approximately 20 percent recycled content.” The material is also heavily resistant to storm damage and winter conditions.

Its impressive durability is reflected in various manufacturers’ warranties, often up to 50 years or longer. EDCO’s lifetime warranty, for example, stems from its reputation earned over 75 years in business. “We don’t just say lifetime warranty, we mean lifetime warranty,” Doucet says of the various cuts, styles, and colors. “It’s not prorated, and we even offer a 35-year fade warranty.”

Some say steel siding can reduce your home’s ability to maintain a consistent Wi-Fi connection or make your home more likely to be hit by lighting, but Doucet sets the record straight: “All of these are misnomers in our industry,” he confirms. “We enjoy that conversation because steel is not susceptible to that. [Wi-Fi signals] come through windows and other areas, and if you’re not locked in a steel box, you’re going to be just fine.”

But, let it be known: Depending on the manufacturer, steel may be noisy when exposed to rainfall, and it may be prone to denting. Others to research and examine include Gentek, Quality Edge, Klauer Manufacturing, and Ply Gem.

Stucco

Stucco

Long-lasting yet low-maintenance, stucco cladding is an aesthetically pleasing exterior option for homeowners in the Midwest. But exactly how long can an investment in stucco last? “People ask me all the time— there’s all kinds of stucco around the metro area over 100 years old,” says John Laudon, owner and president of United Wall Systems, a stucco contractor in Burnsville. “I’ve seen stucco in Europe that’s over 300 years old. It’s a very durable cladding and allows you to get a look you can’t get with other sidings.”

He adds most homeowners opt to restore—or redash—their existing stucco versus applying it fresh to new homes. “Part of that is because of the problems stucco presented in the ’90s and the misconception the stucco was at fault,” Laudon says. “That wasn’t true, and stucco kind of got a bad name out of it.”

Then and now, if problems do arise, it’s likely due to poor installation, which can result in cracking and insulation issues that lead to mold and mildew. As a specialist in both restoration and repair, Laudon uses elastomeric coatings to refresh exteriors—Sherwin-Williams’ Loxon XP, to be exact—which is an acrylic coating similar to paint but designed for stucco siding. “The biggest difference between these coatings and regular paint is that it seals up the stucco and allows it to breathe. It’s available in any color, and works amazing on hairline cracks.” In Laudon’s eyes, “the only real drawback to stucco is it’s going to cost you more money.” The cost certainly isn’t a “cookie-cutter thing,” he admits, but he suggests budgeting for about $10 per square foot installed.

Natural Stone

Stone

For a timeless aesthetic both tough and long-lasting, consider updating your exterior with a natural stone selection like limestone. “It’s probably the most popular stone, and we see a lot of different colors used for exteriors,” says Ron Vetter, CEO of Vetter Stone. “It’s a really warm, inviting material, and you can pair it with almost any other color. It stays static, and it always looks good.”

It’s also versatile—in both function and appearance. “It can look rustic, or it can look refined and be very linear,” Vetter explains, adding that stone isn’t just used for exterior accents. “We see homes that are truly 100-percent stone with cut elements around doorways, archways, and windowsills, but we also see a combination of materials where [stone is] used on the main front feature areas, windows, and door surrounds,” he says.

Limestone options extend to the color, cut, and thickness of the material—the latter, depending on your project, is especially important to consider. “If it’s a remodel, chances are you’ll have to go with a thinstone product because the home won’t have a stone ledge built into its footing,” Vetter explains, “but in new construction, we see a lot of homes designed to take the 3.5-inch, full-bed material.” (The thinstone, a 1-inch-thick cladding, costs less per square foot and is easier to install than the full-bed material—a thicker, heavier option that comes in various specialty finishes, he explains.)

Sometimes criticized for its moisture problems, “proper installment of stone is critical, and you want a really good mason,” Vetter says, reinforcing the importance of moisture barriers. “If moisture gets behind the stone, it [needs] a way to drain out. That’s the biggest thing—water infiltration—and making sure the mason has done it to industry standard,” he continues. “If they do that, you have a great, longterm job.” Before you purchase, know that stone does not come with decades-long warranties like other siding materials. The biggest con of stone siding, though, according to Vetter? The price tag. “It’s a longterm investment, and because it’s a natural material, it’s more expensive,” he explains, reassuring that Vetter Stone has options to fit any budget.

Alside

Insulated Vinyl

Instead of opting for a traditional vinyl, a hard material manufactured from polyvinyl chloride resin, give an insulated version a try. Despite popular belief, when a high-quality insulated vinyl siding is correctly installed, it can be an energy-efficient and low-maintenance siding selection. “Using insulated siding on a home delivers superior R-value performance (resistance to heat flow) compared to traditional vinyl siding and engineered wood, helping to save money on utility costs,” explains Nick Thompson, senior product manager of siding and materials at Alside, a siding manufacturer with locations in Bloomington, Duluth, and Rogers. “It also has a more solid look and feel than traditional vinyl siding, providing added stability, durability, and impact resistance for the exterior of the home.”

Although 25 to 50 percent more expensive than traditional vinyl, he says, “the cost savings it yields through reduced heating and cooling bills make it a smart upgrade.” While some homeowners choose to install vinyl on the sides or rear of their home to minimize expense, there are perks to installing it in full: “Insulated siding reduces thermal bridging—energy loss through studs of an exterior wall—by covering the outside of exterior wall studs,” says Thompson. “It can help qualify homes under the Energy Star Qualified Homes Program.”

In addition to Alside (which offers a life-time limited warranty on its products), consider brands like Craneboard, Georgia-Pacific, Certainteed, or CedarMAX by ProVia for your insulated vinyl needs. Depending on the brand, though, insulated vinyl can be difficult to repair, darker colors may absorb sunlight due to varying levels of fade protection, and it may expand and/or contract at different rates as temperatures turn each season.

No matter the material you choose, remember the role new siding can play in your life: “It’s like your coat or your shell—you want it to look great, and you want it to protect everything that’s inside,” says Marc Setty of James Hardie. “The exterior of your home is what you project to the outside world, and it’s a true reflection of the family that lives inside.”


James Hardie

Gutter Guidance

Since soffits and fascia are often revamped to coordinate with new exterior cladding, seldom does a siding project not include new gutters, too. In a rain- and snow-heavy climate like our own, installing quality gutters is crucial for a high-functioning home. Whether you prefer fascia, half-round, K-, or European-style gutter profiles, consider the following metals to take your gutters from good to great.

  • Aluminum: One of the more popular options when considering rain gutters, aluminum (seamed or seamless) won’t rust, is lightweight, easy to install, and can last up to 25 years.
  • Copper: Upscale with a hefty price tag, copper gutters give off a weather-worn, old-world aesthetic that flaunts a greenish patina. They can last up to 100 years if properly welded and will not rust or warp in wet climates.
  • Steel: Strong yet potentially prone to rusting, steel gutters are coated with a layer of zinc and aluminum. If cost is a deciding factor, steel is more budget-friendly than copper or zinc.
  • Vinyl: The most affordable of all gutter options, vinyl usually lasts up to 20 years and comes in a variety of colors. If you want to embark on a DIY project this summer, vinyl gutters can be self-installed.
  • Zinc: Another low-maintenance selection both strong and durable, zinc gutters don’t require painting or finishing. Instead, like copper, they’ll develop a beautiful patina over time.

Not sure what’s best for your home? Ask your siding contractor, installer, or manufacturer for recommendations.

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