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Siding

Siding buying guide

Last updated: October 2013

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Getting started

New siding is one of the most visible ways to give your home a makeover now and make it easier to sell later. And siding isn't just decorative: Loose or cracked panels or shingles can allow entry to moisture and insects, leading to expensive structural damage. What's more, performance can vary significantly between and even within types. Use this guide to find a replacement.

Our tests have found significant differences by type and brand--and even within the same brand. Some siding is far less resistant to cracking from impacts in warm and cold weather, an especially important consideration for active families with children. And some is less likely to stay put in a wind storm, based on our simulated 150-mph winds. We've also found that some vinyl siding--still the best-selling kind--is more prone to fading under ultraviolet light, especially important in sunny climates and where trees don't provide much shade.

The thickest and most expensive vinly siding tended to perform best in our tests, although several thinner and less expensive products did almost as well. While you'll often pay more for the strongest, longest-lived vinyl, we've found some very good products can cost far less yet perform nearly as well. Vinyl, plastic, and other synthetic materials are also getting much more realistic: Thanks to better graining and deeper profiles that cast wider shadows, some vinyl siding looks much more like wood for a small fraction of what you'd pay for the real thing. Check under Types to determine which material--vinyl, plastic, fiber cement, or wood--best suits your taste and budget.

Buy the right amount

An installer will calculate how much siding your home needs, but you can make a rough estimate without climbing a ladder--and avoid overpaying someone you hire. Simply multiply the height times the width of each rectangular section of your house in feet, going by what you can measure from the ground, to determine its area. Multiply the approximate height and width of gables and other triangular surfaces and divide each total by two. Then add all the totals. To allow for waste, don't subtract for doors, windows, or other areas that won't be covered. Finally, divide the total square footage by 100 to estimate how many squares of siding you'll need.

Get it installed right

We recommend having a professional install your siding. If the old siding is sound, new siding can go over it. But rotted wood siding should be replaced and the wall behind it checked for damage--something that could save you tens of thousands of dollars in structural repairs later on. If the old siding is removed, have a moisture barrier installed beneath the new siding, and add flashing around doors and windows. Fasteners should attach to wall studs, not just the sheathing. The installer should center the fasteners in the slots and leave a gap as thick as a dime between the panel and the fastener heads to allow for expansion and contraction.

Make it last

You can extend the useful life of your siding with simple maintenance and repairs. Siding is susceptible to leaks, especially where it meets windows and doors. A $5 tube of caulk could ultimately save you thousands of dollars in structural repairs. If you live in a region with cold winters, check the siding under the eaves for water stains, possibly a sign of ice damming. Adding attic insulation and sealing any gaps around pipes and ducts into the attic may help prevent future damming--and may lower your heating and cooling bills as well.

Types

Weigh the look you like against upkeep and cost. Prices listed are per square (100 square feet). Figure on 20 squares and $1,800 to $4,000 in labor for a typical 2,300-square-foot house. Here are the types of siding to consider.

Vinyl


Low price and minimal upkeep make vinyl by far the most popular siding material. Vinyl needs no painting. It won't warp or twist, and it's impervious to insects and water. But it can rattle, crack, melt, and burn. Some vinyl products may look like wood from a distance, but not up close. Before you settle on vinyl, consider whether your taste or the architecture of your neighborhood makes the added realism and cost of plastic, fiber cement, or even real wood a more appropriate choice.

Plastic


These shingles and shakes can closely resemble cedar, even up close. Plastic, like vinyl, requires minimal upkeep. Though less rigid than vinyl, it resists impact better in cold weather.

Fiber cement


This blend of cement, sand, and cellulose looks the most like real wood. Fiber-cement siding is insect-proof, but water can damage it during freezes and thaws. Whether primed or pre-painted, fiber cement must be refinished periodically, though less often than wood.

Wood


Although wood shingles and clapboard offer traditional charm, they're very expensive. Wood is resistant to impact, but it can warp, twist, and burn. And it's vulnerable to rot, insects, and woodpeckers. Wood can be finished or left natural, and it's available primed or painted. If it's painted or stained, it requires periodic refinishing.

Features


When installing siding, there are some features to consider that can enhance the appearance and durability. Here are the siding features to consider.

Deep profile

On clapboard-style vinyl, a profile that's raised an inch or more deepens shadow lines, making the siding look more like wood. It's also likely to be more rigid and less wavy when installed.

Double-hem nailing area

The best vinyl siding has a double-layer mounting hem, which provides stronger attachment and better resistance to high winds than does a single-layer hem.

Extra-long panels

Some vinyl siding comes in 16-foot or longer lengths to reduce the number of seams on long, unbroken walls.

Finish

For fiber cement, consider whether the added color choices and cost savings of painting it yourself outweigh the longer durability of a factory finish.

Foam backing

Besides making vinyl siding more rigid, foam backing adds insulation.

   

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