Siding Buying Guide

New siding can give your home an immediate makeover and help make it easier to sell later. But siding isn’t purely decorative—it’s also your home’s first defense against the elements. Loose or cracked panels or shingles can allow entry to moisture and insects, leading to expensive structural damage.

At Consumer Reports, our testing shows significant performance differences among siding types and brands. Some siding is far less resistant to cracking from impacts in warm and cold weather, and some is less likely to stay put in a windstorm, based on the simulated 150-mph winds in our testing. We also find that some siding made from vinyl, still the best-selling material, is more prone to color change under ultraviolet light, especially important in sunny climates and where trees don’t provide much shade.

Use this guide to determine which material—vinyl, wood, or an alternative siding, such as fiber cement or plastic—best suits your taste and budget.

What to Know Before You Buy

Thanks to better graining and deeper profiles that cast wider shadows, some vinyl, plastic, and synthetic siding gives you the look of wood for a fraction of what you’d pay for the real thing.

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 by 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, and other areas that won’t be covered. Because siding is sold by the square—shorthand for enough material to cover 100 square feet, 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—and flat enough—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, install a moisture barrier beneath the new siding, and add flashing around doors and windows. 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. Wood and fiber cement siding is susceptible to leaks, especially where it meets windows and doors; five dollars’ worth of caulk added to the butt joints, corner joints, and areas around windows and doors 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.

Siding Side by Side

Weigh the look you like against upkeep and cost. Prices listed are per square (100 square feet). Figure on 20 squares and $5,000 to $10,000 in labor for a typical 2,300-square-foot house. Here are the types of siding to consider.

Vinyl siding.

Vinyl Siding

Low price and minimal upkeep make vinyl by far the most widely sold 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 your style preference or whether the architecture in your neighborhood makes the added realism and cost of plastic, fiber cement, or even real wood a more appropriate choice.

Siding Ratings
Plastic siding.

Plastic Siding

These shingles and shakes can closely resemble cedar, even up close. Plastic, like vinyl, requires minimal upkeep. However, plastic is much thicker than vinyl and can be two to three times more expensive. 

Siding Ratings
Fiber cement siding.

Alternative Siding

This category comprises siding products made of composites such as fiber cement, a blend of cement, sand, and cellulose, which looks the most like real wood. Fiber-cement siding is fire- and insectproof, but water can damage it during freezes and thaws if its paint is allowed to degrade. It comes factory-primed but also can be ordered prepainted for a higher cost; while your color selection is limited, factory coatings tend to last much longer. Whether primed or prepainted, fiber cement must be refinished periodically, though less often than wood.

Siding Ratings
Photo of wood siding on a house.

Wood Siding

Although wood shingles and clapboard offer traditional charm, they’re very expensive—wood clapboard is less expensive than shingles but still costs more than vinyl or fiber cement. 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 factory-primed or both primed and painted. (As with fiber cement, factory finishes cost more and come in a limited color selection, but they might last longer.) If it’s painted or stained, it requires periodic refinishing.

Siding Ratings

Features to Consider

Certain attributes can enhance the appearance and durability of siding.

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: In addition to making vinyl siding more rigid, foam backing adds insulation.

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