Siding Buying Guide
Installing new siding can give your home an immediate makeover and offer a relatively high return on your investment compared with other remodeling jobs. In Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value report for 2020, replacing vinyl siding returns 74.7 percent of your investment, based on average job costs and resale values nationwide. Installing fiber cement siding, a wood-look product that’s less costly than the real thing, returns 77.6 percent. Only two remodeling jobs offer better returns: installing a manufactured stone veneer (95.6 percent) and a replacing a garage door (94.5 percent).
That’s good news, considering how expensive new siding can be. The average vinyl job costs more than $14,000, and the average fiber cement redo tops $17,000, according to Remodeling magazine. So doing your homework before you buy is a must.
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, something to consider, especially if you live in a sunny climate and/or 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.
How CR Tests Siding
We evaluated 10 vinyl siding products made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and five alternative siding products made of fiber cement, polymer, or a combination of PVC foam and other materials. Here’s what we measure in our siding tests.
Color change: We subject light-colored siding samples to 1,000 hours of ultraviolet light, about twice the strength of sunlight. These accelerated weathering tests mimic the exposure siding would encounter on an actual house. We then compare the color change with original, unexposed panels.
Warm and cold impact resistance: To check how well siding resists impact from fallen objects and other mishaps, we release a weight from different heights onto the seam of overlapping siding panels, at both 0° F and 70° F. Then we evaluate any damage.
Wind: To gauge a siding model’s ability to stay attached to a house in the wind, we subject siding attached to wood studs to an environment that simulates high winds. The best products stay attached at simulated winds exceeding 150 mph.
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.
Get the Most for Your Money
You might be tempted to save money by placing a new layer of siding over an old one, but removing old siding and starting from scratch is generally a better approach. “Removing the old layer will reveal any damaged sheathing that might need repair,” says Rich Handel, who oversees siding testing at CR. He adds that putting a new layer over an old one might make your house look strange. “Windows and doors could appear inset.”
In fact, if you expect to replace windows in the next few years, a good time to do so is when you’re re-siding. You’re going to have to remove siding when you install new windows anyway—unless your plan is to use replacement windows. In that case, you’ll be putting a frame inside a frame and won’t be disturbing the siding.
You can save, though, by keeping your siding choices simple. Details such as scalloped edges, cedarlike shake, and barnlike board and batten can be more expensive than traditional straight-edged panels. Mixing patterns can also cost more; abutting two different styles so that they remain watertight can require extra labor.
Have It Installed Right
Siding can refresh a house’s appearance, but it can also create an eyesore by buckling or warping if it’s improperly installed. Even worse, shoddy installation can allow moisture to find its way to the bones of the home, where it could cause mold or rot, compromising the house’s structural integrity.
So we recommend having a professional install your siding. To increase the chances of finding a capable contractor who will do the job right—and be available to fix any problems that might arise—look for siding installers who have been working in your area for at least five years, and check their references.
Contractors certified by the Vinyl Siding Institute have been trained in the best installation practices and can be found through the VSI website. The websites of some vinyl siding manufacturers also have search engines to help you find reputable local installers. As with any contractor, check local and state licenses, Better Business Bureau ratings, and certificates of insurance.
Be a Smart Shopper
When you interview contractors—CR recommends that you speak to at least three—request all-inclusive price estimates. To make comparisons, you’ll want to know the total price for materials, labor for teardown and installation, and disposal.
Even if the installation price is firm, you can ask a siding company to offer an upgrade or other enticements, such as free gutters and leaders. And don’t assume the contractor or retailer offers the best financing. You might find better terms from a bank or credit union.
Also, ask installers to explain the company’s workmanship warranty. Examples we’ve found online range from one year to a “lifetime,” and don’t always detail what they cover. Most warranties for the siding in our ratings protect against product defects for the first homeowner’s lifetime; for a second owner, the warranty is typically 50 years, prorated from the time of installation.
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.
When siding is properly installed, any water that gets under the siding should drain, and the underlying sheathing and framing should dry. But water driven behind siding from pressure washing may remain, and surfaces that stay wet can rot or become moldy. To prevent that, CR recommends not spraying directly into gaps. As an alternative, you can clean siding with soapy water and a soft-bristle brush on a pole, then rinse the surface with a gentle spray.
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.
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 and whether the architecture in your neighborhood makes the added realism and cost of plastic, fiber cement, or even real wood a more appropriate choice.
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.
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. (Hardie Plank is one widely known brand.) 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.
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.