HardiePlank Siding: Gorgeous Stuff, But Is it Worth the High Cost?

HardiePlank Siding
HardiePlank Siding. James Hardie Industries

Caught between two choices--installing inexpensive but plain vinyl siding or spending a fortune to rehab your current wood lap siding--is there a better solutioni?

A product that not long ago was considered the "new kid on the block," but now represents an industry gold standard, may be just the sweet spot you're looking for.  It is a wood-look lap siding called fiber-cement, and its most prominent brand is called HardiePlank.

Lap Siding That Looks Like Wood, Feels Like Concrete

A combination of cellulose fibers and cementitious materials, HardiePlank is fiber-cement siding that comes in long, horizontal strips, just like wood lap siding.  HardiePlank is not to be confused with HardiePanel, also produced by James Hardie Industries.  HardiePanel, also fiber-cement, is the tall, vertical version of HardiePlank--it's 48 inches side by lengths ranging from 96 inches to 120 inches.

HardiePlank is partly wood (the cellulose) and partly mineral. Break a piece and inside you will see a brittle core interlaced with wood fibers.

But the HardiePlank's wood content does not influence its distinctive wood grain appearance. That is the result of a type of molding called embossed texturing.  HardiePlank's embossing serves a couple of purposes.  First, it does create a reasonable simulation of wood grain.  Second and most importantly, it visually breaks up the flat surfaces and gives each board a richer look (James Hardie does offer a smooth texture, too).

Retains Much of Its Monetary Value Even If You Sell

With other types of siding, particularly vinyl siding, it's debatable whether you will be able to claw back your initial investment when it comes time to sell the house.  

But fiber-cement siding, especially HardiePlank, does a remarkably good job of returning project cost upon sale.

Remodeling Magazine rightly considers fiber-cement to be an upscale siding project and estimates that you will recoup 78% of your initial outlay when you sell the home (few projects ever return 100% or more).

Over the last decade, this project has consistently returned between 78% and 100% of its value.

100% Fire Resistant 

HardiePlank is considered to be fire resistant, but not fireproof.  The accurate definition:  HardiePlank does not contribute combustibles towards a fire. By contrast, vinyl siding, derived from petroleum, significantly feeds flames. Wood, obviously, is highly combustible.

In terms of fire resistance, consider HardiePlank a type of neutral building material--not a flame feeder, but not as fireproof as cement-asbestos shingles.

Dead Ringer For Wood. Almost.

One reason homeowners choose HardiePlank over vinyl siding is because it closely resembles wood. 

It will not hold up to close examination. Up close, you will see that the wood grain is fairly shallow and has a uniform pattern. As most people do not look at house siding so closely, its grain is acceptable.

Thick as Wood, Paintable

HardiePlank is nearly as thick as wood siding. Contrast this with vinyl siding which is extremely thin.

Vinyl's illusion of thickness is achieved by creating hollow spaces underneath. HardiePlank runs all the way through.

Also, unlike vinyl siding, HardiePlank can easily be painted. You can either go with the neutral color that HardiePlank arrives with or you can paint it.

Completely Resistant To Insects and Vermin

Carpenter ants and termites are always a problem for wood siding. Insects do not care about HardiePlank because, even though it does have that cellulose fiber, there is not enough of it to interest the insects. As such, HardiePlank is considered to be insect resistant.

3x More Expensive Than Vinyl Siding

HardiePlank--and even generic fiber-cement sidings--will nearly always be more expensive than vinyl siding.

As a rule of thumb, HardiePlank is about three times more expensive than vinyl siding.  Factor in the cost of painting HardiePlank (vs. no cost for vinyl siding) and the factor decreases to about 2.5 times more expensive.

Other factors that drive up cost:

  • While vinyl siding installers are prevalent, fewer siding contractors install fiber-cement.
  • High demand and lower supply drives up costs.
  • Installation takes longer.
  • Shipping costs are higher for this product as it is significantly heavier than vinyl.
  • While optional, fiber-cement siding is usually painted upon installation.  Painting--both labor and materials--significantly drives up total project cost.  Vinyl siding is never painted upon installation.

A Green Building Material

The cellulose fibers used in HardiePlank do not come from endangered species of wood. The cement and sand used is in great abundance. And no toxic materials (i.e., vinyl) are used in its production.

Another oft-ignored aspect that makes it a green building material is simply that it lasts so long. The James Hardie Corporation, manufacturers of HardiePlank, warrants the material for 50 years. But conceivably, HardiePlank can last longer than that, especially if painted and properly maintained.