Should You Install Fiber-Cement Siding on Your House?

Fiber Cement Siding
Fiber Cement Siding. Getty / StanRohrer

Homeowners looking for less expensive ways of siding their house may find it hard to stomach the idea of siding their house with vinyl.  These homeowners want to maintain the traditional look of their house, and vinyl just will not cut it.

Refurbishing the original wood siding would be preferable, until you price it out. And if that wood siding is torn-up, weather-beaten, and termite-eaten, forget about it.

 

Fiber-cement represents a sweet spot between vinyl's cost advantage and wood's style advantage.

Fiber-Cement Is:

Fiber-cement is the name for a category of siding materials that is a mixture of sand, cement, and cellulose, which is added to prevent cracking. This slurry is auto-claved, imprinted with designs, and baked. It comes out as thin, hardened shingles or planks of various sizes.

Install Fiber-Cement If You:

  • Like Longevity:  You plan to be in your home for at least 10 years.  Fiber-cement siding's higher initial cost needs more time to amortize during your ownership than other types of siding.
  • Like The Classic Look:  Your home has a traditional look and you want an older style of siding such as ship-lap.  
  • Can Pay 20% More:  You must be willing, on average, to pay $2,800 more for fiber-cement than for vinyl siding.  This means paying 20% more for a product that, at least visually, looks much the same as vinyl siding.

    What Is It Made Of?

    PercentageNameWhat This Is:
    10-60%Calcium SilicateA white powder derived from limestone.  It helps seal fiber-cement's pores and acts as a passive fire retardant.
    10-30%Crystalline SilicaA finely powdered byproduct of quartz.  Prolonged exposure to crystalline silica also causes silicosis, a lung disease.
    <10%CelluloseAn organic wood product.
    <10%Other IngredientsPigments, fillers, surface coatings, etc.

    Average Cost

    Remodeling Online's Cost vs. Value Report (CVVR) has long been the benchmark for determining reliable project cost across a number of remodeling areas.  However, in 2016, CVVR dropped fiber-cement as a separate category, folding it into the general siding category.  Thus, the last year fiber-cement was reported separately was in 2015.

    Cost was estimated at $14,014 (or about $11.21 per square foot) to:

    • Replace 1,250 square feet of existing siding with primed and painted fiber-cement siding.
    • Install 4/4 and 5/4 trim using either fiber-cement boards or cellular PVC.  4/4 trim is 3/4" thick.  5/4 trim is 1" thick.  

    By contrast, vinyl siding for the same home was estimated at $11,192 ($2,822 difference).

    Year after year, the cost to purchase and install fiber-cement does increase, as one might expect, but not by leaps and bounds.  Total project cost in 2015 was only $717 more than in 2009:

    YearProject Cost - Fiber Cement
    2015$14,014
    2014$13,378
    2013$13,083
    2011-12$13,461
    2010-11$13,382
    2009-10$13,287

    Major Brand Names

    Vinyl siding is seemingly stamped out by millions of manufacturers across the world. By contrast, the number of fiber cement siding manufacturers is quite limited.

    • James Hardie Industries - Brands: HardiePlank, HardieShingle, HardieTrim, HardieSoffit, to name a few.
    • Nichiha - Brands: NichiBoard™ Lap Siding, NichiShake™ Individual Shakes, NichiPanel™ Vertical Siding, NichiTrim™, NichiSoffit™, and others.
    • CertainTeed - Brands: WeatherBoards™ Cedar Groove Vertical Panel, WeatherBoards™ Cedar Lap, WeatherBoards™ Cedar No Groove Vertical Panel, and many more.
    • GAF Materials:  WeatherSide
    • PlyCem/MaxiTile:  Allura
    • Nichiha:  NichiBoard, NichiShake, NichiPanel

    You Will Like This:

    • Cost Compared To Refurbishment or New Wood:  New fiber-cement siding is cheaper than the painstaking process of stripping an entire house of old paint--especially if it is lead-based paint--or using new wood siding.
    • Fire Resistant:  But not fire proof because of the cellulose content.  Still, fiber-cement is considerably more fire-resistant than vinyl or wood siding.
    • Wood Grain:  Imprinted designs imitate wood-grain remarkably well.
    • Durable:  In some ways, fiber-cement is tougher and stronger than vinyl siding.
    • Cheaper Than Wood:  Fiber-cement is more cost-effective when compared to a full-scale refurbishment of wood clapboard.
    • Paintable:  It can be painted, thus giving you a huge range of style choices.
    • Resale Values:  Fiber-cement increases your home's resale value.

    You Will NOT Like This:

    • Cost Compared To Vinyl. Fiber-cement is 20% more expensive than vinyl siding.
    • Brittle:  While fiber-cement has durability advantages over vinyl siding (i.e., it will not bend and warp) it is a brittle product that will crack with sufficient impact.
    • Paintable:  How can paintability be both a positive and a negative?  In contrast to vinyl siding's baked-in color, fiber-cement does need to be re-painted from time to time.  Exterior painting is difficult and expensive.
    • No DIY:  Typically not a do-it-yourself job. In truth, most types of siding should be installed by professionals, but fiber-cement more so.

    Fire Rating

    Fiber cement siding will not completely protect you from fire. But it will slow down the progress of the fire, giving you time to escape.

    Thickness of the fiber cement siding has a bearing on its fire rating. Average HardiePlank has what is referred to as a "1 hour fire rating." James Hardie Industries has a good analogy for this. Imagine a frying plan on a hot stove. The pan protects the food from direct flame, but the food can still cook.

    Insulating R-Value

    R-value is impossible to generalize for all types of fiber cement siding and all manufacturers. But the R-value (its insulating properties) is quite low. Fiber cement siding by itself will not do too much to insulate your house.

    Consider that one type of fiber-cement siding has an R-value of 0.48 (or about half of an R-1).  Relative to the average type of fiberglass insulation installed between studs in residential walls is R-19, that is a very low R-value.