Siding Materials

Jim Mallery | Improvement Center Columnist | December 14, 2011

There comes a time when you have to choose sides - siding, that is. Are you a traditionalist? Or do you lean toward modern, synthetic products? Check out the advantages and disadvantages of these common siding materials, before you commit to install the first panel.

1. Aluminum and steel siding

Advantages and disadvantages of aluminum siding: At an average $2.50 to $3.50 per square foot, it's less expensive than most siding, and more durable. Aluminum siding resists rot and requires little maintenance. On the downside, it chalks, fades and dents over time; aluminum also conducts electricty, so keeping it out of contact with electrical wiring is important.

Advantages and disadvantages of steel siding: "Strong as steel" says it all. Steel resists pests and most types of weather, although high winds can cause problems by enlarging fastening holes, which lets moisture seep underneath siding. Expect to spend about $7 to $8 per square foot.

2. Fiber Cement siding

Advantages: Fiber cement siding is made from a composite of cement and cellulose fibers. It is often made to mimic wood; it does a good job achieving the look--and a better job resisting the elements. Termites, fire and water can't stop fiber cement siding from looking good for its estimated lifespan of 50 years.

Disadvantages: It is heavy and more difficult to install than cedar or vinyl siding, so you'll definitely need a professional. Proper installation and maintenance are essential to protecting fiber cement boards from water damage.

Cost: The sticker price can start at $4.50 and reach $11 per square foot, depending on the quality of materials and size of the job.

3. Stucco and brick siding

Advantages and disadvantages of stucco siding: While the complexity of installation makes stucco a higher price-point siding at $6 to $9 per square foot, it's fire resistant, energy-efficient, and takes paint color and other applications well. It also comes in numerous textures, such as smooth, course, raked and swirled.

Advantages and disadvantages of brick and stone veneer siding: Calfinder estimates these sidings run $11 to $15 per square foot, making them more expensive than other sidings, but about half the price of natural stone. Stone veneer can lean toward looking "faux"; but durability, fire-resistance and energy-efficiency may add up to being more important in the long run.

4. Vinyl siding

Advantages: Now the most common siding material, early vinyl siding would fade and split, but technology has improved durability. Today's vinyl colors can hold up for years, and vinyl siding is virtually maintenance-free. It can also be made to mimic any look, including clapboard, shake, brick or stucco.

Disadvantages: It traps moisture, lending itself to mold and mildew. Strong wind may cause the siding to rattle or even may dislodge it.

Cost: For the accomplished DIYer, vinyl siding can be installed for about $1 per square foot. For professional installation, you're looking at $2 to $7.

5. Wood sidings

Advantages of cedar siding: Cedar--and its close brethren redwood--have long been an aesthetic favorite of homeowners. The wonderful aromas and distinctive natural beauty of the red and yellow grains lend these woods timeless appeal. Cedar can be milled to almost any siding shape, the most common being bevel and lap planks. Properly maintained, cedar siding should last several decades.

Disadvantages of cedar siding: It costs more than vinyl or fiber cement siding, ranging from $7,000 to $10,000 for a 1,250 square foot house, depending on the cost of lumber in your area. Cedar also needs more maintenance than vinyl to prevent damage from the elements. Whether painted, stained or sealed, you need to periodically redo the finish on cedar siding.

Advantages of pine siding: From knotty pine to the log cabin aesthetic, pine siding comes in many looks. It also holds paint and stain well.

Disadvantages of pine siding: Requires regular maintenance to prevent rotting and a decline in appearance. Often buckles or warps after a few years. Considering all that goes into upkeep, the high-end sticker price--about $6750 to $7500 for a 1250-square-foot home, according to CalFinder--definitely needs to be considered.

Regardless of the siding materials you choose, the best way to protect your investment is to do it right the first time. Know the look that interests you. Then get estimates from siding contractors by filling out the form on this page.