Q&A / 

Fiber Cement Siding – It’s a Serious Contender!

DEAR TIM: My husband and I are building a new home. The style will blend both clapboard siding and stucco-like panels. Wood rot is a major concern. Vinyl siding does not appeal to me whatsoever. I am looking for an attractive solid material that will not rot and is wind and fire resistant. I grew up in an old home that had a hard weather resistant siding material. Is this material still available? Jill - Manitowac, WI

DEAR JILL: This is your lucky day! Your parent's home was very likely covered with a fiber cement product. The technology is nearly 100 years old. Cement fiber siding products are still manufactured today. New styles, sizes and products will allow you to cover the exterior of your new home with a rot, fire, wind and insect resistant material. Fiber cement siding products represent some of the most exciting exterior products available to homeowners today.

At the turn of the century a French company was making fiber cement siding and roofing plates that had a unique ability to resist "fire, frost, acid and ants." This material was exported worldwide in vast quantities from Australia to America. There are thousands of 80 and 90 year old homes in my own home town that still have this original material on their exterior walls and roofs. Fiber cement building materials have a proven track record for resisting rot - that is a fact!

Years ago the fiber cement products incorporated asbestos as the fibers. Soon after it was discovered that asbestos posed a serious health hazard, cellulose was substituted as the fiber material. Portland cement, ground sand, additives and water make up the balance of this wonderful building product.

Fiber cement building products are attractive. You can choose from a variety of clapboard siding styles that have embossed wood grained texture or smooth finish. The siding products come in a multitude of widths that will permit you to have clapboard exposures ranging from 4 inches up to nearly 11 inches. The stucco panels you desire are also available. You can purchase those with a smooth, stucco, or vertical rustic groove appearance. The rustic panels have a wood grained finish with recessed vertical channels spaced at 4 or 8 inch centers. You can even purchase fiber cement soffit panels to finish the underside of your roof overhangs.

The fiber cement products are complimented by numerous weather resistant vinyl trim and ventilation accessories. The trim pieces are used at inside and outside corners, where soffit pieces abut against one another and as a flashing material when the stucco panels abut one another. The vinyl trim pieces are extremely tasteful. They must be used if you want your fiber cement siding and stucco panels to block wind driven rain and snow. The vinyl trim readily accepts paint.

Fiber cement siding planks offer a unique capability. Because of the rigid nature of the product, you can blind nail many of the available sizes. Each clapboard is nailed approximately 1 inch from the top edge. The next overlapping piece hides the nails below. This allows you to produce a siding job free from the polka dot appearance nails cause on many traditional wood sidings.

Your color options are virtually unlimited. 100 percent water based acrylic paint grips cement fiber products exceptionally well. The siding planks and stucco panels also accept stains. Because the cement products do not expand and contract to the extent that wood does, paint rarely peels and blisters.

I intend to use cement fiber siding on the next house I build. Aside from its many positive features, it is competitively priced. Fiber cement siding in my region costs slightly less than the highest quality vinyl siding. Redwood siding costs two and one half times more than fiber cement siding. Fiber cement products are ideal for remodeling or repair jobs as well. I urge you to give it serious consideration.

Author's Notes :

March, 1998

I just received an e-mail from Bev A. in Atlanta, Georgia. She indicated that fiber cement siding in that region "...had a warped look to the exterior when regarded (viewed) from the side." This condition could be an installation defect and/or a workmanship error. The wavy appearance might have been caused by using wall studs that were not crowned properly (all humps pointing the same direction) or using wall studs that had a huge range of crowns or none at all.

She called the manufacturer and was told that the siding had probably not been backprimed. The point is this. Manufacturer's instructions must be followed by the builder. You need to make sure that this happens. Sure, I know you expect the builder to do this, but here is a possible instance of where a builder might have taken a shortcut. The Web now allows you to gather good information about critical aspects of home construction. Take the time and educate yourself and you will be rewarded with a great job! Be careful out there!

August, 2008

Richard Huddle of Wauseon, OH, emailed with this additional information.

"Tim,

I really enjoy your newsletter. I hope you enjoy your new home in New Hampshire.

I am writing regarding the "painting fiber-cement shingles" article in this issue. I am not sure what is meant here by "fiber-cement shingles" but I do know that at one time the fiber used in fiber-cement shingles was asbestos. I work in the asbestos removal industry and see this material regularly. At one time it was manufactured by Johns-Manville and sold under the trade name "Transite". These shingles are very hard and brittle and are textured to resemble a cedar shake shingle. If you flip an loose one with your finger it will ring just like a fine china plate.

As long as the shingles are in good condition they provide excellent protection to the house exterior. Just caution your readers to be sure and DO NOT scrape the shingles with a paint scraper or wire brush. The shingles can be washed with soap and water and scrubbed with a nylon or natural bristle brush. Do not use a power washer since the water pressure may dislodge asbestos fibers. As long as the shingles are maintained with a good coat of paint they pose no hazard and provide additional insulation to your house in addition to being fireproof."

Rick

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