We often get questions from homeowners who need to replace their wood siding and are trying to decide whether to stick with cedar or reclad the whole house with fiber cement.
Both are great options for that traditional American look of clapboard or shingle-style siding.
But which one is right for you?
Cedar siding is typically made from Western Red Cedar, but sometimes White Cedar is used. It can be applied in the form of horizontal lap panels or traditional shingles or “shakes.” It can be painted or treated with stain, oil, or even left untreated.
Fiber cement siding is a man-made product made from a composite of sand, cement, and cellulose fibers, pressed together to form planks or shingles. It comes primed and painted, but can also be painted after installation.
Each has its own benefits, so there are a number of things you should keep in mind:
Cedar Siding Aesthetics
Cedar siding comes in many different styles, including lap siding, bevel, and traditional cedar shakes or shingles.
You can also get a modern, seamless look with tongue-and-groove panels, or a rural look with board-and-batten.
Fiber Cement Siding Aesthetics
Like cedar, fiber cement can be used to achieve many styles such as lap or clapboard, shingle, and board-and-batten. It also comes in various finishes that mimic wood grain, from a modern smooth finish to a more rustic rough-hewn look.
Fiber cement does a good job of replicating the look of painted wood. If you examine it very closely, you may notice that the grain is perhaps a little too even and perfect to be real wood.
But from the curbside, it looks so much like wood that it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference.
Take a look at some of the close-ups, and see how well fiber cement stacks up against wood…
The one aspect where fiber cement cannot compete with cedar is if you want to use a clear sealant or semi-transparent stain to reveal the natural wood color underneath.
Fiber cement can only replicate the look of painted wood.
Some homeowners like the look of weathered White Cedar, and leave it untreated to take on a silvery patina over time.
Fiber cement cannot replicate this weathered patina, so you will need to use cedar to achieve this look.
Neither wood siding or fiber cement are the cheapest options in home siding. Fiber cement generally costs slightly more than vinyl siding, at $3 to $4 per square foot for materials. Cedar siding can run $5 to $7 per square foot.
You should also keep in mind that the maintenance required with cedar siding adds thousands to the overall cost. You will need to paint or stain cedar siding every 3-5 years, and periodically repair or replace the shingles or panels.
So be sure to factor in the long-term costs of cedar when making your decision.
With the nearly maintenance-free durability of fiber cement, you will end up saving many thousands of dollars over the long run.
Durability & Maintenance
With proper maintenance, cedar siding can last for many years. Cedar is a very durable species of wood that resists rot and pests much better than other types of wood.
With cedar, the most important thing is to minimize exposure to moisture which can cause rot.
This means you should maintain a finish coat of either paint or stain to seal the wood against the elements.
Paint will need to be scraped and repainted every 5 years, while stain needs to be reapplied every 3 years.
Cedar is vulnerable to woodpeckers that will drill holes in wood siding, allowing for insect and moisture penetration – not good.
Fiber cement is extremely low-maintenance and requires only periodic washing with a hose. The paint finish on
James Hardie siding is guaranteed not to fade or chip for 15 years.
Fiber cement is also very durable. Because of its cement content, it is impervious to termites, woodpeckers, and other pests.
It resists rotting, warping, and cracking. It will withstand extreme weather including rain, snow, hail, hot sun, and even hurricane-force winds.
That’s why hurricane and tornado-prone areas in the U.S. specify the use of fiber cement siding in their building codes.
In the event of a fire, your choice of siding may make a difference to the amount of damage to your home. Cedar siding will add fuel to the flame unless the cedar has been specially treated to be fire-retardant.
Fiber cement will not ignite when exposed to direct flame or extreme heat and has been rated for fire-resistance-rated construction (ASTM E119).
Both wood and fiber cement are a great choice for “green” siding.
Wood is biodegradable, so it won’t be sitting around in a landfill for hundreds of years. It also requires less energy to produce than synthetic options, like vinyl siding.
Although, it’s good to make sure that the cedar you select isn’t from old-growth timber. Choose wood that has been certified by the Forest Service Council (FSC) to minimize impact on forests.
Fiber cement is made from inert materials (sand, cement, cellulose fibers, and water) that are sustainable and won’t release toxins into the environment.
Some CO2 emissions occur during the production of fiber cement. But its durability also requires fewer resources for replacement and maintenance.
Fiber cement is approved for use in LEED® rated buildings.
So which type of siding material should you choose?
The truth is, the answer is different for everyone. But in our experience as trusted exterior home improvement contractors in the Hudson Valley, we recommend James Hardie fiber cement in most situations.
We install all types of siding, and we see how well they hold up over the years. It’s clear to us that it’s the best choice when you consider all of the options.
Your home is an investment, and although cedar may offer a unique aesthetic appeal, we think fiber cement offers the best long-term value for your money.
Check out our page on James Hardie fiber cement siding