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Your home’s exterior needs durable, long-lasting siding to protect it from inclement weather, insects and more. Fiber cement and vinyl siding are two popular siding choices that offer this protection, although their properties vary. Fiber cement is a combination of natural products, including Portland cement, sand and wood pulp, while vinyl siding consists of PVC, which is a synthetic plastic also used for vinyl flooring. Find out which performs best in your climate, suits your style and fits your budget.
On This Page
- Vinyl Siding vs. Fiber Cement: What’s the Difference?
- Vinyl Siding vs. Hardie Board: Pros and Cons
- Hardie Plank vs. Vinyl Siding: Which is Better?
- Installation and DIY
- Insulation and R-Value
- Ease of Cleaning
- Environmental Friendliness
- Cement Board Siding vs. Vinyl Siding: Which is Best?
- Vinyl Siding vs. Fiber Cement vs. Other Materials
Vinyl siding and fiber cement serve the same purpose: enhancing the appearance of and protecting the exterior of your property. But there are some key differences to be aware of before making your decision.
Vinyl siding is a durable PVC (polyvinyl chloride) sheathing that can mimic natural materials like wood, stone or tile. It’s the same material used in vinyl flooring and is a popular choice for home siding because it’s affordable and easy to clean and maintain.
You’ll find vinyl siding available as horizontal or vertical planks, shingles or faux logs. For colder climates and homes that lack energy efficiency, insulated vinyl siding is available.
Fiber cement is a blend of Portland cement, sand, water and cellulose fiber (often wood pulp). This affordable, exceptionally durable siding can mimic wood or stone. Fiber cement siding is environmentally friendly and easy to clean and maintain. Unlike vinyl siding, it also tolerates painting and staining.
James Hardie™ Board is a high-end brand of fiber cement siding called HardiePlank® that has become so synonymous with fiber cement siding that the terms are used interchangeably, along with Hardie board and Hardie plank. This brand of fiber cement siding is low maintenance, fire resistant, weather resistant and insect resistant. However, it does take longer to install.
Vinyl siding and fiber cement both have distinct pros and cons that determine which type is best suited for your project.
- Does not need painting
- Color is 100% homogenous (color on top runs all the way through)
- Inexpensive: Vinyl siding costs $3 to $12 per square foot
- Low maintenance: Easy to clean with a garden hose
- Ideally needs professional installation: Improper installation leads to inefficiency and other problems
- Shows age and weathering in 10 to 15 years
- Fades with prolonged exposure to direct sunlight
- Painting is not recommended as it peels and cracks comparatively quickly
- Pressure washing can crack the siding and water can enter through new or existing damage
- Siding planks can split or break due to temperature fluctuations that cause expansion and contraction
- Not suitable for patching: If the siding is damaged, you’ll have to replace the entire plank
- Can lower the value of property
- Condensation may become trapped between the siding and the polystyrene insulation board
- Not environmentally friendly: The manufacturing process releases greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxide and carcinogens, including dioxin
- Durable: Can withstand almost any weather condition
- Tough: Waterproof, fire resistant, pest and insect repellant
- Longest lifespan of any other siding material: High-quality fiber cement siding comes with 30- to 50-year warranties
- Long-lasting color: Up to 50 years with proper care
- Available in different colors and textures: Can mimic wood, stone or tile. Bespoke designs are also available
- Environmentally friendly: Natural materials and sustainable production practices
- Withstands storms, extreme weather and dents and dings
- Difficult to install
- High labor cost
- Some maintenance required
- Needs repainting when color eventually fades
Best for Your Budget: Vinyl
Cost is a deciding factor when you’re working with a budget. To figure out the total approximate cost of siding for your property, you need to work out your home’s exterior square footage.
Vinyl siding costs $3 to $6 per square foot for materials and between $2 and $5 per square foot for labor, which equates to $5 to $11 per square foot for materials and installation.
Fiber cement siding costs $5 to $25 per square foot, including materials and labor. The materials alone cost between $1 and $15 per square foot, and labor ranging from $4 and $10 per square foot.
Best Appearance: Fiber Cement
Your home’s exterior is the first impression visitors get of your property, so the siding’s appearance is important.
- Closer to the look of real wood
- Uniform grain appearance
- Shows dirt and imperfections more easily
- Lacks the same curb appeal
Easiest to Maintain: Vinyl
Understanding how much maintenance is necessary before you begin your project is critical to making your decision.
- Needs minimal maintenance
- Requires yearly cleaning, but not with a pressure washer
- Needs more maintenance than vinyl but stays looking better for longer
- Requires repainting and re-caulking every 5 to 10 years
- Maintains cleanliness and attractive appearance with a yearly washing, but power washing is not advisable
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Best for DIY: Vinyl
Whether you choose vinyl or fiber cement siding, professional installation ensures your investment is applied correctly. However, let’s explore the ease or complexity of the installation process for each type of siding.
- Light and easy to install
- Hard to damage when installing
- Incorrect installation can lead to vinyl siding cracking, buckling or otherwise breaking, along with the potential for water damage
- Heavy and difficult to transport: 100 square feet weighs 300 pounds, while the same amount of vinyl weighs between 60-70 pounds
- Easy to break if not handled correctly
- Requires professional installation
Strongest in Unexpected Storms & Fires: Fiber Cement Siding
Understanding the durability of each type of siding lets you decide which is best suited to your local climate and offers the best value for your money.
- Becomes brittle with age
- Susceptible to damage from strong winds and hail
- Susceptible to buckling, cracking and warping with temperature fluctuations
- Resistant to mold, rot and insect damage
Fiber Cement Siding
- Can crack while settling
- Resistant to mold, rot and insect damage
- Withstands stormy conditions
- Can withstand moderate impact damage
For A Cozy & Warm Home: Vinyl
Neither vinyl nor fiber cement siding offers much insulation. Both have low R-values. The R-value is a measurement of how much heat a material prevents escaping from or getting into your home.
- Weak R-value of 0.61
- Insulated boards available
- When combined with insulated house wraps, vinyl siding’s R-value can reach 4+
- R rating of 0.5
- For cold climates, it’s best to apply an insulated house wrap before siding installation.
- Adding a house wrap can increase R-value to 4
If you’re investing money in the exterior of your home, you want to keep it looking pristine for as long as possible with minimal effort. Plus, cleaning with the wrong equipment can damage your siding.
- Easy to clean
- Avoid power washing, as this can cause cracks in vinyl and and cause moisture problems
- Stubborn stains are easy to remove with a soft-bristled brush
Fiber Cement Siding
- Remove dirt and debris with a soft-bristled brush and a regular garden hose
- Get rid of oil, grease spots and other stubborn stains with dish soap and water
- Avoid using harsh chemical cleaning agents or power washers, as these can damage the surface
Best for the Environment: Fiber Cement
If your environmental impact is important to you, understanding the ecological cost of each type of siding helps to inform your decision.
- PVC, the main component of vinyl siding, is not environmentally friendly due to the production process
- Not recyclable in many facilities
- Emits hazardous dioxins when burned in landfills
- Made of natural materials
- Material won’t emit hazardous gases and chemicals
- Recycling options not available yet
- Sustainable production processes: Does not require excessive fossil fuel consumption
- Not renewable or recyclable, but its long lifespan means it won’t end up in a landfill for many years
While the difference in their R-values is negligible, some important differences can help you determine whether fiber cement or vinyl is the best siding for your home.
Fiber cement is the best option for hot climates. It’s breathable, doesn’t shrink and expand with temperature variances and handles humidity well.
For extremely cold climates, fiber cement is the better choice because it withstands sub-zero temperatures without warping or cracking. If the area is also prone to winter storms, fiber cement is also resistant to high winds and impact damage from hail and debris. However, vinyl has a slightly better R-value (although still low). So whichever option you choose for cold climates, it’s wise to install an insulated house wrap before applying your siding.
Consider other popular siding materials to ensure you’re not overlooking a product that suits your needs better than vinyl siding or fiber cement. And, if you need expert advice, contact a home exterior professional near you who can let you know which material is best for your specific location and property.
Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS), also called synthetic stucco, has six layers: a water-resistant barrier, adhesive, foam insulation, base coat, reinforcing fiberglass mesh and a textured decorative finish. Similarly to vinyl siding, the primary concern with EIFS is the potential for moisture to seep in, so it’s essential that gutters receive regular maintenance and direct water away from the property. All openings like door and window frames require sealing to prevent water damage. One advantage of EIFS is that it’s a much more efficient insulator than either fiber cement or vinyl, with an R-value of between 4 and 5.6.
Wooden siding is a traditional, environmentally friendly option. It’s durable and will last for decades if properly maintained and also adds value to your property. Cedar, redwood and treated pine are popular decay-resistant options, although it’s important to note that they require regular maintenance, resealing and applications of insecticide to stay free of pests and termites. If you want to find out if this traditional option is right for you, talk to a local wood siding contractor.
Traditional hard coat stucco is a low-maintenance, durable, affordable home exterior option that’s impact- and fire-resistant. It’s heavy, weighing 10 pounds per square foot, and requires professional installation. Hard coat is easier to repair than EIFS, vinyl or cement fiber siding as it can be patched.
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