We explore the three main material options and top brands that make them to find out.

Image Credit: Inchcalculator.com

Overview

The Siding industry is a juggernaut in the most real sense of the word. Driven by a growing demand for residential housing and infrastructure activities, the sector plays host to over 100,000 companies, employees over a quarter of a million people, and is expected to grow from USD 101 billion in 2019 to over 120 billion dollars by 2024. With multiple siding companies and brands fighting for a share of this pie, customers are truly spoilt for choice.

But, which kind of siding material should you go for? And which brand of siding should you ask your contractor to use once you’ve chosen the material? Too often, most homeowners defer these decisions to the contractor and go with what they suggest. While most do have their clients’ best interest at heart, it’s relatively easy to find stories online of clients being misled by their contractors and getting stuck with substandard siding once the project finishes.

The first question to answer is which material to choose. When going through the options with your contractor or by yourself online, it’s important to remember that quality siding can significantly increase the value of a home from an aesthetic standpoint. It makes the property more attractive to potential buyers and shows that it has been designed and developed with care. On the longevity standpoint, siding also acts as a home’s exterior coat of armor. It safeguards the home from potentially expensive problems such as insect infestations, moisture build-ups, mold & mildew growth, etc.

Types of Siding

Siding for residential homes come in a variety of different materials and colors. The most popular types of residential siding are:

Vinyl Siding

Once the domain of wood, vinyl has grown to become one of the most popular siding choices for homeowners across the US. Affordable to purchase, easy to install, and moderately resistant and long-lasting, vinyl siding is the ideal choice for homeowners looking for a reasonably attractive, affordable option that is also low-maintenance.

Top Brands: Mastic, Alside, Certainteed, GAF

Engineered Wood Siding (OSB)

Oriented Strand Board (OSB) is a manufactured siding that is more affordable than conventional wood siding and consists of composite wood materials. Designed and engineered to resist the traditional flaws of wooden siding, OSB is an eco-friendly option for homeowners that does not have a trade-off between looks and performance.

Top Brands: LP Building Corp, Weyerhaeuser OSB Panels, Norbord Industries

Fiber Cement Siding

A material that many in the industry see as the future, fiber cement siding is an amalgamation of concrete, sand, and cellulose manufactured with wood-like traits. Since it’s primarily composed of concrete, it’s incredibly resistant to insects, water damage, and even fire when installed as per the manufacturer’s directions. Certain manufacturers also sell the material with pre-primed and pre-painted, which, although slightly more expensive, saves an enormous amount of time when compared to the other material options.

Top Brands: James Hardie, GAF, Certainteed

Material & Brand Selection

The Specifics

Now that we’ve outlined the three main material options, let’s turn our attention to choosing which material is best, and more importantly, which brand to choose. For the sake of simplicity:

  1. We will only be looking at the most well-known brands from each segment
  2. We will be compiling the mountains of information available online for and against these materials and brands and comparing them on 14 parameters that should hopefully help you select the right one.

The parameters we will be looking at are as follows:

  1. Looks
  2. Cost
  3. Durability
  4. Finish (Paint)
  5. Warranty
  6. Fire Resistance
  7. Repairability
  8. Maintenance
  9. Ease of Installation
  10. Insect Resistance
  11. Safety
  12. Water Resistance
  13. Level of truth in Company Marketing Collateral
  14. Property Value Addition

The materials & brands we will be looking at are as follows:

  1. OSB – LP Smartside
  2. Fiber Cement – James Hardie
  3. Vinyl – Mastic

Let’s dive into the data, but before we do, a small disclaimer: this review is our unbiased view of the materials and the brands available. As siding contractors based in Massachusetts, we have no skin in the game for any one brand over the other or any one material over the other. The data presented below is based purely on our experience and the opinions of our team.

The Scores

The Details

Looks

Given that all three materials are available in a variety of colors, textures, and finishes and are practically indistinguishable from afar unless you’re a trained professional, the scores for all three materials and brands in this department are the same.

Cost

In terms of price, vinyl is hands down the more affordable of the three materials (even with an insulated side) with James Hardie and LP Smartside coming in as the more expensive of the three.

Durability

From a durability standpoint, the ability to withstand weather events like hail and other natural and human-made projectiles, both James Hardie’s Cement Fiber Siding and LP’s OSB Siding, are incredibly sturdy if installed as per manufacturers recommended guidelines. On the other hand, while visually and financially capable, Plastic vinyl fails to offer a decent measure of protection and thus isn’t a recommended option if you live in a state with extreme weather.

Note: If vinyl with the insulated side is used, the protection factor of the siding increases significantly – within a stone’s throw of both OSB and Cement Fiber.

Finish

In the visual aesthetics department, James Hardie is the clear winner as they literally bake the color into their products during the production process. This color-baking means that there is absolutely no possibility of the color fading with time or the homeowner needing to factor a repaint a few years down the line. Likewise with vinyl, which is available in a whole range of colors, direct from the manufacturer.

LP Smartside scored lower because, as per the information in their warranty documentation, they don’t actually control the painting of their product. It is outsourced to a third party vendor, meaning that any claims with regards to the paint, will need to be resolved with the third party, and not LP themselves.

Warranty

While most homeowners will rarely find the time to go through the warranty information on the siding product they have selected, it is the primary reason why we have scored LP Smartside so low in this segment. By reading the warranty information available on their website carefully, we can see that the warranty the company offers does not back up the claims the company is making in its marketing materials. As a case in point, despite being heavily advertised as having excellent weather resistance, the warranty is not available in states that experience large amounts of rainfall or adverse weather like Washington and California. The prorated warranty is also subject to a tremendous amount of checks that need to be done by the homeowners themselves, failing which the company absolves itself of any liability. Contrast this warranty with the kind offered by both James Hardie and Mastic, and it’s easy to see why both the other brands scored 5/5 in this segment.

Fire Resistance

The scores for this segment are relatively obvious. Cement does not burn, while OSB does and viny, being plastic, melts after prolonged exposure to heat.

Repairability

When things go wrong, regardless of the reason, it is easier to repair vinyl siding when compared to the other two options, which require a little bit more work to remove, repair, and replace.

Maintenance

This section marks the first instance of a sub-3 score for a material and a brand. LP Smartside’s OSB siding scores the lowest in this segment due to the incredible number of issues homeowners need to be wary of, all mentioned in the documentation available on their website. Things like making sure that the siding does not get sprayed by the landscaping sprinklers, or the homeowner being held responsible for removing mold and algae formation for the warranty to be valid make the product that much harder to live with.

Ease of Installation

Both LP Smartside and Vinyl score well here as their products are easier to install than the fiber cement sidings offered by James Hardie. This ease of installation, though, is a bit of a double-edged sword. Unless the builder or contractor follows a specific protocol, it’s very easy for them to sacrifice precision at the altar of speed and cut corners during installation. These cut corners, unsurprisingly, cause significant problems for the homeowner a few years down the road.

Insect Resistance

The scores here are relatively straightforward. Termites cannot eat cement, nor can they eat plastic. What they do eat quite well, though, is wood. And although the marketing literature from LP quite proudly mentions the product’s resistance to termites, a quick scan of the warranty information paints a different story.

Installer Safety

Despite what is mentioned online or in company marketing material, both OSB and Cement Fiber sidings require installers to wear protective masks to prevent the inhalation of harmful dust particles. Only vinyl siding requires no preventive gear as plastic does not emit any toxic substance during the installation process.

Water Resistance

It’s a fairly accepted fact that wood does not offer the best in water resistance, even if treated as OSB is. As such, the siding from LP is prone to swelling and edge checking with changes in the climate. Something that is not an issue for both fiber cement siding and vinyl siding.

Company Marketing

Over the past few years, LP Smartside has been on a marketing blitz, trying to convince the market that their product is far superior to the one made by James Hardie. While their product has a lot of positives, the warranty conditions that the homeowners have to abide by are the primary reason they score as low as they have.

Property Value Addition

For a variety of reasons that range from visual aesthetic to product quality and company pedigree, both James Hardie and LP Smartside can significantly improve the overall value of a home. Vinyl, on the other hand, is known as the more budget-friendly option, and as such, doesn’t add much in the way of property value increases.

The Verdict

With all the scores in, here are the final average scores on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being worst, and 5 being the best)

  • LP Smartside (OSB): 3.7
  • James Hardie (Fiber Cement): 4.6
  • Mastic Vinyl: 4.7

While vinyl does represent the most affordable option, with Fiber Cement in second place, in states like Massachusetts and Connecticut, Fiber Cement Siding is fast becoming the most preferred option as it not only adds value to the property, but has none of the downsides that plague OSB.

Authors Note

Time Wells is the founder and CEO of Wells Custom Framers, a leading commercial and residential framing and siding contractor based in Massachusetts, with over two decades of experience servicing large and small clients.