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Vinyl Siding vs Fiber Cement | Pros & Cons

vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding pros and cons Gambrick luxury home builder

Vinyl Siding vs. Fiber Cement

I’m building a new custom home and can’t decide which siding to choose, vinyl siding vs. fiber cement siding. What’s the difference?

There are plenty of similarities between vinyl siding and fiber cement siding, also known as hardieplank, and a few major differences. In this article we’ll discuss both the pros and cons as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each. We’ll also discuss the various styles, sizes, and costs for both materials and labor. We’ll answer common questions about the appearance, maintenance, impact on home resale value and durability for both types of siding. In the end, we hope you’ll make an informed, confident decision about choosing the best siding for your home.

Vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding. Choosing between the two involves the careful evaluation and understanding of several key factors.

First of all, there’s the look. Vinyl cedar shake impressions will create a totally different look than hardieplank siding, which looks different than traditional vinyl lap. Then there are other factors like the durability of the material. The amount of maintenance your siding will require to keep it looking like new. The siding’s energy efficiency, and how well it’ll insulate your home from both heat and cold. And finally the cost for both materials and installation.

Let’s take an in depth look at two of the most popular siding choices for today’s homes. Vinyl and fiber cement.

vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding pros and cons price of vinyl siding Gambrick home builder NJ

What is Fiber Cement Siding?

Fiber cement siding is created by mixing together a blend of cellulose fibers, sand and cement. When it’s manufactured for siding, it resembles a natural material like wood and stone. It’s known for it’s durability, natural look and feel, and is available in a variety of styles, sizes and colors.

One of the most popular manufacturers of fiber cement siding is called Hardie, which is why fiber cement siding is commonly referred to as Hardie board. This is just a brand name however, there are many manufacturers of fiber cement siding selling product at a variety of price points. Hardie being the most expensive fiber cement siding manufacturer.

What is Vinyl Siding?

Vinyl siding is by far the most popular type of home siding material. First introduced in the 1960’s, vinyl siding has quickly become the standard siding material due to it’s durability, affordability, ease of installation, wide array of shapes, sizes and styles as well as being offered in a large selection of colors and textures. Vinyl siding is also a low maintenance product which holds it’s color well, providing long term beauty and dependability.

Vinyl siding is even available as a solid, insulated product making it great for clients looking to add additional R-value to the outside of their home.

Made primarily from PVC, a long lasting, rigid plastic material.

Vinyl Siding Vs Fiber Cement: Style

Fiber cement and vinyl siding have come a long way over the past 50 years. Both are available as either standard lap or cedar shake impressions, come in a variety of sizes, styles and shapes and both come in a wide variety of colors. Generally speaking, whatever size or style you can find in vinyl, is also available in fiber cement.

The only major difference between the two when it comes to style is in the color.

Fiber cement is sold in one of two ways. Un-colored, so it can be painted or stained any color you want. Or painted one of 25 different colors, so you can skip the painting step entirely.

Vinyl siding offers a much greater variety of color options. With well over 50 color choices, no other siding comes close to the wide assortment of color options offered with vinyl siding products. While vinyl siding can technically be painted, it’s not designed to be. So even though it’s offered in more than double the colors as fiber cement, you actually have less color options to choose from than if you plan on having your siding painted.

Available in not only cedar shake and plank looks like fiber cement siding, but also a variety of panel designs including clapboard, board and batten, beaded, scallops and Dutch lap. Among the most popular vinyl siding products are those with a wood grain surface that mimics real wood. Vinyl siding panels can even be hung vertically for a unique, eye catching look.

When discussing vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding, the variety of styles are worth considering.

vinyl siding vs fiber cement infographic pros vs cons comparison chart

What Looks Better, Vinyl or Fiber Cement Siding?

Because of the manufacturing process of both vinyl and fiber cement siding, both types of siding come in a wide variety of attractive styles and colors.

When first designed and released, fiber cement more closely mimicked cedar shake shingles, however, newer vinyl siding products are made to closely resemble the natural, uneven look of traditional wood grain shingles.

Both vinyl and fiber cement siding come in a wide range of colors as discussed earlier.

Vinyl siding offers a wider variety of styles such as clapboard, board and batten, scallops, beaded and dutch lap. However both siding options come in the standard and most commonly used cedar shake and lap varieties.

That being said, if your number one concern is a natural look without the expense of natural materials, you’ll likely to be more satisfied with fiber cement. While vinyl siding products look great, fiber cement siding is manufactured to look nearly identical to natural materials. The installation of fiber cement also has the slight irregularities of a natural material installation. Finally, because fiber cement is in part a wood product, it holds paint and has a surface texture nearly identical to wood products.

Even though vinyl products are made to mimic the natural look and feel of wood grain. Plastic just doesn’t have the luster or sheen of wood like fiber cement does.

Fiber Cement Siding

  • Better replicates the look and feel of wood grain
  • Comes in a variety of colors, sizes and styles
  • Can be painted for an unlimited color palette
  • When painted, the sheen looks more like real wood than vinyl
  • Slight install irregularities look like real wood shingles

Vinyl Siding

  • Can imitate natural wood materials
  • Comes in more colors, sizes and styles
  • Can be painted but not designed to be
  • Install does not have irregularities like wood
  • The sheen can look plastic from some angles

AND THE WINNER IS: FIBER CEMENT

In a looks contest, vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding, we have to give the edge to fiber cement due to a slightly more natural look.

What’s More Energy Efficient?

In standard form, both vinyl and fiber cement siding are relatively thin products that aren’t very good at insulating your home.  Both are effective at keeping the elements away from your home and keeping animals like squirrels and raccoons out. Where stucco, cement, stone or brick can crack, well installed fiber cement or vinyl siding will keep your home sealed tight from the elements.

For those who want to increase their home’s energy efficiency, vinyl siding also comes with an optional layer of insulation installed on the back of each piece, fiber cement does not. While most homes are insulated between their exterior walls, and sometimes even the interior ones, an additional layer between the exterior walls and siding will slightly increase your home’s insulating ability, also known as r-value.

The additional r-value given by insulated siding will help keep warm air inside during the winter and keep the heat of the sun outside during summer. Both types of siding absorb heat during the summer, an insulation layer helps prevent that heat from transferring into the home.

Fiber Cement Siding

  • Seals a home from the elements and critters
  • Offers little to no additional r-value at just 0.5

Vinyl Siding

  • Seals the home from the elements and critters
  • Offers little to no additional r-value in stock form at just 0.61
  • Offered with additional insulation attached

AND THE WINNER IS: VINYL SIDING

We have to give the edge to vinyl siding because they do offer an insulated version. However in stock form it’s a tie as both due the exact same things equally well.

vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding cost of hardie siding Gambrick luxury home builder NJ

Which Siding Is More Eco Friendly?

Fiber cement is made from more sustainable materials. The wood pulp used in the manufacturing process of fiber cement is made primarily of wood waste which doesn’t require the harvesting of trees like natural shingles nor the use of fossil fuels like vinyl. When put in a landfill, it’s material properties are considered “inert” which means they do not emit hazardous gasses or chemicals when broken down. Fiber cement is basically a combination of natural materials put together to form a siding product.

However due to it’s composition there are no recycling options for fiber cement.

Vinyl siding is made of pvc which is a #3 recyclable plastic. More and more measures and new technologies are coming into effect every year to better recycle plastics like pvc. However in many recycling facilities pvc is still not recyclable. If put into a land fill vinyl siding can burn, emitting hazardous dioxins which are harmful to the environment.

As waste in landfills accumulates, it’s important to pick a siding that won’t have as big of a negative impact on the environment.

Fiber Cement Siding

  • Mostly made of natural materials
  • If put in a landfill fiber cement does not break down and emit harmful gasses or chemicals
  • No recycling options

Vinyl Siding

  • PVC is a #3 recyclable plastic
  • Many recycling options
  • Can burn in a landfill emitting hazardous toxins

AND THE WINNER IS: FIBER CEMENT

Fiber cement is a clear winner here. While there are plenty of recycling options with vinyl, eventually everything ends up in a land fill or in the ground somewhere. Disposal of used vinyl siding is a big concern. Disposal of fiber cement is much easier on the environment.

Which Siding Is More Durable?

Vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding. Both were invented to be more durable siding options than wood. With either product, expect to get a lifetime of use. Even after 50 years both products will still be doing there jobs, assuming they were installed properly, that is. Most vinyl or fiber cement siding is replaced because of cosmetic reasons, not because it stops working.

Fiber cement’s biggest drawback is it’s ability to absorb moisture. Since it’s a natural material it can, in some rare cases, absorb and hold water. This is impossible with a vinyl product. If you’re installing fiber cement in a place where moisture tends to collect, that moisture could eventually cause some rot. That being said, fiber cement is a very durable, dependable siding choice. In fact, many fiber cement products come with a lifetime guarantee. Just make sure you install it properly, away from places where water can pool.

Vinyl siding is installed slightly loose, allowing it to expand and contract, with weep holes allowing water to drain. Because of this vinyl siding is considered water resistant, not waterproof. In some rare cases water can get behind the siding and seep into the sheathing. Fiber cement is installed tighter to the house thereby creating a slightly more effective water barrier.

In either case you need to add a secondary layer of protection with a house wrap. Either do it the old fashioned way with tar paper or with newer alternatives like Tyvek or Blueskin.

If you do suffer weather damage, fiber cement has the advantage of being easier to repair. If a portion of a vinyl siding is damaged then the whole panel needs to be replaced, not just a single shingle like with fiber cement.

Fiber Cement Siding

  • Durable under harsh conditions such as hurricanes or fire
  • Thicker than vinyl
  • Resistant to mold and rot
  • Because of it’s rigid structure fiber cement can crack while settling
  • Can absorb moisture

Vinyl Siding

  • PVC is durable
  • PVC is resistant to mold and rot
  • Can become brittle over time in extreme hot or cold conditions
  • Can crack upon hard impact
  • Will warp and melt during a fire

AND THE WINNER IS: FIBER CEMENT

Fiber cement wins for it’s added durability during a fire or extreme weather event. Under normal conditions however, both materials are extremely durable and this comparison would be a tie.

A Bit Of Info About Fire And Siding Products

When it comes to such a horrible tragedy as a fire, you want your home built with as many flame retardant materials as possible.

In terms of siding, wood materials are obviously the worst because they actually burn. While vinyl doesn’t burn, it melts, offering zero resistance in a fire. Fiber cement however, because of it’s makeup, is in the highest flame resistant class, offering the same rating as brick.

Fiber cement siding will not prevent or stop a fire. However it won’t add to the fire like wood will or melt like vinyl. What it does is offer at least some resistance, acting as a slight fire barrier similar to masonry products.

When considering vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding, the added protection of an additional fire barrier is worth taking into consideration.

Which Costs More To Install?

When considering vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding you have to think about cost. This is a difficult question to answer because prices vary based on the style and size siding you choose as well as the manufacturer and quality. For this example we’ll choose equal top of the line vinyl cedar shake impressions by Certainteed vs. Hardieshingle, the most popular fiber cement shingle.

Cedar impressions, on average, are about $100 per square cheaper than Hardieshingle. The reason why it’s such a big difference is twofold. Hardieshingle is both more expensive to buy and costs more to install. A square is equal to 100 square ft., so Certainteed Cedar Impressions are $10 per square foot cheaper to install than Hardieshingle.

It should also be noted the $100 per square difference is for pre-painted Hardieshingle. If you’re paying a contractor to paint your siding after install, that’s an additional cost. Keep in mind the edges of Hardieshingle need to be painted as you go which takes time and costs money.

With either siding the underlayment and nails are exactly the same so they’re are no hidden fees to think about when comparing costs.

Fiber Cement Siding

  • Material costs more
  • Installation labor costs more
  • Painting is optional but expensive

Vinyl Siding

  • Material is less expensive
  • Installation costs less
  • Doesn’t need paint

AND THE WINNER IS: VINYL SIDING

This was a simple question to answer. When comparing fiber cement siding to an equivalent vinyl siding product, fiber cement is much more expensive for both material and labor.

Which Has The Best Long Term Value?

The majority of homes we install Hardieshingle on are higher end luxury homes. Affluent clients are the only ones willing to pay the premium cost for fiber cement. When comparing homes sold with Hardieshingle vs. Certainteed Cedar Impressions in the same Jersey Shore areas like Mantoloking, Bay Head, Spring Lake, Seagirt, Rumson, etc., we see no difference at all.

Now, there would be an increase in value if you compared Hardieshingle, which is a premium siding product, with a cheap vinyl siding. But in an apples to apples comparison, Hardieshingle vs. Certainteed Cedar Impressions, it really makes no difference which you choose in terms of resale value.

One more thing to consider is long term maintenance. Fiber cement requires painting every 7-10 years on average here at the Jersey Shore, do to our salty air and harsh climate. Vinyl does not. In fact, as long as it isn’t damaged vinyl siding requires zero maintenance over it’s entire lifespan.

If damage does occur to either type of siding the repair costs are actually about the same.

With fibercement, you can repair as little as a single shingle, so, even though material is more expensive, your not forced to replace good siding when repairing small damage. Vinyl comes in large sections, so even if the damage is small, your forced to replace the entire piece which is about 4 square feet. This difference averaged out makes repair costs about the same for small damage.

However, if the damage is larger, then fiber cement is more expensive to replace than vinyl, since changing a single piece of vinyl is worth about 4 square feet.

In terms of energy savings due to additional r-value, they’re aren’t any. Unless you buy insulated siding they’re is no difference in r-value between fiber cement and vinyl.

Fiber Cement Siding

  • Material and labor costs more
  • No difference in resale value
  • Periodic long term maintenance required
  • Repair costs are the same as vinyl for small damage
  • Repair costs are higher than vinyl for larger damage

Vinyl Siding

  • Material and labor is less expensive
  • No difference in resale value
  • Doesn’t need long term maintenance
  • Repair costs are the same as fiber cement
  • Repair costs for larger areas is not that much more since vinyl pieces are larger

AND THE WINNER IS: VINYL SIDING

With no additional resale value added and long term maintenance required with Hardieshingle, the winner here is clear. Certainteed Cedar Shake Impressions are the better long term value.

Which Is Easier To Maintain and Clean?

Vinyl siding doesn’t require long term maintenance of any kind. Over time, most brands due fade a few shades, some more than others depending on the quality of the siding and how much sun it gets. Direct sunlight tends to fade vinyl faster than if it’s in the shade. But there’s zero maintenance. Just power wash it from time to time to help keep it clean and free of mold. A good quality vinyl siding will keep it’s color for decades.

Fiber cement requires painting, on average, every 7 years. It’s a painted material so this really has to be done to keep it’s color. Paint will fade, especially if in direct sunlight, and in some cases peel. Cleaning is the same as with vinyl, power wash from time to time to keep it clean and mold free.

Fiber Cement Siding

  • Needs painting every 7 years (on average)
  • Power wash to clean

Vinyl Siding

  • No long term maintenance required
  • Power wash to clean

AND THE WINNER IS: VINYL SIDING

This is another easy one. Fiber cement requires maintenance and vinyl doesn’t.

Which Last Longer?

In the battle of vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding which last the longest is an important issue to consider.

Vinyl siding is an overall durable siding material. However over time, especially in direct sunlight or over decades spent in harsh climates, will become brittle and need changing on average every 20-40 years. Most siding manufacturers offer a 25 year limited warranty.

Fiber cement siding, if maintained properly, is a more durable product than vinyl, lasting well over the 20-40 years of vinyl. Most fiber cement manufacturers offer a 15-30 year limited warranty.

Fiber Cement Siding

  • When properly cared for will last longer than vinyl siding
  • Requires maintenance

Vinyl Siding

  • Typically lasts between 20-40 years
  • No maintenance

AND THE WINNER IS: Fiber Cement

Left untreated vinyl would tie or possibly even win in some conditions. But with proper maintenance fiber cement will outlast vinyl by decades.

vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding costs, pros and cons of siding Gambrick luxury home builder NJ

Choosing the Right Siding for Your Home

As you can see, when discussing the pros and cons of vinyl siding vs fiber cement siding, there are a number of factors to consider. Vinyl siding and fiber cement are both quality siding products and a sound investment. They’ll both amplify the look of your home, increase curb appeal, and provide you with years of comfort and protection.

With so many great siding options to choose from when building a new home or renovating an old one, I hope these tips and inspirational pics will help you in some small way.

And remember, whatever your style, both vinyl and fiber cement are versatile materials well worth considering.

Raising Expectations

Gambrick, top NJ custom home builder, is raising local expectations of what New Jersey homes can and should be.  Specializing in custom home building, contemporary homes and energy efficient buildings like Passive House. With the imperatives of carbon reduction in the fight to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, our desire for energy independence, and our need to have greater building resilience, the meaning and logic of Passive House is clear.

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