Is wood the right finish for your home?

Your choice of cladding or siding will define the look and feel of your new home. Think of it like this: if you had to pick one outfit to wear for the next thirty years, what clothes would you choose?

I’m pretty sure that everyone’s choice would be slightly different. And the same is true of sidings. After all, you don’t want to go to all the effort and expense of designing and building a unique contemporary home only for it to look exactly like the next-door neighbors’.

How you dress your home reflects who you are as a person. And not just who you are now, but who you’ll be in ten, twenty or thirty years’ time. You’re building this home for life right?

The reality is, buildings will age. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: if you pick the right siding, you can make sure your home stays beautiful throughout your lifetime. So which outfit will you choose?

If you want a natural, eco-friendly siding… choose wood

Wood is a natural, traditional choice. It looks beautiful and if you choose a hardwood such as western red cedar or redwood, is durable. Depending on the appearance you want, wood siding comes in clapboard, shake or shingles.

It’s also one of the most eco-friendly products out there, particularly if you live close to the forests where the timber is cut. Choose timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) to make sure it’s come from sustainably managed forests. Alternatively, for an even lower environmental impact, look for reclaimed timber, such as barn board.

Downside: You do need to look after wood, though periodic painting or staining will help prevent weather damage. Wood is also more susceptible to insect or rodent attacks than other materials.

If you want a low maintenance alternative to wood… chose fiber cement

Fiber cement is made from a mix of cement, sand and wood pulp. It’s popular as it gives a good balance between looks and finish, durability, maintenance and affordability. It’s not quite as eco-friendly as wood due to the energy intensity of the manufacturing process, but there aren’t any toxic materials in it.

Fiber cement can be designed to mimic different natural surfaces – for example, on our Oasis model, we use Nichiha fiber cement siding to get the look of red cedar wood, without the maintenance requirements.

Downside: Sawing fiber cement planks releases silica dust into the air which is bad for your lungs. Get the professionals in to fit it.

If you want a material that will last for generations…. choose brick

Brick is one of the most durable claddings. It requires virtually no maintenance, is fireproof and insect proof and should look good for the life of your house.

Brick is naturally porous, so be sure to install a water-resistant membrane between the siding and the house to keep your home weatherproof.

Downside: The big downside with brick is the cost. This can come in at a whopping $8 to $10 per square foot plus installation costs (which will be significant). Ouch. But remember to take into account the whole-life cost of the siding – over time, brick may pay off the higher up-front costs.

If you want a cladding that can be customized… choose stucco

Want your house to be pretty in pink? Then stucco is for you. With most siding choices your choice of finish is limited to the manufacturer’s range of options, but with stucco the color is mixed into the final layer of the product. It’s also energy efficient and can help reduce thermal bridging (important if you’re building a high performance home).

Downside: Stucco works best in dry, sunny climates and may struggle to repel water in areas of heavy, persistent rainfall. (Hawaii and Louisiana, I’m looking at you). As it’s quite brittle, it’s more prone to cracking in response to earthquakes or ground movement.

If you want a siding that’s low cost and versatile… choose vinyl

The primary advantage of vinyl is its cost: it’s by far the most affordable option on the market. It’s also pretty versatile with a variety of colors, styles, and profiles to choose from. Given that it’s also long-lasting and easy to maintain, you can see why it’s so popular.

Downside: However much you tart it up, vinyl is, at the end of the day, plastic. And whilst many people are happy with this, it just doesn’t look as high-end as other products.

If you want cladding that is unique and contemporary… choose metal

If you want a striking contemporary home, then you may want to consider metal siding or cladding. It’s completely fire resistant (good if you live in an area prone to lightning strikes), impervious to rain and snow and very unfriendly toward insects. It can also be recycled.

There are a couple of different options when it comes to metal. Aluminum has the advantage of not rusting, but steel is more dent resistant. Copper changes color over time, giving a house a look that will stay unique as it ages.

Downside: The main downside to metal is that it can be prone to denting (aluminum and copper) or rusting (steel). As it’s a more unusual choice for siding it may be pricier and harder to find an installer.

Other considerations

Local planning restrictions may restrict your choice of cladding, particularly if you’re building in a historic district. The local climate is also a really important consideration – there’s a reason why stucco is so popular in the arid West, whereas brick is often preferred in the South. Finally, your budget may also factor in your decision. If you’re building on a tight budget, one option is to use a variety of materials to highlight key features and achieve a bespoke design for a fraction of the cost.

The question really is, what do you want your home to say about you?

If you’re looking for a general contractor to help build your dream home in the D.C. area, we’d love to talk through your plans. Get in touch today to see how we can help.