There are many factors, materials, and components that make up the exterior of your structure. Still, none are quite as important as your exterior siding materials, which is the first thing that people notice. Siding is also your first line of defense against the elements, from rain to hail to humidity to the full range of temperatures.
To make the right choice of siding material, since there are so many types on the market today, you need a siding materials comparison.
Depending on what type of project, there are siding materials pros and cons you’ll want to consider, along with the climate you are in, installation requirements, its versatility, durability, and warranty. Essentially, you need to weigh your options.
The primary siding materials to consider are wood, vinyl, steel, brick, stucco, glass, and fiber cement siding. By the end of this article, you should be able to make an educated decision on which material is the right fit for you.
What Types of Projects Are They Used for?
You can find any of these materials on residential and commercial projects alike, both interior and exterior. Brick is often used for landscaping and outdoor space, glass windows used for entire walls, and steel and wood for framing.
How They Are Made
Traditional wood siding is typically made from cedar or redwood because these species have better resistance to decay. It is painted or treated with stain or oil, and it is available in both horizontal and vertical profiles, with options for traditional shakes and shingles.
Vinyl is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic resin that is a known carcinogen. It became the most popular siding material in the U.S. in the 1960s after other plastics containing PCBs, CFCs, and other chlorinated solvents were banned.
Steel siding is a form of metal siding that combines both iron and carbon. It can be stainless or galvanized steel, depending on which manufacturer or contractor you use. Stainless steel has protective chromium mixed in with the steel, unlike the zinc coating on galvanized steel that will eventually wear away.
Steel siding is often made from recycled steel, as steel is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet.
To have a brick building, you can utilize solid brick or brick veneer. Solid brick is made from clay and shale and gives complete structural support to a house, built with two layers of brick or a concrete block with a layer of brick for the exterior.
Brick veneer relies on the house for reinforcement, and structural support comes from other materials, usually steel and wooden frames. Once the frame is in place, you can add a brick veneer. For both options, you will need mortar between stacks to hold them in place.
Traditional stucco is made from building sand, lime, water, and Portland cement. But first, a waterproof barrier paper and galvanized-metal screening have to be applied over wood walls to provide a good base for the stucco and protect the walls underneath.
Fiber cement siding is a unique material made from a blend of cellulose fiber mixed with sand, silica, and Portland cement. This creates a dense, durable material that can be formed into shingles, planks, or panels for installation on homes and buildings.
Fiber cement siding can have an authentic-looking wood grain that mimics the look of wood siding and shakes. It’s available in a wide range of colors, sizes, shapes, and styles so that you can complement any architectural style.
Wood is easy to paint or stain to suit your structure’s character and desired aesthetic. It’s also one of the most eco-conscious materials available because it is a renewable resource, biodegradable, and production is more energy-efficient. Wood is also easier to repair when damaged than other materials.
Since vinyl is man-made, it is one of the cheapest materials available. Unlike wood, installation is quick, easy, and undemanding, which reduces the product’s overall price.
It comes in a wide range of colors, textures, and designs so it has great versatility with reasonably low maintenance.
Steel offers builders low maintenance, damage resistance, fire resistance, great aesthetics, and sustainability.
Once steel siding is installed correctly, it requires very little attention. It does not absorb moisture or promote mold growth. It also stands up against insects. Steel is thick and strong, resisting damage from most hail and other flying debris, along with fire. There are different patterns and textures available, or you can go for a clean, modern look. Plus, steel is recyclable, so it won’t sit in a landfill when it comes off your home.
Brick is low maintenance, eco-friendly, great for repurposing, and weather- and fire-resistant.
Brick has good color retention and is low maintenance due to its durability. Unlike vinyl or wood, it won’t rot or dent and doesn't need to be painted after installation, though some people choose to. Bricks are made of two of the most abundant materials on earth: clay and shale. And they can be repurposed for landscaping projects, like walking paths or retaining walls.
Bricks are non-combustible and do not aid in the spread of fire, meaning they can contain a fire to a particular room or portion of a house. It adds an extra layer of storm protection, and studies have shown that brick can withstand the impact of flying debris at higher wind speeds than other exteriors.
Stucco is fire-resistant and appealing in aesthetics.
A one-inch coating of stucco provides a one-hour firewall rating, meaning it will stop the spread of fire from one side of the wall to the other for at least one hour, making it desirable for places with strict fire codes and in neighborhoods where houses are built close to each other.
Stucco is available in a plethora of hues, from soft shades to deep earthy tones, achieved by adding dyes to the mix.
Fiber cement is incredibly durable and resists impacts, moisture damage, insect activity, and fire. It comes in architectural panels, lap siding, board-and-batten siding, cedar-look shingles, and decorative shingles, so it’s possible to match nearly any architectural style from traditional to contemporary effortlessly.
Fiber cement comes in a wide range of pre-painted factory-applied colors, with a finish that resists peeling or chipping for 10 years or more (when bought from a reputable manufacturer). It’s also low-maintenance once it’s installed, with a lower lifetime cost-to-own.
The cons of wood are the cost, the maintenance requirements, and susceptibility to water and pest damage.
Wood siding is one of the most expensive types of siding available, especially if you are looking for a high-quality wood. While the upfront cost can sometimes be cheaper than some other siding, to keep wood looking its best and protect your home or building, you need to continuously and proactively maintain your wood siding. You need to repaint and re-stain often — sometimes once a year, depending on your climate — and need to inspect it often to make sure it isn’t damaged.
Insect and water damage are two of the most considerable drawbacks of wood. Wood rots, warps, and twists, allowing water to seep in behind the siding and causing untold damage to your home or building.
Vinyl is durable, not impenetrable. It is susceptible to cracks from everyday things like a lawnmower or snowblower or hail (or a child that’s taken up baseball). High winds will take vinyl siding completely off. You can’t patch any damage; instead, you have to replace any damaged rows completely. And if it isn’t correctly installed (either when first installed or when repairing damage), you are leaving yourself open to leaks, rot, infestation, and decay.
As homes sit closer together on smaller lots, there are more and more reports of vinyl siding melting from the sun reflecting off of their neighbor’s windows. This is also damage that cannot be patched or easily repaired. You’ll have to replace all of the melted rows completely.
Plus, vinyl siding is on 90% of homes in America, so vinyl is not the product for you if you are trying to stand out.
Steel has cons of rust, cost, and insulation.
While steel is durable, it is not bulletproof. Even the most heavy-duty steel siding will still dent if it is struck hard enough, and sharp objects can scratch it. After exposure to the elements, especially when close to the ocean, steel can also rust. If you are in an area with salt spray, frequent fogs, or other dampness, keep this in mind.
Steel siding is more expensive than many other types of siding. It’s heavier, so it harder to work with and takes longer to install. But, the upfront costs are balanced by the longer life expectancy. Metal does not insulate as well as other types of siding, so you need to add insulating material under the siding, again increasing the cost.
Brick is expensive, limited in design versatility, requires labor-intensive installation, and requires repointing.
Bricks tend to be more expensive than other exterior products. For example, according to the Brick Industry Association, a 2,500 square foot brick home will cost 6-7% more than vinyl siding.
Bricks come in various colors depending on their composition and the temperature in which they were made, but their variety is much more limited than stucco or fiber cement siding. And they can be painted, but it is a painfully long process because each brick’s groove and side have to be covered. It is incredibly easy to miss spots, which is frustrating.
Bricks are highly durable, but due to exposure to the elements, the mortar used to attach them (pointing) will wear out, especially when installed improperly. You need someone specialized in brick-and-mortar to install (or repair), which will increase your labor costs. And periodic repointing is required to ensure the integrity of your structure.
Over time, even stucco on structures with firm foundations can develop hairline cracks. While small cracks won’t affect the structure’s integrity and can be repaired yourself, cracks of a quarter-inch or wider spell big trouble.
Stucco is installed in layers, making it a time-consuming, labor-intensive process that skilled professionals need to do, increasing its cost. And price fluctuates, sometimes to incredibly high amounts, depending on your climate. You’ll also have to wait for the weather to be just right for installation, as it can’t be too wet or too cold to install stucco.
No material is perfect, and fiber cement has a few drawbacks. It’s heavy, so installation requires an additional person and cannot be DIYed; you’ll need a professional to install it for you. And it needs to be cut outside in a way that helps control any dust since it contains silica. It’s more expensive than wood or vinyl, but its durability results in lower costs over its lifespan (which is about 50 years).
Wood siding tends to be slightly stronger than vinyl, but it still doesn’t perform sufficiently enough to clinch the “best siding” label for high wind areas. Another problem with wood is that its strength truly depends on the thickness of its beams, the type of wood used, and the quality of construction.
Wood should not be used in an area that gets a lot of moisture because it is susceptible to rot and mold. Natural wood can also corrode in the salt air and fade in the harsh sun. Wood is best used in temperate climates with little to no moisture and no intense sun unless you are often willing to re-stain or re-paint.
In very sunny locations like the Southwest, vinyl can become a problem. While it can handle intense sun by itself, it has been known to melt when that heat is reflected off of Low-E windows.
Strong winds can strip off vinyl siding easily. The low pressure of a hurricane can suck everything from shingles to whole vinyl sheets away from a house. It’s also easy to dent or crack when hit at a high velocity, such as during severe weather or by a baseball.
Steel holds up incredibly well in northern climates where we have severe winters. Snow, sleet, frost, rain, and wind have minimal effect on metal. However, it can rust in the salt air, so it shouldn’t be used too close to the coast.
In hot climates, reducing heat and moisture gains is crucial. Concrete and brick offer thermal mass that absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night, making it a good option for high heat climates and cold climates where storing heat is also essential.
Brick buildings offer shelter from any storms and high winds, as it is incredibly durable. However, it does require the right weather conditions to be installed, so you‘ll need to plan to build during the right season.
Stucco is brittle and will crack when a house’s foundation settles. You do not want to use stucco if you are in a region where the soil is high in clay, which is notorious for swelling and causing foundations to shift.
Also, stucco has a 0.20 R-value, meaning it has 20% of the insulation factor found in wood, making it an undesirable option in cold winters.
Fiber cement products are made with an advanced formula that is ideal for even the most extreme climates. Allura products are fire-resistant, hail-resistant, moisture-resistant, and weather-resistant.
The best siding for strong wind areas is fiber cement, by far. Durable, tough, and well-equipped to stand up to the intense wind gusts common during hurricane season, fiber cement siding easily outperforms other siding options in severe weather conditions.
Wood is easy to cut and shape and can be installed by reasonably skilled DIYers. Better grades of wood can be pricey, and diligent maintenance requirements add to the overall cost. Retrofitting with wood siding requires removing existing siding materials, which adds time to the installation process.
Vinyl siding is lightweight and can often be installed directly over existing materials. It’s easy to handle, so installation is fast, which can save you labor costs.
Steel installation requires skilled installers, low humidity, and temperatures above freezing, and you need to ensure it is not raining.
Steel is one of the heaviest materials for exterior siding, so it can be difficult and expensive to install, so you should add extra time to your timeline if you move forward with steel siding. And you’ll need special equipment for cutting and attaching the siding, which adds to costs and timelines.
Building a solid brick structure is not a weekend DIY project; it is a lengthy and labor-intensive installation process that is much too heavy for a novice to handle. Brick also needs to be installed in the beginning stages of construction because it is an integral part of the structure’s integrity. You’ll need to hire an experienced mason and ensure you install it during the right weather, as the mortar needs the right conditions to cure properly.
Today's stucco mixtures include epoxy, which prevents chipping and cracking, but installation isn't a DIY job — you'll need to look for an experienced stucco installer.
You can apply stucco over wood sheathing, masonry, or brick. When applying it over sheathing, you have to cover it with a double layer of grade-D waterproof building paper and then fasten a metal lath to the structure to support the stucco.
You then have to apply three different coat layers — the scratch coat, the brown coat, and the color coat. It is a challenging material to use, and the durability and finish depend on the skill of the installer and the meticulous preparation of the substrate.
Fiber cement is heavy, so installation will require special techniques and tools, and you should find a contractor who is skilled in installation. You do need to completely remove old siding to install fiber cement siding.
When you buy Allura, you are given an installation manual to ease the process. You need to cut the fiber cement, prime and paint if you go that route, and install from the bottom up. You can get a detailed walkthrough here. Your rep can also help you through your first installation to ensure you are comfortable with the process.
You can also get Allura fiber cement products pre-painted, which will save you time during installation, and comes with an additional 15-year warranty on top of the 50-year warranty of the products themselves.
Wood has one of the longest lifespans of any siding, but it comes at a cost: It requires a lot of maintenance. However, proper care will allow it to last for decades. It has a range of durability between 20 and 40 years, depending on your weather.
Vinyl is a fairly durable product for the price you pay. It can usually last between 20 and 40 years, depending on the maintenance you provide it.
However, vinyl siding may lose its visual appeal after two or three decades. It will fade and crack over time, or worse, if exposed to a harsh environment.
Steel is long-lasting and recyclable when it meets its demise. It will last upwards of 30 years as long as you partake in medium-level maintenance like annual cleaning with a pressure washer.
While steel will last for over 30 years, the paint will not. Paint is good for around 5-7 years, but then it will start to show its age, and it will become chalky and flaky. You’ll need to remove old paint and repaint once this starts to occur.
There’s a reason why so many old homes were constructed using solid brick. It is fireproof, incredibly durable, and can withstand some of the harshest environmental conditions. The pointing will need to be monitored and occasionally fixed. And brick veneer can crack in places that suffer from earthquakes, though.
Stucco can last between 15 to 40 years, depending on the climate you build in. The problem with stucco is similar to wood: It doesn’t handle moisture well. While better than wood, heavy rain and snow will still be a significant problem for your building.
The most common issues with the durable siding options featured, like color limitations, vulnerability to moisture and ocean air exposure, and complicated installation, can all be remedied with fiber cement siding. Fiber cement siding is a cladding option that is not only beautiful but impressively strong and versatile.
One of the most durable woods used in outdoor construction is cedar. Most manufacturers offer 25-year warranties on their cedar wood siding. The catch is you have to do constant maintenance and resolve any problems you find immediately.
Warranty for vinyl siding can be up to 50 years. Manufacturers usually warranty vinyl for manufacturing defects that lead to flaking or peeling, as well as corroding and blistering. Excessive fading may be covered in the warranty, but pre-painted vinyl typically has a 15-year warranty only.
Warranty for steel is often between 35 and 50 years, depending on the manufacturer. The paint, however, is not normally warrantied or for a much shorter time of around 15-years.
Many brick manufacturers offer 3 to 4 years of full warranty, though some offer up to 10 years. Some don’t offer any warranty at all.
Stucco warranty depends on the manufacturer, but often, the warranty is only for one year.
Fiber cement offers lengthy warranties, ranging decades. At Allura, we offer an industry-leading 30-year warranty on our fiber cement and a 15-year Spectrum Paint warranty on pre-painted siding.
Cedar is an attractive looking wood siding with a pleasant wood grain. Wood has been used as exterior siding for centuries, and there are many different siding styles that it can be used to create, including Dutch lap, shiplap, and clapboard.
Cedar can also be formed into shingles and hand-hewn shakes to give buildings a more rustic appearance. The material can be stained to let its natural color and texture show through or painted in any color.
It has high design versatility within the realm of wood itself but is unable to simulate the look of other materials as vinyl or fiber cement siding can.
With vinyl, your color choices will be somewhat limited to what is on the market right now, and that might not always appeal to your personal taste. If color is a major part of your desired architecture design, the colors you want just might not be available due to current trends.
You can’t paint vinyl siding, so if you ever want to switch up your siding color, you have to completely reside your building, which can defeat the purpose of choosing a low-cost, low-maintenance option in the first place.
Steel siding is very limited in style. It comes in a horizontal lap siding but few other styles or configurations.
Brick has low design versatility. You can paint it, but that increases your maintenance requirements, and you must make sure you don’t miss any spots, or it will look cheap and ruin the brick’s look.
Stucco is extremely limited in the types of styles and appearances that it can bring to your exterior and your curb appeal.
While the texture that stucco produces can be considered a plus to some Mediterranean and Southwestern-style buildings, it can also be considered a drawback if used on more contemporary structures and most traditional-style buildings. It’s a particular style that can be limiting and look dated.
Fiber cement offers endless design versatility. The way that fiber cement siding is manufactured allows it to take on the texture and appearance of many different materials, from smooth and sleek to rough and rustic. You can achieve traditional wood grain, wood shakes, smooth lap, board and batten, smooth panels, and stucco textures.
Fiber Cement Siding Stands Out as a Solution
Of these siding options, fiber cement is the only genuinely low-maintenance material that gives you many choices in terms of style and appearance. The design possibilities are endless. There are colors and textures available to make fiber cement look like most of the other siding material included in this article — but without their hassles.
It’s also less expensive than other low-maintenance materials like brick, and it doesn’t have the high ongoing maintenance costs like stucco or wood. If you’re considering new siding for your exterior, take a look at fiber cement siding to find out more about how it can benefit your exterior.