Siding Overview - Types and Uses, Installation, & Selecting a Contractor

Things to consider when selecting siding: durability, looks, ease of installation, water resistance, versatility and energy efficiency.

When it's time to replace the siding on your home, the options may seem a bit overwhelming. After all, you have all different types to choose from -- from vinyl to aluminum, cedar to polymer -- each with its own specific benefits, uses, installation requirements, and price points. Also, if you're not doing the job yourself, you'll then have to pick the right contractor.

Read on to learn about the different types of siding, how they work, and simple ways to get the best contractor in town.

Choosing Siding
When selecting siding for your home, consider a few basic components:
  • Durability -- Does it stand up in your region's climate?
  • Looks -- Consider your home's aesthetics.
  • Ease of installation -- Can you do it yourself or will you need to hire a professional?
  • Water-resistance -- Water-resistant siding may last longer.
  • Versatility -- Will it work on every part of your home?
  • Energy efficiency -- What types of insulation will be required underneath?

Now consider the different types of siding that meet your home's specific needs. Common types include:
  • Stucco -- Used for centuries, stucco is a durable mix of cement, sand and lime; each company has its own recipe. Stucco can be shaped and molded to fit a number of architectural styles and surfaces and is best done by a professional.
  • Stone -- For sheer durability, not much beats stone; it's built to last and almost oblivious to the weather. Stone costs more than most types of siding but tends to last longer and require less maintenance; it's also best installed by a professional.
  • Wood -- Depending on how it's cut, wood siding is known as clapboard, bevel, board and batten, or shingle. This siding is crafted from woods such as cedar, pine, spruce or redwood and looks great as long as you provide ongoing maintenance, such as caulking and painting, to protect it from the weather.
  • Engineered wood -- For a less-expensive wood alternative, engineered wood combines wood by-products with bonding materials. With proper maintenance, like painting, it can last up to 30 years.
  • Vinyl -- The most popular siding in the U.S., vinyl is the least expensive option to install. It comes in hundreds of colors and shapes and requires little maintenance.
  • Fiber cement -- Fiber cement siding looks like wood but is more durable and less expensive. It is water- and fire-resistant and termites can't eat it.

Each type of siding has its own specific installation requirements.

Each type of siding has its own specific installation requirements. While siding provides a line of defense against the elements, it needs a bit of help from below -- specifically, the water-proofing vapor and breather membranes, layers of builder's felt, rosin paper, furring strips and spray insulation that underlie siding.

Once the protective layers are in place, then it's time to install. Most siding types are placed from the bottom to the top, and each has its own required methods and hardware like rust-proof nails, clips and channels. 

Selecting a Siding Contractor
Some siding types are much easier for the DIY homeowner -- like vinyl and cement fiber -- but overall, it's best to let the professionals do the work to ensure it's done right. After all, improper installation can lead to costly problems later.

When selecting a contractor, consider:
  • References -- Ask friends, family, co-workers and neighbors for (detailed) recommendations.
  • Interview -- Interview at least three contractors, taking their portfolio and professionalism into account.
  • Background Check -- Research each contractor's license and ask contractors for referrals; visit homes they've worked on, if possible.
  • In Writing -- Get a detailed, written quote from each and a written copy of their warranties or work guarantees.

Avoid contractors that don't want to answer your questions, that offer large discounts for "signing up today," or that try to scare you into signing a contract by telling you your home poses hazards. A reputable contractor will happily answer your questions, show evidence of their good work, and be insured, licensed and credentialed. When you find the contractor that meets your needs, be sure to get a written, signed contract that includes the start date, estimation of a completion date and material and labor costs. 

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