Low-maintenance Siding

Over the past few years, the housing boom has caused a few shifts in the siding market. Namely, homeowners have felt more comfortable spending money on upgraded siding materials and have increasingly chosen newer, more elaborate trim details and accents in an effort to differentiate their homes from their neighbors’. The recent downturn may affect the number of overall siding jobs and sales volume in the foreseeable future, but the trends of creating distinctive siding designs and the willingness to pay a little extra for an authentic-looking, low-maintenance material will continue to grow.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2005 data on principal types of exterior wall material for new single-family houses sold, vinyl siding held 30 percent market share, with stucco second at 25 percent, followed by brick at 20 percent and other materials slightly below 20 percent.

Wood held a 5 percent share and aluminum was below 5 percent. The data also finds that vinyl siding is the number one choice for homes with price points up to $250,000 and second only to stucco at all price points above $250,000.

With a slightly different breakdown of the siding market, Steve Booz, director of sales and marketing, fiber cement division, CertainTeed, which makes WeatherBoards fiber cement siding, pegs siding market share as follows: Vinyl has 40 percent market share, fiber cement is between 12 and 14 percent, wood-based materials including natural wood and engineered wood products are at 8 to 10 percent, and the rest is divided among stucco, brick and block materials.

In terms of rank and position on that list, not much is expected to change when 2006 market share numbers are released, but the percentages are expected to shift. “Fiber cement is gaining market share quickly in many markets around the country, especially at the expense of wood and composites in the West and South,” Booz says. “In the Midwest and East, vinyl is still king, but fiber cement is gaining there, too.”

Regional Differences

In years past, the West generally was ruled by wood and wood-based siding, the Midwest and East definitely were vinyl territories, and the South was a mixed bag among vinyl and stucco, brick and block materials. But fiber cement is beginning to gain a stronghold there and elsewhere.

“Fiber cement is showing up everywhere,” says Gary Keeling, product manager, fiber products, Temple-Inland, maker of Endura engineered wood lap and panel siding, trim and accessories. “It’s becoming the dominant material in pockets of the South such as Atlanta and Texas. And in the mountain regions and parts of the West and Southwest, where wood was traditionally in higher demand, fiber cement and wood fiber is quickly gaining ground.”

Keeling notes the reasons for this growth are that homeowners love the authentic textures that these materials provide, and they love the durability and reduced maintenance. Improved manufacturing processes have spelled the end of delamination problems some of those materials may have had several years ago, and they hold paint very well. Warranties of anywhere from 30 to 50 years are common with these types of materials.

Style Varies

Lap siding has traditionally been king in most of the East, West and South, while panel siding and vertical styles tend to show up in the Midwest. Pockets of the Southeast and Southwest are dominated by materials such as stucco or adobe-type materials. But things are starting to change all over, and it can be hard to discern any real trends other than homeowners are looking to express themselves and differentiate their homes.

“People are moving around the country and bringing their sense of style with them,” says Van Garber, vice president of marketing for Owens Corning. “Someone from coastal New England might move to the Midwest and want their new house to look like the traditional Capes they grew up with, complete with cedar shake siding and authentic trim details.”

Additionally, Garber sees no strong correlation between region and color choice. “On a national level, I think darker, richer colors are becoming more popular. Vinyl siding manufacturers are addressing this by producing siding in rich browns, reds and darker blues that will not fade or buckle from absorbed heat,” he says.

Keeling says that color trends for fiber cement and wood fiber products may end up a bit different than those for vinyl siding products. “People are going for a softer look with shades of white, blue and gray,” he states. “I think because that makes it easier to mix, match and touch up the prefinished colors on wood-based and fiber cement products.”

Taking the element of realism even further, some fiber cement and engineered wood siding manufacturers are now factory-finishing their products with stains that make their products look exactly like real wood. “It’s becoming more of a staple in a builder’s arsenal and increasing in homeowner demand,” says Darrin Haugan, vice president of sales and marketing with Nichiha.

Nichiha’s Sierra Premium Shake Panel siding comes in five prestained colors from mahogany to weathered gray and it is the authentic graining and shake separation that makes them so popular with homeowners. “It’s all about an authentic look with improved durability and reduced upkeep,” Haugan says.

Foam and Trim Future

Keeling says that the general trends of fiber cement and engineered wood siding — as well as some premium vinyl siding — becoming more popular will continue into the immediate and foreseeable future. “That’s all because buyers love the features and benefits,” he says. “They provide an increasingly more authentic look with very low maintenance and upkeep.”

The trend will continue to be fueled by new patterns meant to replicate authentic wood lap, shingle and shake patterns, and an increasingly wider array of specialty patterns such as fish scale, scalloped and authentic hand-split shakes.

“We’re seeing the biggest growth in our soffit, trim, exterior ceiling and cornice products [such as the TrimCraft Cornice System],” Keeling says. “Homeowners love them because they are durable in terms of impact resistance, and contractors find it easy to trim out houses with this product.”

TrimCraft trim boards come in 16-ft. lengths, with no need to look for or cut out bad spots as every inch is factory-primed engineered wood. They are available plowed for tight-fitting, sag-free soffits and come with one smooth face and one cedar-textured face. Dimensioned like traditional wood, the material cuts and fastens with traditional tools.

According to Garber, one hot new trend within the vinyl siding category is laminated or insulated vinyl siding. Insulated siding is composed of vinyl siding adhered to a layer of insulating foam board with special flexible adhesives. “People like it not only for the energy efficiency, but also for the more solid, rigid look and impact resistance,” Garber says.

Owens Corning’s laminated siding product, Polar Wall Plus! can add R-values up to 3.6, and the company claims it offers 300 percent more impact resistance. Its unique locking system is also said to withstand winds stronger than 200 mph. “But more than anything with buyers, it’s the ‘thunk factor,’ where homeowners can rap on it and it feels like a solid, secure siding material,” Garber says.

Garber also agrees that more decorative accessories are becoming the norm with siding jobs, as homeowners look for new ways to add style. “A lot of people are mixing different materials,” Garber says. “They’re using cellular PVC or fiber cement trim on homes with vinyl siding, and adding accent panels of shakes or fish scale. Stone is also growing as I’m seeing it a lot as an accent on mid-priced homes and in whole-house applications on the high end.”

As the New Year brings with it renewed hope for a housing upturn, some siding manufacturers are more hopeful than others. Haugan and Keeling both see fiber cement pushing a 20 percent market share by the end of 2007, and Garber sees great growth in the insulated siding segment within the vinyl siding sector.

Booz sees a continuation of the trend going on since the postwar building boom of the 1950s. “Aluminum siding took over the lead from wood, then vinyl took over and is still king, but materials such as fiber cement and the newer engineered wood products are an extension of that; replacement materials that perform better than — but still look like — their original counterparts.”