Siding’s Cookie-Cutter Cure

The healthy housing market is giving builders, architects and manufacturers plenty of work to do, and plenty to talk about. The boom in business is creating opportunities for homeowners and builders alike to experiment with materials and design, especially on the exterior of their homes.

The siding market’s response to the recent boom has been focused largely on design, including the popularity of materials that replicate cedar or that showcase bold, traditional colors. The siding industry — a market dominated by vinyl — is giving homeowners rebelling against cookie-cutter lap siding, such options as fiber cement, manufactured stone and any combination of available siding materials.

Homeowners might feel backed into a corner by vinyl siding’s seemingly intimidating hold on the market, and its low cost. But in the midst of a housing boom that is allowing homeowners to invest in higher-quality materials for the exterior of their home, homeowners are looking beyond the suburban phenomenon that is vinyl siding.

“People are continuing to upgrade but not spending as much as they used to,” says Ben Skoog, brand manager for Louisiana-Pacific engineered siding. “The whole industry’s becoming more efficient and driving down the cost of homes.”

More efficient and affordable home-building processes are providing more options to home-owners, who are hungry for the opportunity to invest in differentiating their home from their neighbor’s. One option many homeowners are pursuing is the mixing of siding materials or including unique architectural elements such as trim and accents.

“People don’t want flat-box details anymore … because new materials (like fiber cement and engineered materials) are on board with trim and accent panels. It allows builders not to build ‘boxes,’” Skoog says.

Certain cities and metropolitan areas such as Atlanta and Chicago have restricted the use of vinyl and stucco siding, Skoog adds, in the interest of “getting away from bland, boxy-type homes.”

Architectural details are adding differentiation and variation in siding design by including different types of materials, says Brent Spann, director of marketing, Eldorado Stone.

“I think a few years ago you might have seen stone being used for accents, but now you’re seeing it embraced as a true architectural element of the home, whether it’s a grand entrance or maybe an entire home,” Spann says.

Some homeowners are rebelling against cookie-cutter siding options, while also improving their curb appeal, by mixing the types of siding used on the home. “In the front (of the home) you’ll see stone or brick accent panels. On the sides, it’s a different story,” Skoog says. He says many homeowners are choosing cost-effective siding for three sides of the house, and upgrading the material and design on the front of the house. Design-wise, though, Skoog says the type of siding a homeowner considers more high-end often depends on the region’s preferences.

“Down in Texas, you’ll see brick fronts with three sides of lap, but in a place like Kansas, you’ll see lap fronts with three sides in brick,” Skoog says. Skoog adds that often a homeowner’s perception of high-quality siding is determined by their limited knowledge of different categories of siding, such as brick, stone or lap. Homeowners are relying on their builders to choose quality brands and materials that will give them the look they want without the maintenance.

“Consumers are fickle. They can’t tell you exactly what they want, but they’ll tell you when they see it,” he says. Regardless of the design trends, Skoog adds, the traditional look for homes is something homeowners consistently favor when choosing siding.

“The actual innovation in siding is a company’s ability to mimic that traditional look so well. If you could replicate real wood or stone, for example, without the cost and maintenance, it tends to be by those companies that win,” Skoog says.

Curb-appealing color

Denese Bottrell, public relations manager for James Hardie, agrees that the traditional look is what the overwhelming majority of homeowners are looking for in siding. Her perspective on vinyl lap siding differs from Skoog’s in that she believes color is more of a deciding factor in preventing the design of a lackluster neighborhood than material is.

“When you look back at the original use of siding, you have your charming historic neighborhoods. One of the things that gave them that look was color. With brick and stucco, you really can’t achieve that look because it ends up giving you that monotone feel throughout the street,” Bottrell says.

Walter Hoyt, director of marketing communications, CertainTeed, echoes Bottrell’s hope for traditional lap siding, saying it lends itself to more color options now than it historically has.

“Homeowners are looking to differentiate; that may be the craftsman style, rear entrances or a painted streetscape. It’s important for builders because it’s something different instead of just offering your standard brick or stucco box,” Bottrell says.

James Hardie’s Color Plus collection offers 12 prepainted colors of fiber cement lap siding, facilitating the historic, colorful look. The company now offers a 1-in. trim product as part of its Hardie Trim line, that comes prepainted and allows the homeowner the same freedom with their architectural details as they have with their siding.

Cedar fever

Homeowners who hold to their preference for a traditional siding look have long struggled with maintaining the integrity and color of their siding, which prompted manufacturers of engineered wood and fiber cement to begin offering products that provide the qualities of wood without the same maintenance requirements.

As advances in these technologies surge forward, homeowners are beginning to apply their favorite looks, once offered by previously difficult-to-work-with materials, to their homes using manufactured materials. And cedar shake is no exception.

Paul Mackie, Western area manager, Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, is not surprised by the recent popularity of products made to imitate cedar and cedar shake.

“Everyone’s trying to look like Western red cedar. It’s really the versatility of it, and the natural beauty is unsurpassed. It allows the specifier or the home-owner to create a unique look,” Mackie says.

Mackie’s claim seems to be supported by the variety of materials now offering the cedar shake look. Companies like CertainTeed, Temple-Inland and Collins all offer their own versions of this rustic style of siding.

Collins offers a line of TruWood Cedar Shake, a composite wood product designed to replicate western red cedar shake. Each piece is 10 in. wide by 16 in. long, and is installed in pieces, similar to lap siding.

“I think it has the look of a rustic Western home,” says Jim Sargent, manager of distribution accounts for Collins. “We see the trend coming back around to the Western home look, with lap siding or the look of cedar.”

Temple-Inland introduced its CypressShake engineered wood lap siding in 2005. The product is designed to provide the rustic look of cedar, while allowing the same kind of installation as horizontal lap siding, in 16-ft. lengths.

“In the central part of the United States, shake is used as an accent product, but out West, an entire home will be wrapped in a shake pattern. We developed (CypressShake) for a specific builder in the mountain states; then it caught on from there,” says Pat Aldred, Temple-Inland’s vice president, fiber products.

“The shake look is popular,” CertainTeed’s Hoyt says. “People love the rustic look of shakes.”

CertainTeed also has joined the world of shake products, offering a polymer siding product called Cedar Impressions. The product is offered in a variety of profiles and colors, including 5-, 7-, and 9-in. shake, a rustic profile that looks like it’s hand-split, and half-round or fishscale profiles.