Fiber cement siding has been making a lot of strides in recent years as a wood siding alternative for homes. The material seeks to solve a lot of the problems that wood siding typically has, such as peeling, rotting, insect activity, and the risk of fire.
And while it does do all of these things, it also has some serious drawbacks that are beginning to come to light.
Fiber Cement Siding Problems
While fiber cement isn’t new, the formula currently being used by manufacturers – a blend of Portland cement, cellulose fiber, sand, and silica – has only been around for about 30 years.
It’s still a relative newcomer to the siding game, and as time goes on, new problems continue to develop, which can make this material a questionable option for many homeowners.
1. Health Problems for Installers
Fiber cement is a very dense material that uses cement as its base along with sand and silica. This means that when traditional saws and other cutting tools are used, the dry, brittle material will produce a lot of dust. This dust will settle on every nearby area, but most alarmingly, it can be inhaled by anyone nearby.
Inhalation of silica dust can cause a condition known as silicosis, which is a serious and sometimes fatal lung disease.
While most installers do take care to work with masks or dust collection tools, there is still a real health risk for homeowners visiting the site, DIY installers who may not realize the risks involved, and anyone cleaning up after the job is over who may accidentally disturb the dust, causing it to go airborne again, and potentially be inhaled.
To truly minimize these risks, specialized equipment must be purchased and used to cleanly slice the planks with no resulting dust. Some installers may not realize this equipment is available while others may not choose to take on the added expense.
DIY homeowners who have access to saws may not have the knowledge or ability to get this special equipment, so the problem continues.
In the grand scheme of things, there are definitely worse materials for the environment than fiber cement. But the material still has drawbacks that need to be considered from the standpoint of green building.
Many homeowners today want truly eco-friendly materials for use in and around their homes. This means that they want materials that either contain recycled content or that can be recycled either because of leftover material they want to ethically dispose of or in the event that they choose to replace their siding years down the road.
Fiber cement does not contain any post-consumer recycled content, and the material itself can’t be recycled. Leftover material or old material can only go into landfills. And because it’s insect resistant, moisture, and flame resistant, it’s not going to break down easily over time either.
3. Heavy and Difficult to Work With
Fiber cement is made with some very dense, heavy materials – sand, silica, and cement. This is considered positive because the material isn’t going to rot like wood or be impacted by freeze/thaw conditions like vinyl.
But the planks and panels that makeup fiber cement are incredibly heavy and difficult to work with. They require a minimum of a two-man team to hang, and it’s slow going when cutting and nailing, due to the thickness.
This makes the installation expensive and more time consuming than many other materials. It also often makes it out of reach of DIY installers who may want to try to save money.
It can also be more difficult to find installers in some areas, as some installers find the material too difficult to work with, or those that do work with it have more of a workload than they can handle, both due to the slow nature of the install and the fact that there is a shortage of installers.
4. Brittle and May Crack
Not every type of fiber cement siding is created equally, but some types have been known to crack easily, both during installation and after, particularly if hit. The boards tend to be very dry and brittle in general, and companies that have thinner boards, which may be easier to work with, often have boards that crack easily as well.
Some companies even recommend that you purchase an additional 15% of material simply to make up for cracking that can occur during installation. If you live in an area prone to hail or other storms, you could find that your siding cracks over time due to the frequent impacts.
Once it does crack, there isn’t anything that can be done to repair it, other than removing it and installing new siding in its place.
5. Not As Low Maintenance as Billed
Fiber cement siding is considered a low maintenance alternative to wood. And in most comparisons, it is lower maintenance than wood. However, some people inevitably take this to mean that the material is low maintenance in general, and that isn’t always the case.
Some brands will require repainting after about 10 years. Other brands use a third-party to apply their color and don’t warranty the color at all.
In those cases, the color may begin to peel or fade after a much shorter time, which will mean that you have more maintenance in keeping your home looking its best than you intended when you installed the siding.
A Better Alternative
If you’re looking for a wood-look siding that can be recycled, doesn’t cause health problems when cut, won’t crack, installs easily, and that’s truly low maintenance, consider steel siding.
Steel siding, like that from TruLog, is a truly durable, low maintenance material that’s much easier to work with, and that can give your home the look of real wood without the issues of real wood. It doesn’t need repainting, is made from recyclable steel, and is designed with function in mind. Get a better alternative for your home and give TruLog steel siding a look for your next siding job.