SHAKE IT UP: The Foundry seven-inch split shake siding, shown on this house, comes in five-foot-long panels (inset) that can be cut with snips. I used to be one of those purists who insisted that wood was the only substance that belonged on the outside of a house. As such, I spent many hours brushing Cuprinol on the cedar shakes of my old house in New Jersey, at great risk to life and limb (and the pachysandra and ivy that used to surround the place, much of it killed by Cuprinol dripping from my brush). Here in coastal Maine, where I now live, it seems half the houses are clad in cedar shake, usually unpainted and untreated. The other half are sided in clapboard painted white.

Clapboard and cedar shake look great, are pretty darned durable, and last a long time, particularly if maintained properly. But cedar shake and natural clapboard are expensive, both in materials and in the labor to install them.

Increasingly, those clapboard houses up here are clad in fiber cement products from James Hardie that builders up here call "Haahdee Boahd." The cedar shake houses are still mostly the real thing, but in recent years, siding that is supposed to look like natural cedar has been popping up. Problem is, most of the product I've seen does not look natural at all. It is far too symmetrical, with patterns repeated every fourth or fifth "shake."

The Foundry siding from Michiganbased The Tapco Group is different. Like any manufactured product, it too is symmetrical, but Tapco uses more than 100 different molds taken from natural cedar shake and varies them randomly, so the stuff looks real until you get really close. It looks like it has been mill-sawn, complete with random saw marks. Patterns don't repeat for 50 feet.

Foundry can be married with Fullback Foam insulation to add R-4 insulation value to the siding. Its newest line, the Weathered Collection, looks like cedar shake that's seen a few winters, mud seasons, and Nor'easters. That's because color is varied from the deep ridges to the surface of the siding.

Tom Oot, president of Oot Brothers builders in upstate New York, has used Foundry siding on several projects including three multifamily communities, one that's located by the shore of Oneida Lake in the heart of the snow belt. "People who want the look of cedar really have few options," says Oot.

He says Foundry siding goes up easily, is easy to cut, and leaves little waste since the panels can be cut to fit and the excess used in the next course of siding. And he likes the look. "Its quality suits higher-end homes. We can put Foundry on a $1 million home without any reservations, and we have."

His construction superintendent says it can take the harsh weather. "The Foundry doesn't have the characteristics of typical vinyl siding ... [that] expands and contracts a lot because of extreme temperature changes. In the summer, you'll drive by a 12-foot double five-inch, and you can see it actually buckling and waving. The Foundry looks more like natural siding."

There is, of course, a cost. Jonathan Wierengo, director of marketing for Tapco, estimated that the base Foundry product, installed, carries roughly a 40 percent premium to standard vinyl siding. The Weathered Collection would come in at about a 46 percent premium.

The product is distributed through building supply companies, and Wierengo says several regional divisions of production home building companies have been using Foundry, particularly on the front-facing side of homes.

I wish I'd known this before I Cuprinol-ed the pachysandra-and put standard vinyl on my new house in Maine.