If you ask the brick industry, they’d tell you that brick is the best siding material. The vinyl industry would make the same claim for their product. So would the fiber-cement people, and so on.
This level of partisanship is expected, but the answer is really more complicated. Brick is everything the industry says it is—strong, durable, classic. And vinyl is as maintenance free and easy to install as its industry often claims.
But the “best” siding for your house depends on other issues: the results you’re looking for, the region you’re in, the architectural style of the house you’re building, how much your buyers are willing to spend, and lots of other things.
R. McAllister Lloyd, for example, builds cottages in the Northeast, so he prefers cedar or redwood shingles because they have “more of a cottage feel,” says the owner of Creative Cottages in Freeport, Maine. “Most of the time, cottages in New England had white cedar shingles because [the trees] were readily available.”
But times have changed. Wood siding is expensive and requires maintenance, so buyers of Lloyd’s mid-priced homes often choose other options. “A lot of people are going for zero maintenance so they choose vinyl or something else,” Lloyd says. “Manufacturers have worked on the colors and the look, so [vinyl] has gotten better over the last 15 years.”
With a market share just above 30 percent (brick and stucco stand at 25 percent each), vinyl leads the category, but the product has its detractors. Generally, architects—who often are purists who prefer wood—are not among its fans. The problem, they say, is that the product tries to be something that it’s not—in this case, wood. They also say that vinyl feels flimsy. Production and large-volume builders, however, love vinyl, especially the cost. According to RSMeans Residential Cost Data 2009, vinyl has an installed cost of $182 per square (or a 10-foot-by-10-foot area). The closest competitor—fiber cement—costs $297 per square. Nevertheless, the industry insists price is not the only driver.
“It’s clear that vinyl has the lowest installed cost, but that’s not the only reason [it’s No. 1],” says Jery Huntley, president of the Vinyl Siding Institute in Washington, D.C. Huntley points to vinyl’s diverse range of profiles and colors, its durability and weather resistance, and its low-maintenance benefits.
The brick industry often hears the flip side of that argument—that its installed cost of $1,038 per square is too expensive for most buyers, which may explain why some builders use brick on the front elevation and another material, usually vinyl, on the remaining three sides.
“Brick costs more than some other commonly used siding materials because brick is a premium product, but it’s not nearly as expensive as you might think,” the Reston, Va.–based Brick Industry Association (BIA) says on its Web site. “In many parts of the country, a new brick home will cost you only a small percentage more than a comparable vinyl-sided home.”
Different siding products tend to dominate in different parts of the country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2007 about 81 percent of new single-family homes in the Northeast were covered with vinyl and about 65 percent in the Midwest. The census also indicated that brick is king in the South with about 42 percent, and stucco rules the West with 61 percent.
“That’s historical preference,” Huntley explains. “It’s what the houses in that area looked like. In New England, you have styles like Cape Cod and clapboard and in the South you have more brick and clay.” It also explains stucco’s popularity in the Southwest, she adds.
“We believe it is most accurate to look at the national brick industry as a series of individual brick markets, [rather] than a larger set of brick regions,” says Stephen Sears, senior director of marketing and communications at BIA. “The reason for this is that there are strong brick markets throughout the country.”
The best siding option often comes down to what’s appropriate for the style of the home. Stucco might work for a modern house but less so for a classic Cape Cod. And for many people, a colonial should be clad in brick. No matter what your preferred siding happens to be, the category is awash in innovations such as insulated vinyl, thin-brick veneer, recycled paper cladding, wood veneer composite, and fiber cement that mimics stone.
One of these innovations is prefinished clapboard and vertical siding and trim milled from cellular PVC from Chicopee, Mass.–based NuCedar Mills.
“We’re feeling good about where we are at the moment,” CEO Tom Loper says. “We’ve carved out a niche in the high-end market between fiber cement and cedar.” Priced about 40 percent more than fiber cement and 25 percent to 35 percent less than cedar, NuCedar is especially popular in coastal areas and where severe weather is a threat, says Loper. “It has no wicking properties and holds up to Dade County, [Fla.], standards, withstanding wind speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour.”
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.