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Wood is a perennial favorite choice for siding options throughout the United States and Canada. Whether it is vertical siding like board and batten, or horizontal siding like clapboards, shakes, and shingles, there are a few species and grades commonly used for all applications.
A local builder or installer knows what species are readily available in the regional market. If you set your sights on wood that comes from a distance, is not frequently harvested, or is not suited to your region, you could hold up a project and raise the budget considerably. Before settling on a siding material, ask questions about rot resistance, splitting, checking, or cupping. A good rule of thumb is to buy the best grade of siding you can afford. Look for clear grains whenever possible, and make certain that the wood acclimates on site, is properly sealed, and is thoroughly protected upon installation.
Pine has long been a standard for exterior siding. Pine and its related softwoods—spruce and fir—can be less expensive than other species. Knot-free pine can be difficult to get in longer lengths, though, which can make a project more labor-intensive and costly. Pine holds a finish well, and is preferable when painting or staining horizontal siding. It is typically used for clapboards, but some contractors are wary of fast-growth pine for siding because it can be prone to cupping, splitting, and checking. Pine is not a rot-resistant wood, so it is important to keep it sealed and well maintained.
A member of the pine family, this softwood is readily available in East Coast markets as a substitute for pine. It comes in longer lengths than pine, and has many of the same characteristics. It is typically used for board siding, especially clapboards. Again, since it is not a naturally rot-resistant wood, it is important to regularly maintain and seal the wood.
Like pine and spruce, fir is used as an economical siding option. It comes in long lengths, is easy to cut and install, takes a finish well, and is readily available regionally in the West. Like the other softwoods, fir is easily milled to a pattern, be it shiplap, tongue-and-groove, or board-and-batten.
Cedar siding is known for its grain and its rot resistance. It is straight and resists splitting. Cedar takes a stain well and reveals a rich character. It is commonly used in shakes and shingles because it is dimensionally stable, resists swelling, and has less cupping and splitting. Cedar clapboards are popular, too, but clear grade A cedar can be costly. Still, for its grain and texture, cedar is preferred for stain applications. Cedar siding is naturally more moisture and insect-resistant than pine, but must be treated and maintained to retain these qualities. All woods must be sealed and stained or painted to resist moisture, damage, and decay.
Perhaps the hallmark of rich texture and tone, redwood is a good choice for siding in all climates. Redwood resists shrinking, so it holds its profile and keeps its joints with little warping or cupping. Redwood has little pitch or resin, so it absorbs and retains its finish very well and requires less maintenance than some other species. Redwood is also naturally insect resistant, not just on the face but throughout the wood. Grown in the West, redwood can be difficult to obtain in other regions.
Price and Options
Wood pricing varies depending on the market. It may be difficult to get some native western woods on the East Coast, for example, because consumers buy it up in the local markets. And because some woods cannot be harvested as quickly as others, the supply is naturally lower. Check with your builder or local lumberyard before making a final decision.
Some companies offer pre-primed planks, shakes, and shingles. These boards come primed on one or both faces, and are sealed and protected from the minute they arrive on site. These boards and shingles may be dipped or factory coated. Before installing, make sure that edges and ends are properly sealed. Freshly cut ends must always be primed and sealed before nailing.
A good wood siding should last for many, many years, but it must be properly maintained. Proper maintenance includes power washing, staining and sealing whenever the heat of the sun fades the finish, or moisture starts to turn to mold or mildew. Always allow wood to dry well before applying a new stain or finish.