Fiber Cement Siding 101

Of all the options available to homeowners today, fiber cement siding appeals to those seeking a long-lasting, low-maintenance material that performs well and looks good, too.

By Steven Bernstein and Bob Vila | Updated Jul 3, 2020 1:23 PM

Fiber Cement Siding


While it’s been around for years, fiber cement siding currently enjoys popularity with homeowners for a number of reasons. Some appreciate the sustainable aspects of its manufacture. Others favor the material for its architectural appeal. Although professional installation is recommended, ongoing maintenance costs are low. Once installed, fiber cement siding lasts a lifetime, and that more than anything may explain the high demand for it.

Fiber Cement Siding Maintenance and Longevity

Fiber-cement siding composition may vary from company to company, but the basic recipe is Portland cement, sand, and cellulose (wood) fibers. Wood fiber helps prevent cracking, as does a special curing process that leaves fiber cement with a low moisture content.

Each of the major manufacturers offers a line of fiber cement siding that meets or exceeds standards set forth by the American Society for Testing and Materials. The siding stands up, not only to the elements, but also to hazards like insects and noise pollution. After 15 years, refinishing becomes necessary, but maintenance duties are light otherwise. Indeed, manufacturers’ warranties attest to the product’s durability with 30- to 50-year warranties the norm.

Fiber-cement siding has the durability of cement, a class 1A fire rating, is impervious to wood-boring insects, does not rot, and is resistant to deterioration from salt and ultraviolet rays. “The added cost of fiber-cement is made up by the fact that once it’s up, you don’t have to worry about it,” says Lisa Santerian, marketing director for CertainTeed WeatherBoards fiber-cement siding.

Fiber-cement siding is low-maintenance, impact-resistant, and available in finished or painted options. Most companies warranty their product for 50-years, which is proof of its durability.

James Hardie fiber cement lap siding

HardiePlank Lap Siding from James Hardie

Fiber Cement Siding Architectural Appeal

The fiber-cement siding industry has spent years perfecting the look and finish of its product. this type of siding comes in a variety of designs: Lap, plank, vertical, shake, curved-shake and geometric patterns are all available. A host of textures can be found as well, and the siding may be colored to virtually any hue the homeowner desires. Some fiber cement siding products are made to resemble wood, while others imitate the look of natural fieldstone, stacked flagstone, or brick.

Surface designs are created during manufacturing, when the surface is embossed with a wood grain or left smooth. “We can do any sort of architectural shapes and styling, and the consumer can pick any color they want,” says Santerian. In addition to stained, prefinished, painted, or unfinished faces, fiber cement is available in every siding type and profile, including vertical and horizontal laps, shingles, trim planks, and soffit panels. “You can even get half-rounds and octagon shapes if you want,” adds Santerian.

Fiber Cement Siding Cost

The upfront expenses associated with fiber cement siding are not inconsiderable, being that professional installation is a must. However, the ongoing maintenance costs are minimal. You can expect to pay out for refinishing work about every 15 years or so, but the lion’s share of the overall cost will come at the beginning of the product’s 50-plus-year lifespan.

Fiber Cement Installation

Fiber cement may be heavier than vinyl siding or engineered wood, but it is still lighter than real wood or stone, which means it is not terribly difficult to install. Installation guidelines should be closely followed, particularly when it comes to cutting the product and keeping it dry. Cutting fiber cement is harder than cutting real wood; it requires pneumatic or handheld shears, a dust-reducing circular saw, or a diamond-tip miter saw. Cutting fiber cement will release silica dust into the air, so you should wear a mask when cutting.

DIY-ers and contractors alike should follow handling and storage recommendations closely. Saturated or moist fiber cement siding can shrink at the butt ends if installed prior to drying. “All our packaging states very clearly: ‘Do Not Install Wet Product,’ ” Santerian says. “Unfortunately, we still hear tales of installers spraying the product down prior to installation.” Proper storage of the product before installation is essential if the siding is to stay dry. A sheltered storage space is best.

Fiber Cement Siding - Installation

Photo: Flickr

Creating a Green Product

Fiber cement may enjoy even greater popularity now that consumers are looking to use green building products. As a wood alternative, fiber cement has forest-saving properties and environmentally friendly qualities. CertainTeed takes the wood fiber needed for its fiber-cement siding from a sustainably managed forest. They also use fly ash (a byproduct of coal-burning) to replace the sand and silica, thereby adding post-industrial recycling to its list of attributes. Fly ash also makes the fiber cement lighter than its sand and silica counterparts, so it can be easier to handle and install.

James Hardie, the founder of fiber cement in the 1970s and world leader in the category, is equally committed to sustainability—sourcing 90% of their materials from regional suppliers, and employing waste minimization and solid waste recycling technologies to support Zero to Landfill initiatives.  While cement, water, sand and cellulose fibers are used for Hardie siding products, fly ash is not: the company believes that it adversely impacts the durability of fiber cement.

Fiber Cement Versus Wood or Vinyl Siding

Wood siding boasts a timeless beauty, and many homeowners value the way its appearance gradually changes in subtle ways. You can save on installation by doing the work yourself, but wood siding products are often expensive to buy, and over time, the material demands a high level of maintenance.

Though colorfast and resistant to insects and rot, vinyl siding is not maintenance free: It’s vulnerability to weather damage makes occasional repairs necessary. The price tag is low enough to have enticed many, and another big selling point is its relative ease of installation.

If your priority is good looks, then you can’t go wrong with wood. If budget is your main concern, look no further than vinyl. Consider fiber cement siding if you are looking for a long-lasting, low-maintenance material that performs well and doesn’t look half bad, either.

Fiber-cement siding is an alternative to real wood, engineered wood, and vinyl siding options. Although fiber cement has endured some largely unwarranted criticism concerning moisture issues following faulty installation, it remains one of the more durable siding products in the industry.