Introduced more than 20 years ago in Europe and Australia, fiber-cement siding has become a popular upsell in the U.S. remodeling market. With limited warranties of up to 50 years, it's considered a premium option, offering low maintenance compared with wood siding products for about the same installed costs, and a higher-quality appearance and more durability than vinyl for a 35% to 50% higher cost.
Fiber cement has taken off as a replacement siding in the hot, humid climates of the southern United States, where its resistance to rot, fungus, and termite infestation is an easy up-sell. In colder climates and coastal regions, its improved paint-holding characteristics and impact resistance often qualify it over wood.
Product Enhancements The newest fiber-cement products are designed to better resemble wood sidings. First came textured planks with embossed wood grains. Then manufacturers rolled out shingle siding panels. Available in full-length planks, installation is quick compared with cedar shingles. The look of discreet shingle tabs is either emulated with embossed shadow lines (CertainTeed, James Hardie, and Nichiha) or sawn along the panel, with staggered edges to enhance a rustic shingle appearance (MaxiTile).
Other innovations include fiber-cement trim accessories, which offer the same rot-resistance and low maintenance as the siding itself. CertainTeed and James Hardie both offer 1-inch-thick trim planks and compatible vented soffit panels.
An alternative to fiber-cement trim is PVC trim. Tamlyn & Sons manufactures a Plank Corner that employs a channel to cover the required ¼-inch gap between siding and trim and avoids caulk, which will inevitably fail before the paint job. Tamlyn also offers PVC corner caps that can be applied at each lap, much like metal corners, for a mitered corner appearance. Exposed fiber-cement miters are a bad idea, because they will likely open up and are extremely vulnerable to chipping.
Color choices for pre-painted fiber-cement stock have improved too. But some remodelers say they like to install only pre-primed material and paint it. Otherwise, it's tough to get a perfect color match when touching up any scuffs, dings, or chips the siding gets during installation.
Lessons Learned Indeed, the latest fiber-cement news includes lessons carpenters have learned from installing the material. While fiber cement is pieced together and fastened on the wall like wood sidings, it's a bear to handle and cut. It's heavy: An 8¼-inch-wide plank 12 feet long weighs about 19 pounds. Long lengths must be carried on edge or will snap under their own weight.
While fiber cement can be cut with an ordinary 7¼-inch saw, ordinary carbide blades dull quickly in the abrasive material. Hitachi's Hardiblade and DeWalt's PCD Fiber Cement Blade have been specially designed to stand up to fiber-cement siding. But cutting this material with a circular saw produces excessive dust. Makita introduced a sidewinder with a dust collecting shroud that can be hooked up to a shop vac, but die-hard worm-drive users like lead carpenter Tim Uhler, of Orchard, Wash., just can't bring themselves to make the switch. Uhler uses electric shears, such as Pacific International's Snapper Shears, ( www.snappershear.com), Kett Tools' Fiber-Cement Shears ( www.kett-tool.com), or Porter-Cable's 6605 Cement Shears ( www.porter-cable.com). The drawback is you can't gang-cut siding lengths with these tools, but they cut cleanly with zero dust. —Clayton DeKorne is a freelance writer based in Burlington, Vt., and Brooklyn, N.Y.