Fiber cement siding is a relatively new manmade building material that was invented in the 1980s by one of the industry’s leading manufacturers. Fiberboard is made from a mix of amorphous powder that includes the ingredients sand, cement, and wood pulp that are all squeezed together under high pressure in an industrial process with chemicals to make the boards. According to This Old House- about 15% of new construction homes in the US are built with fiber cement coverings. So, while Fiber cement siding has gained some traction in recent years it is not among the most popular siding choices in the states.
The Top Five most common problems you encounter with fiberboard cement:
- Expense (and can make a lot of dangerous silica dust if you are not careful)
- Not Waterproof
- Hard to paint
- Almost no insulation value
- It looks fake
1. Expense – Bid Sticker Shocker!
I think the number one reason fiber cement siding isn’t more popular is because of the cost. For a synthetic material you’d expect it to be cheaper than natural materials, but it is as expensive or more expensive when you factor in the higher labor cost (don’t forget to factor in both materials and labor when comparing construction costs). This is not a siding for do-it-yourselfers. Hire an experienced professional fiber cement board installer to put it up. Since the fiber cement boards are basically concrete- they are heavy and difficult to work with. You need special tools to cut the cement boards. If you try to use a regular circular saw- the blade will dull after only one or two cuts!
Fiber cement boards make a lot of dust when you cut them. It is very important to control that dust because silica dust is dangerous to breathe. Prolonged exposure to silica dust can cause respiratory illness (read up on early 1900s Gold Rush miners to see what heavy silica exposure can do to a person).
2. Needs to be Waterproofed. Splish / Splash!
Concrete is not waterproof, and neither are fiber cement boards. If you are a contractor or plumber you know Durock holds moisture, if you have ever poured water on it, it absorbs the water. This siding system requires a waterproofing system behind it to project the framing and drywall on the inside of the house from moisture intrusion – this is one of the extras that makes fiberboard expensive.
3. Hard to Paint – This ain’t no Sistine Chapel
When you buy fiber cement boards from the factory you can buy them either “pre-primed” or painted with one of a limited selection of factory colors. Factories usually have a dozen or two dozen colors to choose from. Since they have limited color options, the factory colors are bland. If there is a factory color you like, I’d go with it because painting fiberboard is tricky. It reminds me of painting fiberglass doors. The paint doesn’t adhere well to the surface and brushing leaves marks. If you are painting it yourself get the factory pre-primed. One thing you will notice is Fiberboard soaks up a ton of paint! The other hard part about painting fiberboards is avoiding “Lap Marks”. Concrete doesn’t paint great.
4. Almost no Insulation Value – Honey, Do I feel a draft?
Building departments across the US have put a lot of attention on energy efficiency. Fiber Cement boards have almost no insulation value. At an R rating of 0.5, you need to factor in the cost of extra insulation to get you to the minimum wall insulation rating of R20 required by most local building codes. Extra insulation adds to the expense.
5. Looks Fake – Fake News
There are two common “styles” for fibrous cement boards- smooth and Wood grain texture. I would probably go with the smooth because the wood grain texture is the same on every board and it looks very repetitive even if you are flipping some of the boards around to make it look better. At the end of the day it is going to look artificial so just embrace it.
About The Author
James Colin Campbell is a Los Angeles Real Estate Agent. James uses his in depth knowledge of all westside markets to guide his clients and help them find the property that is a match for them.