Unlike our neighbours to the south the weather in Canada produces its own challenges for building materials. This is especially true for home siding. But now siding is available in a wide variety of materials, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Traditionally, there were no specialty products for covering the outside of a home. Wood, stone and bricks provided their own external surfaces and insulation against the weather depending on which part of the country the structure was built. On the prairies earth and sod were used for building supplies and the siding and roofing was organic: grass.
As people moved out of log cabins and stone dwellings into more flexible and easier-built housing more products merged to protect the exterior of the home. Wood clapboard was a favourite because it was easily milled and its overlapping design prevented wind and water from getting inside. In recent years the emergence of several new products has changed the way in which Canadians clad their homes.
Depending who is doing the survey, and the location where the statistics are taken, vinyl siding is the most popular choice for exterior product. This has everything to do with its low cost and low maintenance. Once you put it on you can basically forget about it making it attractive to those people that do not like to paint the outside of a home every few years. In addition it is relatively easy to install and is available in a variety of colours. If it does get dirty or discoloured from mold, especially in shady areas of the home, it can easily be power-washed.
However, if vinyl siding is not put on properly it can contort and buckle. That is why the manufacturers design slots for the fasteners so that the product can move and expand and contract with weather conditions. The special fasteners have spacers to assist in this movement and prevent buckling. Vinyl can also get brittle after all few years make it susceptible to breaks and cracks if hit and fading if the colour is dark.
Aluminum has been around a lot longer than vinyl as an exterior product. It is prone to denting which is why many contractors will put it up on the second story rather than down low where it is vulnerable. It offers a greater variety of colours than vinyl and is not as sensitive to heat and cold as vinyl. As well it will hold its colour and finish longer than vinyl but can be painted if the owner changes the style of the home or gets tired of the look. Aluminum siding should be installed by a siding contractor but a skilled layman can do it.
Wood siding comes in a variety of styles: clapboard, shakes, singles or lap. Like other siding products wood should be installed over a house wrap for moisture protection. As well, priming the back of the wood is advisable to prevent moisture from getting in behind. In addition, many products are available pre-painted in a wide variety of colours. Cedar siding required no further preservation and lasted almost 50 years untreated.
Shakes: In the same manner as they would go on a roof, shakes are installed in rows which overlap each other. Although shakes are very labor intensive to put on they provide an extremely weather-tight seal for the home and if they are cedar they will last for many decades.
Clapboard: These pieces are of varying lengths and are placed on the exterior of the home in either vertical or horizontal rows. Unless they are cedar or redwood they should be finished or sealed as untreated wood will weather and may rot. However, properly primed and painted wood siding should last for years before it needs refinishing and has a very classic appeal.
As well as having the appearance of wood, fiber cement siding can also mimic brick and other exterior masonry products. And it cuts, nails and goes on the home just like wood clapboard. Because of its mostly cement composition this product is fire and insect-proof, it is strong and will not twist, warp or rot. In addition it will hold paint longer than wood siding. You can also get it pre-painted so that it is finished when it goes up. In areas where the summer is very hot, fiber cement siding both reflects and diffuses heat keeping the home cooler.
Like any other wood-composite product – furniture, MDF molding, etc – this siding is made from wood fillers, glue and other fillers. The product is molded into clapboard form and, like composite cement siding, is textured like real wood and can be painted. The downside is that the ends have to be sealed or else moisture may produce swelling at the joints. As well bumps and nicks in the surface can promote the same problems if proper maintenance is not done. Otherwise it is very cheap, easy to use and comes in a variety of colours.