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Shingle siding throwdown: fiber cement vs. cedar

The use of shingles as a siding material has a long history in the United States. While wood shingles have been the traditional choice, fiber cement offers the same look as a painted clear cedar shingle with all of the fiber cement advantages. Fiber cement can significantly lower your maintenance time and cost when compared to traditional cedar shingles.

Maintaining traditional cedar siding

Take a look at the maintenance requirements for cedar siding. According to the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, you would have to perform the following maintenance to keep cedar shingles looking good and performing well.

Suitability and Expected Service Life of Exterior Finishes on Western Red Cedar Siding & Trim1

Finish

On Planed Smooth WRC2

On Textured WRC

Suitability

Expected

Suitability Life (yrs)

Expected Life (yrs)

Paint3

High

Up to 10

High

Up to 12

Solid-colour Stain

Moderate

3 to 5

High

4 to 6

Bleaching Oil

Moderate

3 to 5

High

5 to 6

Semi-transparent stain4

Moderate

1 to 3

High

2 to 4

Water-repellent preservative and oil5

High

1 to 2

High

1 to 2

1Data compiled from research observations. Expected lifetime predictions are for an average location in the continental United States. Expected life will vary in extreme climates or exposures such as desert, seashore, and deep woods or according to the building's orientation
2Vertical grain cedar
3Expected life of two coats: one primer and one top coat. Applying a second top coat will increase the life of the coating
4Follow manufacturer's recommendations for the number of coats
5Development of mildew on surface indicates need for cleaning and possible refinishing

Fiber cement shingle siding vs. wood shingles

In comparison, you should expect to maintain a fiber cement shingle every 10 to 12 years, depending on the quality of finish you choose. Beyond reduced maintenance, fiber cement tends to be lower cost, easier to install, and will not burn. All of these are important considerations if you are choosing a shingle look.

fiber cement shingles

It's true that wood shingles are easy for installers to cut to a variety of widths, thus offering a random layout that fiber cement has long struggled to provide because of the nature of the product. However, James Hardie Building Products has solved this aesthetic dilemma. They are now able to provide five individual fiber cement shingle widths -- two more than were available previously. And while it might not sound like much, two additional widths actually provide the installer with 40 percent more layout options, making a big impact on bringing fiber cement shingle layout aesthetics closer to those of cedar shingles with their variable widths and freedom from pattern repetition.

Another significant advantage of fiber cement shingles is that they come in panels. Panels have long been a staple of fiber cement shingles. They are four long, and they speed up the installation process enormously. In the past, however, panels also lacked the randomness of individual cedar shingles. James Hardie Building Products addressed this issue by introducing more panel widths and creating "A" and "B" panels to decrease the repetition in the layout. Additionally, James Hardie improved their installation practices to both increase randomization and improve installation efficiency.

So now, in addition to its cost and maintenance advantages over cedar, fiber cement also delivers on the aesthetics of a wood shingle product.

About the Author

Matt Spencer is the National Installation Manager for James Hardie Building Products, the largest manufacturer of siding in North America. Matt and his team educate installers, builders, and design professionals on the proper techniques to install fiber cement siding. Matt also works with James Hardie's R&D group to develop and improve installation practices for new and existing products. Matt has been with James Hardie for eleven years holding prior positions in sales and product development. He earned a master's from Northwestern University in product design and development.

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