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Siding design techniques: why all the rules?

There is a lot to consider when installing fiber cement siding, whether you're doing it yourself or working with a professional. Your choices range from texture, to color, to corner trim width, and everything in between. Many people have a clear vision of the ideal look for the exterior of their home. Others rely on their siding contractor, architect, or exterior designer to help with the decisions. There is a tremendous amount of design flexibility when it comes to fiber cement.

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A sleek ultramodern look can be achieved with fiber cement panels and aluminum channels. A classic Craftsman look comprises board-and-batten siding intermingled with lap siding and heavy trim details. The traditional American farm house uses narrow lap siding with whimsical trim details. These represent only two of many examples of potential designs that can be achieved with fiber cement siding.

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Fiber cement design basics

Do you want your home to look big and imposing or diminutive? To build the appearance of scale, consider using large exposure lap siding. An eight-inch-exposure lap siding can help a smaller house look bigger than if you use a narrow exposure such as five inches. The reverse technique--using narrow exposures--can scale down the appearance of a large home.

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The thickness of trim used can also aid in increasing or decreasing the scale of the building. Wide trim at the corners and around windows can make a building look squat and sturdy. Thinner width trims give a lighter appearance.

The use of trim and trim details also contributes to a building's richness. Have you ever looked at two similar houses and wondered why one just looked better than the other? Often, it is the use of high quality trim details that makes one house pop and the other just sit there. Pediments over doors and windows are easy touches that add interest. Use of simple stacked trim details can provide similar appeal. Added detail in the frieze or area under the soffit can also provide a visual punch.

Other home exterior considerations

Adding shingle into gables on the front of the house can contribute visual interest at a low cost. Board and batten details can also be used to create the same interest. Both of these products are available in fiber cement.

The final design element that is often underutilized is color. Fiber cement comes in a variety of colors that are painted onto the products prior to installation. James Hardie offers a color pallet of more than 20 colors. Pre-finished products allow you to mix colors with fewer cans of paint than would be required on unfinished products. So, out with that old beige siding and in with color.

Try playing with siding and trim colors. Use contrasting colors for a bold look or go with a contemporary monochromatic look where the trim matches the color of the house. Keep in mind those shingles in the gables, and use a different color there for added interest. Color splashes can also be added to porch ceilings. Sky blue porch ceilings are a common southern touch that are said to keep spiders away.

Whether your style is modern, conservative, traditional, or wild, fiber cement can accommodate. Let your inner designer loose. Explore the possibilities, and have fun.

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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