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What on earth is fiber cement siding?

You probably know about wood, vinyl and brick siding, but what about fiber cement siding? Maybe you've heard the name before but dismissed it because you didn't have a clue what it was? If you're looking for a durable, low-maintenance siding that won't burn and that offers a good return on investment, fiber cement could be the material for you.

Fiber cement: what is it good for?

A variety of products are made from fiber cement, including siding, exterior trim, shingles, panels, tile underlayment and much more. By far, however, siding and trim products represent the greatest use of fiber cement in the United States.

Cement Chair

credit Google Images

How fiber cement siding is made

Fiber cement, as the name implies, is a composite material made from a combination of cement, fillers and fibers. Most modern fiber cements sold in the United States are composed of Portland cement, sand, cellulose fibers and small amounts of proprietary ingredients. All of these ingredients are blended together and formed into sheets using the Hatschek process. In this process, thin films of fiber cement slurry are laminated together to create the desired sheet thickness of the manufacturer. At the same time the sheet thickness is being built, a texture can be applied.

Manufacturing Process

courtesy of James Hardie Building Products

Once the sheets are formed, they are trimmed to the desired widths and lengths. At this stage the products are uncured or "green." To complete the curing process, the green sheets are placed in an autoclave. The autoclave uses steam and pressure to complete the curing process, which would normally take approximately 30 days. From the autoclave the now-cured plank is finished with either a primer or paint. The entire process from raw ingredients to finished product takes less than 36 hours.

Process and ingredients can determine quality

Not all fiber cements are created the same. Manufacturers can use different ingredients and manufacturing processes to create fiber cement--with varied results. Fiber cement made using Portland cement, sand, cellulose fibers and modern manufacturing techniques have a 30-year track record of proven performance.

James Hardie Building Products pioneered the manufacturing of fiber cement in the mid-1970s. Today, they continue to innovate using proprietary processes for a product that is thicker, more workable and lighter than those created using the Hatschek method. Additionally, James Hardie now engineers products for different climates and continues to lead the fiber cement industry with its ColorPlus prefinished products.

 Seven Generations

courtesy of James Hardie Building Products

Fiber cement siding provides a number of benefits to the homeowner. Remodeling Magazine cites replacing your existing siding with fiber cement as the number one return on investment compared to other typical home improvement projects.

Project

2010
Rank

2009
Rank

2008
Rank

2007
Rank

2006
Rank

2005
Rank

Siding Replacement—Fiber Cement

1

1

1

1

1

1

Siding Replacement—Foam Back Vinyl

6

6

4

7

9

4

Minor Kitchen Remodel (replace wall oven and cook top with energy efficient models)

4

7

5

4

4

3

Mid Range Bathroom Remodel (update an existing 5' x 7' bathroom)

17

14

11

6

4

2

Mid Range Roof Replacement

21

18

22

22

18

17

2010 Hanley Wood, LLC. Excerpted by permission. Complete data from the Remodeling 2010 Cost vs. Value Report is available at www.costvsvalue.com

Shingle

courtesy of James Hardie Building Products

Advantages of fiber cement siding

Most fiber cements are non-combustible and can be used in fire prone and urban areas--a benefit that could yield savings on fire insurance. Many fiber cements are also dimensionally-stable when compared to wood, wood-based and PVC products. Paint holds up exceptionally well on fiber cement because of its dimensional stability. This means less painting--as a typical paint cycle can be as long as fifteen years. When it does come time to paint, there is no need for scraping and sanding. Finally, fiber cement performs very well in wet or high humidity climates, areas where wood and wood-based products have struggled.

So now you know. Fiber cement siding has been around since the '70s and is growing in popularity because it has some of the best properties of all the other sidings combined. As one of the more useful things to have come out of that decade, we can only hope it will outlive lava lamps and disco balls.

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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