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Why not install fiber cement siding yourself?

With the economy and housing markets still in recovery, the do-it-yourself movement is stronger than ever. Building products' manufacturers have supported weekend warriors with more prescriptive installation instructions, clearly spelling out the installation process from beginning to end. Instructional videos, professional and amateur, are available for many projects. Often these take you beyond the manufacturer's basic instructions to give do-it-yourselfers tips from professionals. Blogs, message boards and forums also provide insight for the motivated, DIY-homeowner. So, is installing fiber cement siding a job for the average amateur?

Out with the old siding

If you are re-siding your home, you may need to remove the siding currently on the building. Removal is not very difficult, but there are a few pitfalls you should know about:

  1. Lead paint. If your home was ever painted before the mid 1970s, you could run into lead-based paint. You can test for it prior to the removal of the siding. If present, a professional should probably handle removal and disposal to ensure that you, your family, and your neighbors stay safe from any exposure to lead.
  2. Asbestos. The removal of asbestos-based siding, popular from the 1940s to 1960s, absolutely must be removed and disposed of by professionals.
  3. Old vinyl, aluminum or wood-based siding. These types of old siding products generally require only a pry bar, hammer, and elbow grease. Demolition is usually pretty straight-forward.

Once the old siding is removed, carefully check sheathing, window sills, and ledger boards for damage. Now is a great opportunity to make repairs to the underlying structure of the building. Also, consider replacing windows and doors at the same time. With the siding off, it's a lot easier, especially when it comes to properly flashing the windows. Your level of ambition and the scope of necessary repairs should help you determine whether to do the work yourself or hire a professional installer.

In with the new fiber cement siding

Once you've completed the demo and repairs, you should install a code-approved, weather-resistive barrier (house wrap) before putting up the siding. There are plenty of good ones to choose from: look for non-woven, non-perforated products such as HardieWrap, Tyvek, or similar items. House wrap is generally simple for a do-it-yourselfer to install.

House wrap from James Hardie

Keep in mind that fiber cement is heavy in comparison to wood or vinyl siding. An average piece of HardiePlank lap siding is 12-feet long and 7.25-inches wide. It weighs approximately 2.3 pounds per square foot, making the total weight for one plank close to 17 pounds. A 4-by-8 panel will weigh nearly 73 pounds. Completely cladding a modest house might use 280 planks. That means you might have to move and install roughly 4,700 pounds of material! If you wonder why you do not bump into too many fiber cement installers at the gym, now you know.

Installation requires some tools that you'll probably want to rent if you don't already own them: a compressor, a circular and/or miter saw (both with HardieBlades), and a nail gun -- although if you are a glutton for punishment, fiber cement can be hand nailed. HardieBlades are designed for cutting James Hardie products and reducing the amount of dust generated. Beyond these power tools, some simple hand tools are needed, especially a hammer and tape measure. Finally, depending on the height of your house, you might need ladders, scaffolding or pump jacks. If you're not comfortable about working at heights, hire a professional.

Hardie blade


Installation itself is not complicated. All of the details you need for installing James Hardie siding are at www.jameshardie.com. Look for the "Best Practices" guide specific to your geographic locale. If you have some basic carpentry skills, a few friends and the right tools, installing fiber cement is doable. Follow the directions and you can end up with a great-looking finished 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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