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To paint or not to paint siding

Today, fiber cement comes with a variety of finish options. You can purchase fiber cement planks that have a primer coat and come ready to paint once they are installed. Various prefinished options are also available. These include products available from the fiber cement manufacturer, such as James Hardie's ColorPlus products. Other choices include prefinished products from companies not affiliated with a manufacturer. Each variation comes with unique details to consider.

Finish options and their advantages

Installing primed products and painting them after installation gives the building owner the option of any color and sheen his or her heart desires. When done correctly by skilled painters, field painting can produce very good results that rival the those of fiber cement painted in a factory setting.

Factory finishing by James Hardie removes all of the variables experienced in the field. James Hardie applies the siding finishes in a climate-controlled, factory setting. Further, the planks are clean and conditioned prior to the finish being applied. Uniform finish application, ensures each product receives the right treatment on every part.

To eliminate sticking, James Hardie's finishing process fully cures and wraps each product in a protective laminate before it gets palletized. Prefinishers share some commonalities with James Hardie's finishing process, but they tend to be crude application and curing processes.

James Hardie Protective Laminate
Courtesy of James Hardie Building Products

Is prefinished fiber cement really worth it? Well, there a two basic benefits: cost and hassle reduction. In most cases, the cost to paint the exterior of a house will usually be greater than that of installing prefinished cladding. There will typically be some painting required, but it can be reduced to a bare minimum. The exterior doors, open eaves and garage doors are examples of items you may still need to paint.

There may be exceptions to the cost benefit, depending on where in the United States you live. The hassles associated with field painting are many. The weather has to be good–not too cold, not too hot; it can't be raining or even threatening to rain among a number of other considerations. In certain climates, the numbers of days available to paint are few and far between. Finally, consider that you will need to protect cars, landscaping, patios and windows from overspray. Pulling off a worry-free paint job can be very difficult.

Field Paint vs. CPCourtesy of James Hardie Building Products

Finish colors

Often, people are concerned their color choices will be limited, if they choose pre-finished products. While it is true that color pallets can be limited, companies such as James Hardie have gone to great lengths to ensure that the color you want is available within their pallet of options. To create regional pallets, James Hardie works with Leslie Harrington, a color specialist who formerly worked with Crayola and Behr paints. This results in colors that are specific to regions of the United States.

Prefinished fiber cement can yield a consistent, worry-free paint job. Siding, as well as the complementary products, such as shingles, trim and soffit are available. Installation practices are nearly identical to the primed products, so most installers should be familiar with how to lay and secure fiber cement siding. However, if you want your house to match that baby blue VW beetle of your youth, you can still get the brush out and paint it.

James Hardie ColorPlus PalletCourtesy of James Hardie Building Products


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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