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5 tips for beautiful fiber cement shingle installation

Talking to folks about installing fiber cement shingles (for siding) will elicit a variety of responses not many of them good. There are a number of tricks to getting shingles right, none of which are overly difficult, but you do need to leave your preconceptions at the door. Fiber cement is fiber cement, and wood is wood. Respect their difference and expect to install them accordingly. Many of the same rules apply -- but not all.

1. Single shingles or panel?

First, choose your fiber cement shingle wisely. You have a choice between single shingles and panels. Both have their own characteristics. If you are covering large square footage, panels are a logical choice. Single shingles give you an advantage in small spaces -- or in areas such as gables where you are dealing with angles. To gain the ultimate in efficiency you might want to consider mixing panels with individuals. Until recently this was not possible -- and actively discouraged -- by companies such as James Hardie Building Products. New advances in manufacturing have led to changes in James Hardie's shingle products, which now allow you to mix panels and individuals. With a little forethought you can cut down on waste and improve the aesthetics.

2. Use your widths

Use all of the widths. Pallets of individuals come with equal amounts of five different shingle widths. Be sure you are using all the widths during the installation process. You do not want to end up with only two singles widths and still have three squares left to install. Bundle up the shingles into groups of each of the five widths. This will help you keep track and make full usage of all the widths.

3. Don't repeat yourself

Repeating patterns are not aesthetically desirable. There might be a time and place where a pattern is preferable, but generally speaking, random joints, a.k.a. keyways, are what you're striving for. When you are working close to the wall, it can be difficult to see you are creating a pattern, so step back every once-in-a-while for a check. This is one time when following directions is important, especially with panels or on large walls. For example, you should treat windows or doors as if they are not there. This does not mean siding over them! It means continuing your layout as if the window were not there. It is certainly more difficult than using a full panel after the window or door, but it will help ensure you do not fall into an unwanted pattern.

4. Don't begin at the beginning

Like some of the best stories, starting in the middle often makes things more interesting. Begin installing your shingles in the middle of the wall or gable. James Hardie introduced this practice a year or so ago because it helps randomize the keyways, especially with panels, and it cuts down on waste. It is pretty simple really: instead of the tried-and-true, left-to-right method, you begin your layout in the center of the wall. Use 16 inches of sets with each panel as you move up the wall. It eliminates cutting starter courses required when using a left-to-right method. If you try nothing else, try this. Some installers have called it "life-changing."

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5. Get started right

Finally, use the proper starter system. This includes a starter strip that conceals the house wrap and the starter course. It is not a choice: You really need to use both. Just like roof shingles you should end up with three layers of overlap. The starter strip and course mimic the three-layer overlap. This starting system ensures the angle of the first course of shingles is correct. If you skip the starter strip or starter course, you end with a large shadow line below the second course of shingles. It's a telltale sign of improper installation.

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Hopefully, these few tips help you with your next shingle project. Remember: the best thing you can do is read and make sure you understand the manufacturer's installation directions before you start.

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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