Siding Trends: First Impressions

With their contractor’s guidance, homeowners are choosing exterior cladding with more options than ever to achieve the exact look they want as well as durable, long-lasting curb appeal.

authors Emily Blackburn | March 17, 2021

The first thing a person sees upon approaching a home is the exterior cladding, and as homeowners continue their pandemic-spurred investments in their homes, siding is not being overlooked.

“With more people staying home, I have a strong belief that in the next 18 months to two years, we’ll see more re-sidings than ever before,” says Sean Gadd, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of North America for James Hardie. “There’s an opportunity here. There are a lot of people at home seeing their siding or seeing their home and saying, ‘You know, I’ve got some spare cash, it’s time to do an update.’”

Remodelers now have a growing number of options to fit those homeowners needs and to meet the growing demand. Siding choices continue to proliferate, giving remodelers more and better options, particularly when it comes to durability, low maintenance, profile and color options, and overall long-term value. The new choices also offer benefits to contractors in terms of easier installation and tailored solutions.

Materials 101

No longer are homeowners and remodelers limited to vinyl or wood siding, with more options than ever before to provide the customer exactly the look they want.

Alside’s polymer composite cladding product, Ascend, was recognized by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), earning the title of “Most Innovative Building Material” in the Best of IBSx Awards for the recent 2021 NAHB International Builders’ Show virtual experience (IBSx).

Alside’s polymer composite cladding product, Ascend, was developed as an alternative to engineered wood and fiber cement, combining glass fibers for strength with the maintenance-free element that comes with the polymer. Pictured: Ascend in Cast Iron.

“It leverages a new technology of incorporating glass fibers into the polymer, and that gives it added strength. It gives us the ability to create the 7-inch profile,” says Shawn Hardy, senior vice president and general manager of integrated products for Alside, which also produces energy-efficient Coventry vinyl siding and Stainwood steel cladding.

“Another component is the graphite-infused polystyrene, the foam component to it, that produces see the R-2 insulating value,” he says. These combine to create a fire-rated, maintenance-free, Cedar mill-grain embossed product that doesn’t require special equipment or training to install.

Poly-ash, a proprietary composite from Boral Building Products comprised in part of fly-ash, is a big part of the Boral lines, says Ben Drury, brand manager for Boral Building Products, which manufacturers Foundry and Grayne composite shingle-style siding along with the poly-ash composite cladding, TruExterior.

Boral Building Products’ TruExterior is made with proprietary poly-ash technology to replicate the authentic look of wood as well as a durability for resistance to warping, cracking and splitting. And it can be painted like any wood product.

“Where we really differentiate is that with a lot of products, such as composites and fiber cement, you can’t put them in moisture-prone areas. They just really don’t do well,” Drury explains. “They’ll absorb that moisture where ours, once it’s put up, it doesn’t do that. So you can literally set it right on top of stone or brick as you’re working up the wall. And you don’t have to worry about moisture that other products do.”

The blend of recycled polymers not only retains a wood look, resists moisture and is suitable for ground contact, but it also can be installed using the traditional woodworking tools and methods, thus cutting down on need for training or additional installation tools; and, the product comes pre-primed and ready for long-lasting paint job.

Speaking of a wood-look that doesn’t fade, Cedar Impressions from CertainTeed is an injection-molded, durable polymer that gives the appearance of a textured cedar wood shake without the heavy maintenance and fading that comes with natural wood. Made from polypropylene resin, the polymer siding is molded from real cedar planks to best reflect the cedar shake detail, without the cost of wood.

“One of the biggest benefits of vinyl siding is the low-maintenance aspect; it’s easy to clean and maintain,” Radcliffe says. Pictured: CertainTeed Double 7” Perfection Shingles in Desert Tan.

Tando Building Products’ own injection-molded polypropylene siding, Beach House Shake, similarly replicates the look of unpainted cedar wood shake. “When Beach House Shake goes on a home, no one walks by the home saying, ‘Oh, that’s either painted wood or a polymer,’” says Ralph Bruno, president and CEO of Derby Building Products, parent company of Tando, which manufactures polymer-based shake siding under the TandoShake and Beach House Shake lines.

“Instead, they’re saying, ‘Wow, that’s a beautiful cedar home.’ We’ve been able to replicate that. What it doesn’t do that cedar does do, is it doesn’t just discolor over time. Our beach house shakes stays looking like the day it was installed.”

Injection-molded polypropylene siding, Beach House Shake, replicates the look of unpainted cedar wood shake without the long-term costs and maintenance associated with Cedar Shake. Pictured: Tando Beach House Shake in Mariner Blue.

Another thing that sets Beach House Shake apart is the brand-new usage of Kynar, a resin-based architectural coating. This coating combines with a 20-year warranty to guarantee homeowners are satisfied with the color stay of their shake selection.

Engineered wood, a staple of LP SmartSide, combines the aesthetics of real wood with engineered wood strand technology for superior durability, says Trinh Le, head of marketing and siding business for LP Smartside. It also allows for longer lengths, with LP SmartSide boasting of a 16-foot length that allows for faster installation, less waste, and the potential for fewer seams for a finished, more durable look.

Gadd of James Hardie notes a move by the fiber-cement manufacturer toward producing more modern panels in order to get the siding installed faster. The flagship product, HardiePlank, already comes in a variety of sizes, from 5-¼-inch to 8-¼-inch widths.

Gadd adds that James Hardie is working toward going beyond the exclusively wood-look product that they’re known for, including the addition of stucco and even brick options to their line-up. “We’re talking a lot about design flexibility possibilities,” he says.

Made of fiber cement, these options would offer the same benefits of wood-look products, with the ability to reflect authentic textures, be painted and resist fire. While not the cheapest available option, fiber cement does offer longer-lasting durability, authentic appearance and low maintenance.

Picture-Perfect Profiles

Fiber cement offers realistic wood-look options with lasting durability and low-maintenance in a variety of available sizes, including 8-½-inch widths. Pictured: HardiePlank Lapsiding in Mountain Sage.

In addition to choosing siding that will last, won’t break the bank and won’t require tons of maintenance, homeowners are going their own way when it comes to choosing which profiles they’re putting up. Traditional, one type of lap siding, is largely a thing of the past, with homeowners choosing sometimes three to four different materials or colors to put on their home.

“Nowadays, more than ever, homeowners want their homes to be unique. They don’t want to look the same as their neighbors or the people across the street,” notes Mike Fedorco, product manager at CertainTeed. “Whereas in the past, you might see just lap across the entire front of the house, homeowners are wanting to add more interest and personalize it, so you’re seeing more mixing of traditional lap siding with accent areas, like a gable or dormer. The board and batten is really coming on strong as an accent of choice. Certainly, you can do whole homes in board and batten, but having that pop of vertical siding right is really becoming popular.”

“I think a lot of it started with the farmhouse movement,” says Steve Booz, vice president of marketing for Royal Building Products. He attributes the neutral grays and blues that have remained popular to this movement, as well as the rise of board and batten siding.

Kriss Swint, director of marketing for Royal, adds, “A lot of what we’re seeing is driven by influencers. For example, homeowners are much more prevalent online, utilizing social media, following people who are close to a design aesthetic they gravitate towards.”

“The days of a little yellow house being yellow lap from the roof line to the floorboard doesn’t happen anymore,” notes Bruno, adding that homeowners are much more open to stone—or composite stone—knee walls and shake gable accents to make their home stand out.

But it’s not just about siding, Swint stresses. It’s about making sure the siding complements the roof, windows, trims and shutters, as well as the other accent siding choices that are being made. “It’s really about mixing and matching two to three different textures and styles. I think beyond that it almost starts to look a little clownish.”

Installation Innovation 

Labor shortages—an ongoing effect of the late 2000s economic crash—are still top of mind for businesses, who seek to make their products as easy to install with as few workers as possible.

“Everybody’s got labor challenges,” Hardy says. “If you’re a remodeler and you have two crews that are out there doing siding, and let’s say six people are on a crew, if they’re doing fiber cement or engineered wood, you need those 12 laborers.

“Prefinished siding saves time and allows construction to continue even as the weather gets colder.” Le says. “Our ExpertFinish lap installs easier and helps limit the need for most seam caulking, joint moulds, or pan flashing.” Pictured: LP Smartside Expert Finish in Prairie Clay and Summit Blue.

“With Ascend you could go to four crews with three people on them, or three crews with four people on them, the same 12 people. It’s faster, fewer steps, it’s lighter, and it only needs one person to install a plank because it’s self-aligning the way that the product interlocks. You can learn to install Ascend in a couple of days and feel comfortable sending someone out on a job.” In addition, unlike fiber cement, the Ascend product is only three-quarters of an inch, fitting into integral J-windows or other channel accessories without any trimming needed.

“One of the things that we do really well as a business, as we introduce new products, is make sure that there’s not a lot of extras you have to go through in the installation,” says Drury of Boral. “With our TruExterior, you can put it up with the tools that you have. You don’t have to seal it, it’s easy to cut and fasten, [and] it’s fairly easy to work with.”

He says that as Boral goes about introducing new products, ease of installation is always top of mind in addition to focusing on how easy it is for the customer to maintain.

Pictured: Alside’s Ascend in Sterling Gray

For Boral’s Grayne siding, the manufacturer went ahead and extruded squares and triangles right into the panel itself to help guide contractors where they need to cut through the middle of each piece. “If they start with a square, they’d cut in the middle of the square, start their piece, then cut in the middle of the triangle and back and forth as they move up the wall,” Drury explains. “It looks just like it’s a seamless design, just like shake. It was just a nice touch that we put on that panel to make it a lot easier to install.”

Available in lap siding, Board ‘N Batten and shakes, ProVia expands its color palette into the darker tones with “Nightfall” and “Sea Slate,” meeting ever-growing design demands.

For Joe Klink, director of corporate relations for ProVia, one way the company has been helping pros is by keeping prices consistent—even if it means taking it on the chin. “Unlike most, if not all other vinyl siding manufacturers, we hold our prices,” he says.

“If we need to do a price adjustment, we do it once a year at the beginning of the year, whereas the others are anchored on what resin costs; so if resin costs increase, they’ll put it out, and we don’t do that.” By doing it this way, he says they’re able to give consistent, no-surprises offers to their contractors through the whole year, and that has shown through in the loyalty and sales that they’ve experienced in the last year.

Digital Advancements 

Though so many other industries have been falling behind, it’s been a bullish year for remodelers. Even in the case of a great selling year, remodelers have had to adjust the way they’re selling to accommodate social distancing, but also to speed up sales in order to keep up with demand.

In the last year, Tando has focused on improving the online visualizer to help contractors and installers meet time constraints and makes sales.

“There’s definitely a trend to using more digital stuff lately because it also helps make it quicker for the contractors,” Bruno says. He explains that even though many contractors and installers still request physical samples of colors, it’s easier and quicker to use the Tando QuickView visualizer to see what the sample would look like up on a house. “Time is the most valuable commodity for all of us, but certainly for installers right now; they are all swamped. If we can help tighten up their process to get the sale, we will.”

Digital has been a big push for James Hardie as well, with Gadd noting that it’s one of their top focuses for 2021, with an heightened focus on education accessibility. “We’ve got 30-second vignettes, so contractors are able to understand what they need to do step-by-step without us having to be there. We’re trying to get a more mass communication rather than one-on-one. Our whole mission right now is about scale: from one to many.” He says James Hardie is spending the time improving its digital tools and platforms for contractors so they have what they need.

Launched in 2020, LP SkillBuilder provides on-demand video content for pros, with content ranging from How to Measure and Cut Roof Tiles to How To Use a Pocket Hole Jig.

“We spend a lot of time with the contractors that we work with,” Gadd says. “[Teaching them] how to sell in the home, how to market around a jobsite to make sure that they win a neighborhood, not just the house that they want. We provide tools and instructions around how to do that.”

“In late 2020, we launched LP SkillBuilder to provide on-demand video content that can be accessed whenever and wherever a pro needs it,” Le says, noting the huge changes in how builders and contractors interact in the last year and the necessary job training that’s needed.

“While we have expanded our training teams and the number of events, the reality is that an in-person event may not fit a pro’s schedule or provide them with the information they need when they need it,” Le explains. The online SkillBuilder library seeks to fill that gap between availability and access. QR

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