Wood vs. Vinyl Siding: Why a Premium Hardwood Siding Is Best

By Chad Koehnen, 07/26/19

Wood Siding-Front Facia

Wood siding has been the most popular material for homes for decades. Traditional softwood siding, however, often has issues with warping, rotting, cracking around knots and bug resistance, which led many homeowners to begin looking for alternatives.

Vinyl siding was introduced in the 1950s as an alternative to aluminum siding. Because it could be molded to look like it had a wood grain, it quickly caught on as another option to wood siding as well.

But vinyl has a lot of drawbacks all its own. It’s often seen as far less than the low- maintenance option that it’s often billed to be, and it doesn’t hold up well in all climates. Homeowners who want the look of wood siding, without the issues of softwoods, may want to consider hardwood siding instead of either softwood or vinyl.

The Drawbacks of Vinyl Siding

Vinyl siding is made from polyvinyl chloride, a form of plastic. The appeal of vinyl comes from the fact that the color penetrates the entire plank, so there’s no paint or stain to maintain or reapply over time. Vinyl is easy to clean and fairly easy to install as well since it’s lightweight and snaps easily onto the home’s exterior.

However, no matter how well it’s molded to look like wood, vinyl siding is still a type of plastic and comes with all the issues and drawbacks associated with the material. Like all plastics, vinyl is susceptible to temperature changes.

This means that in hot climates, the siding can soften and begin to warp over time due to thermal expansion lengthwise. This expansion means the siding won’t lay flat along the side of the house, creating a rollercoaster-like profile.

In cold climates, particularly those that see freeze/thaw cycles, the siding can become brittle. When the brittle siding gets struck, by a hailstone, a falling tree limb or a stray baseball, it will crack. Hit hard enough, and large pieces of the siding can even break free, forming a hole that can’t be easily patched.

In some cases, vinyl siding warping and cracking can even cause it to drop off of the house from where it’s attached to the fasteners. This exposure allows moisture and insects to penetrate right down to the house’s frame. This means that your home will lose the protection that siding is supposed to offer.

Vinyl has other issues as well. It not only melts at high temperatures, but it can also ignite at lower temperatures than some wood sidings. In the event of a fire, vinyl siding has been shown to direct flames straight up to the attic - the point at which most house fires gain traction and begin to get out of control.

Vinyl also only has a 20-year lifespan at best. And when you decide to reclad your home, you’re now faced with what to do with the old vinyl. Vinyl is a plastic, so sending it to a landfill will mean that it sits there for the next thousand years as it decomposes.

There are few recycling centers that accept vinyl siding, and they may not be in an area that you can easily access. If you do decide that you want to recycle the vinyl, you will likely need to pay shipping fees to get it to the recycling center to prevent it from going into a landfill.

The Advantages of Hardwood Siding

wood and stone house

Most wood siding used today is a type of softwood, usually some form of pine or cedar. Softwood has its uses and benefits, but it also has several drawbacks that led to homeowners looking for alternatives like vinyl.

Softwoods need to be painted to look their best, mostly because these woods tend to be less consistent in color; painting the siding hides a multitude of defects including sapwood, tight knots, bark pockets and more, and gives the home a consistent, fresh look. Plus, softwood may contain open knots with cracks that will need to be filled before they can be painted. This means you’ll need to use paint instead of a stain, as the knots will show through any stain you try to use.

The paint also helps protect the surface of the wood —which is prone to issues with moisture, rain and insects — but paint will fade over time. This necessitates scraping and repainting every few years. If the paint isn’t maintained, moisture can begin to infiltrate the wood and soften it, causing it to swell and warp and eventually rot. It’s this high maintenance that many people want to avoid, even while they like the look and versatility of wood.

Hardwood siding is different. Woods like Batu Mahogany, Ipe, and Cumaru are naturally more resistant to moisture and other issues that typically affect softwoods. The wood handles a stain better, particularly oil-based stains, which are recommended to bring out the natural color and beauty of the wood, while also penetrating and protecting it from moisture. Oil-based stains don’t peel away from the wood the way that paint will, so there’s no chipping, peeling and scraping involved.

Hardwoods are much longer-lasting and aren’t prone to splitting or other issues that can affect both softwoods and vinyl. They can also handle high temperatures and can be installed in rainscreen applications.

Some types of hardwood, such as Batu Mahogany from Nova, also have a Class A fire rating. For areas that experience extreme drought or wildfires, like California and Colorado, this siding gives you more choices for how you’ll clad your home, without putting it at risk the way that vinyl or traditional softwoods will.

Probably the biggest advantage of all in using hardwood siding over vinyl is its appearance. No matter how many molds vinyl is poured into to give it the appearance of a wood-grain texture, the siding is still made of plastic. The seams overlap one another in an obvious manner, while the planks themselves have rounded edges that don’t look like real wood. Installation options are limited and so are the colors you can choose from. The material won’t look like wood, and it won’t perform like hardwood either. Plus, the color will fade to a “milk carton” plastic color over time.

Premium hardwood siding can be made to suit any type of installation. This includes traditional horizontal lap, shiplap, board-and-batten, contemporary patterns and in a rainscreen. By using fasteners that can account for the way boards expands and contracts, as well as oil-based stains, hardwood siding can enhance the appearance of your home naturally.

Long-lasting hardwood siding is a much better choice for the environment than using a plastic siding. With oil-based stains helping to protect it, the siding will last years longer than vinyl and it will look better the entire time.

Plus, wood siding is easy to repurpose or recycle, and it won’t sit in landfills for hundreds of years the way that vinyl siding will. And while trees absorb greenhouse gasses, plastic manufacturing produces greenhouse gasses, which are bad for the environment. You can take our Continuing Education course for more information about sustainable tropical hardwoods.

Using hardwood siding gives you a beautiful exterior with less maintenance and a better, longer-lasting appearance and durability than vinyl.

Vinyl Siding or Wood? Make the Better Choice

wood sided house

Compared to some types of siding, like the aluminum it was first made to replace, vinyl siding can seem like a low-maintenance and durable option for your home. But it isn’t the best option available. Vinyl can crack, break, melt and warp, and it will never break down if you are unable to find a recycling center that can accept it at the end of its lifespan.

Hardwood siding from Nova is beautiful, durable and natural with a better fire rating and a longer lifespan. With hardwood siding, you’ll get the best of both worlds — a beautiful, durable siding that is lower in care and maintenance. Plus, hardwood siding is available in several types of wood, so it’s sure to fit your home’s style.

Consider hardwood siding for your next exterior project and reap these benefits for yourself.

By Chad Koehnen, 07/26/19

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