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Fibre cement is a composite building material used as a waterproof covering for roofs and walls. It is a mixture of cellulose, in the form of wood pulp, Portland cement, and clay. Before the 1980s cement board used asbestos as the fiber component to give strength to the board but following the banning of that substance at around that time, cellulose was used as a safe replacement.
This article will introduce you to fiber cement siding and the costs involved in buying the product as well as having it installed. In order to understand the costs we will have to talk about the following so you gain an understanding of the problems inherent in fiber cement products;
Fibre cement is used in the building industry as a sheet covering material for use as sidings on the walls and shingles on the roof. It is also used as a ‘boxing in’ material and as a fire-resistant barrier.
Its resistance to sound transmission and heat loss will vary between cement products but generally, they have a very poor efficiency in both these and it is advised that other thermal and acoustic insulation is used in conjunction with it.
As might be expected this type of siding is very heavy and needs two people to carry the uncut sheets not only to help with the weight distribution but also because before being installed, the siding can be very brittle and often prone to chipping and cracking if the sheet is handled roughly or without care.
Fiber cement siding (also known as ‘fiber cement cladding’ in the UK and ‘Fibro’ in Australia) is used to cover the exterior of a building to give a weatherproof barrier that is resistant to termites and rot and is fireproof and impact resistant.
Although the dimensions of the sheet material vary between manufacturers, the usual size range is between 2400mm to 3000mm (94.5” to 118”) in length and 900mm to 1200mm (35.4” to 47.25”) in width, increasing in 600mm and 450mm (24” and 18”) increments within these ranges. When used as sidings the widths range between 130mm and 300mm (5.25” to 12”).
The product can be painted with good quality exterior grade masonry latex emulsion paint. Follow the paint manufacturer’s instructions when applying the paint.
Once painted and installed, the sheet is very durable, fire resistant and requires very little maintenance.
The main drawback is that when being cut to size, the work area will need to be well ventilated with the dust removed by a workshop vacuum system. The dust given off contains a lot of silica which can cause silicosis.
We touched on this vaguely earlier so now we can go into the ingredients in a bit more detail.
It is made from just four different ingredients; unfortunately, it takes a lot of energy to produce some of them:
Portland cement. This substance binds all the other ingredients together. Cement is made with crushed limestone and clay containing calcium and magnesium silicates.
Wood pulp. This ingredient improves the flexibility and strength of the sheet. The active substance is cellulose which is present in all plant fibers.
Fly ash. This substance acts as a filler within the cellulose framework. Some versions are made with silica sand instead of fly ash.
Water. Water dissolves and transports the wood cellulose. It also activates the cement which then starts to harden.
We will talk about these in more detail later on but for now, let’s just skim over the top of these interesting numbers:
Cost. In the form of clapboard it ranges from $1.00 to about $5.50 per square foot to buy, installation is added on top of that. The price will depend on which part of the country you live in, the size of the product and the density. You may even find some products cheaper than this.
Weight. Sheet weighs about 2.5lb per square foot. It is quite heavy when man-handling a large sheet or awkward length and will tend to crack or chip if it is handled roughly or accidentally knocked against things.
Lifespan. Manufacturers usually give warranties against manufacturing defects ranging from twenty-five years upwards. Its factory finish carries a warranty of about fifteen years against fading and flaking.
Maintenance. Wash the siding down with a garden hose once or twice a year. Inspect the caulked joints every two or three years and keep any plants or shrubs pruned back so the sun and fresh air can keep the siding dry.
Fiber cement products have to be painted or stained to help prevent moisture uptake. It can be painted either before installation by the manufacturer or afterward by the contractor. Manufacturers give a warranty of fifteen years on finishes and charge about $1.50 per square foot. The manufacturer’s paint job, however, has a limited color range and they only give one coat, you will have to give more coats to properly protect the surface. If you hire a paint shop to carry out the painting prior to delivery,
If you decide to have the siding painted after installation, the painting contractors will usually give one or two-year warranties for their paintwork.
Corners and open ends on siding should be covered by trim. It is advisable to use trim made from fiber cement or PVC. Both need minimal maintenance and are rot-proof like the siding. The moldings come in 0.75” and 1” widths for use at corners or at the open ends. Leave a 1/8” gap between siding and trim when they meet and fill the gap with caulk.
As mentioned earlier, it is very durable. It will outperform many other siding materials in a full range of climates.
The west. In the western U.S. and in other arid regions that are prone to wild fires, it is especially useful because it is non-combustible. In fact, some insurance companies give a discount on premiums for houses with this siding. It is also resistant to UV light.
The south. In the south-eastern United States where the climate is warm and humid, houses are plagued by fungi, termites and other wood boring insects. Fibre cement, however, is impervious to these pests.
The north. In cold regions, vinyl siding becomes brittle and cracks easily, fiber cement doesn’t. It can withstand extremely cold temperatures and won’t be affected by freeze-thaw cycles.
The coast. Houses in coastal regions are plagued by salt air, humidity, and bright sunlight. They have no effect on these sidings. If the clapboard is nailed properly it can even withstand wind speeds of up to 130mph.
Clapboards. Most available clapboards are about 3/8” thick but those with textures more like wood can be found at about 5/8” thick. Clapboards are very versatile and are common in all types of climate regions.
Shingles. These are sold either in strips of 4, 8 and 12 foot or as single shingles. The textures can be woodgrain or hand-split and are supplied in straight or staggered courses. They come straight from the factory as pre-primed and painted or stained finish. Shapes can be plain rectangular, diamond, triangular or decorative fish scales to name but a few.
Stone, stucco, and brick. These are textured in the various masonry types but without the need to have a mason install them. No need to repoint or repair cracks in the masonry in the future. The joints between the masonry style boards can be covered up with trim or remain exposed. Fibre cement in a masonry texture is available in panels of 18”x 6ft up to 4ft x 12ft, and are in thicknesses of 3/8” and 5/8”. Panels that look like stone and brick are staggered and interlock to keep out water and hide the joins.
Customisation. Often, houses have different textures and shapes on different stories, for example, you could have:
You can have further customizations by chopping the corners of shingles to create points and arrowheads.
Rustic looking styles are very easily crafted by standing sheets on end and fitting battens to cover the joins as well as equally spacing them across its width.
Clapboard with two different alternating exposures (for example a 5” and a 2” exposure) can create interesting banded effects.
Siding can be constructed by many different materials. Let’s have a quick look at how they compare with their durability and other properties and with their cost.
Fiber cement. Can be heavy to lift and is brittle and prone to chips and cracks before installation. Is virtually destructible to all kinds of attack and is very strong and durable after installation. Cost averages about $3.00 per square foot.
Wood. Traditional siding material. This is lightweight and easy to cut and install. It is very vulnerable to rot, pests, fire, splitting, and weathering. Needs regular maintenance and either painting or staining. Very expensive, clapboards are on average about $4.70 per square foot and shingles are about $7.50 each.
Stone, concrete, and brick. This material is completely resistant to rot, insects, fire, and weathering just like fiber cement but is much heavier. Needs a skilled and licensed mason or bricklayer to install. Very little maintenance required, just remove moss or plants that take root in crevices. Expensive, the cost of brick averages at $5.50 per square foot while stone averages at about $9.50 per square foot.
Vinyl. This material is very lightweight and low maintenance, all it needs is a regular wash. It is very susceptible to fire (it melts) and is easily caught in high winds. Available in textures to replicate wood but doesn’t look as good as fiber cement. Can be susceptible to UV light that can discolor the surface. Available as clapboard and shingles and costs on average about $0.75 per square foot.
Aluminum. This material will accept paint very well. It won’t rot and is not affected by insects. It is non-combustible. It is very susceptible to knocks and dents easily. Very difficult to replace and repair if damaged. Costs of clapboards are on average about $3 per square foot.
Stucco. This material is based on cement so as you would expect it is insect proof, durable and resistant to fire. It requires a skilled professional to install. This is very common in warmer regions and the cost averages about $2.70 per square foot.
So far everything we have said about fiber cement is overall quite positive. In order to choose wisely when it comes to deciding what kind of siding you intend to install you also need to know the problems that come with using it.
It is expensive. This is probably the main problem and one of the biggest complaints that manufacturers receive about this siding. The main reason for the high price is that the material costs are high, namely sand, cement, and cellulose. It is also expensive to have contractors install it, and the material isn’t really suitable for a DIY project as you really should use two people to lift it into place and you need expensive saws to cut it.
The costs to install can be anything from $6 to $15 per square foot. This is far more expensive than the other options such as aluminum, wood, and vinyl.
Maintenance isn’t easy. The initial costs of purchase and installation are not the only expenditure you have to consider. Because the material is basically sand and cement it has to be painted within ninety days of installation. You will have to pay for two coats of paint as well as the labor to do the work. Paint on masonry surfaces is never really satisfactory as the coating will tend to chip and flake and the color will fade.
Because of these, you will have to regularly repaint the surface to maintain its good looks. This isn’t a problem with other common materials such as aluminum and PVC. Fibre cement also tends to show the dirt more and will become dirty quicker than usual so this will require cleaning more often than other materials.
Inconsistent quality. Because it is made using multiple ingredients the quality of the batch you have bought may not all be the same. We have already said that installing the clapboard is difficult and different contractors will have different ways of installing.
You, therefore, have a situation where the quality of installation is not consistent either. You need to buy the most expensive product you can afford in order to hope to get a good quality batch and use a well-recommended contractor to install it.
Not energy efficient. Fibre cement is nowhere as good an insulator as PVC or wood. This means that the extremes of temperature, heat or cold, is going to seep into your home and make for an uncomfortable season. A poorly insulated home can also cost you extra on your energy bills as you struggle to keep the place warm in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer. If you decide on this siding ask your contractor about the feasibility of including extra insulation beneath the clapboard.
Not very attractive. One thing you cannot get away from with PVC and wood and that is its warmth and attractiveness, fiber cement just doesn’t have the same effect. PVC and wood also have crisp lines and unique style that fiber cement does not. The only thing that it does have is the range of colors and that is only because you can paint it almost any color you like. The lack of attractiveness becomes even more obvious when the paint starts to chip and crack. Make sure you are always there with your paint pot touching up the paint.
Vinyl (PVC) is better. All these problems that we have just listed are just not a problem with PVC, especially its energy efficiency. Although vinyl siding has a high thermal efficiency, it isn’t very thick so all you need to do is install a foam insulation board behind the PVC and no outside heat or cold can find its way into your home. You don’t have to maintain vinyl either, except for the occasional hose down. You never have to paint it and if you get some chips well it doesn’t really matter because the color of the clapboard goes all the way through. Most importantly vinyl is cheaper than fiber cement to buy, the ingredients are cheaper and the installation is easier. You will have less chance of damaging the cladding before installation as PVC is not as brittle as the fiber cement.
There are some areas of the country that experience high winds, extremely cold winters and baking hot summers. In regions like this siding is not something you should choose, instead go for the vinyl siding.
So far we have talked about the various properties of fiber cement and how it compares with other types of siding. We have also skimmed over the top of the average price per square foot. Now let’s delve into this subject a bit deeper. Remember that all costs discussed here are indicative of the actual cost and are intended to be average amounts. Costs will always vary depending on where you live, time of year, type of siding and experience of the installation contractor.
Removal of old siding. Before we talk about the cost of this siding for an average house we must discuss how much it will cost to remove the old siding. This is something that the average person always forgets but can add considerably to your budget for the job.
Costs to remove old siding will be very much determined by the amount that needs to be removed and the ease of access but you can say that an average price range will be between $0.50 and $1.50 per square foot. This price will increase significantly if you have multiple storeys in your home and have awkward and complex architectural features. On top of this, you will be expected to pay for the cost of disposing of the old siding. Most refuse and recycling facilities charge for the disposal of commercial and construction waste and your old siding certainly comes into this category. If however your old siding is made from wood then you will probably be able to give it to someone to use as firewood in which case the disposal will cost nothing.
An average house. When people talk about home improvements to the average house, it is often never clear what is meant by an average house, and in fact, an average house probably does not even exist. Let’s try to describe an average house so we have it clear in our mind.
Information from the United States Census gives dimensions for the average size house in the U.S.
They state that the average house has two storeys and has a floor area of 2,250 square feet (made up from floor dimensions of 25ft x 45ft). The average height per storey is about 9ft.
Calculating from these figures we can estimate that the average house will need about 1,500 square feet of siding.
|Cost of a siding project for an average house of 1,500 sq. ft.|
|Low end||High end|
|Total cost per square foot||$5||$9|
From this simple calculation we can see that the cost to install the siding, including labour and materials, ranges from $5 to $10 per square foot. An experienced licensed siding contractor will charge you between about $8,000 and $14,000 to install the siding onto an average two storey house.
If you decide to purchase the siding yourself you can buy as much as you need from your local home improvement store. However if you have a building supplies merchant nearby who specialises in selling to professionals then you will probably find that the cost will be a bit less expensive. While we are talking about specialist suppliers and building supplies merchants, this is often a good place to find names and contact details of good siding contractors. Good professionals will often have a credit account with the store and the staff will probably know the contractors personally.
In general, any construction work that alters the look of your house or is a major structural alteration will need to have a permit issued by the local government construction permit office. The work on your home will also need an inspection at various stages throughout the job to make sure the contractor is correctly installing the siding so that damp does not gain access causing mold and mildew.
Before you start the work get advice from the local government office about the requirements and costs of permits needed for your home improvement.
Don’t panic there won’t be any asbestos in the new siding, it now contains wood cellulose, but if your old siding was installed before the 1980s then there is a very good chance that the clapboard will contain asbestos. If your old siding dates from before that time then you will be required to have it tested for asbestos and if found positive then a specialist contractor will be needed to remove the asbestos and dispose of it safely. This of course you will have to pay for.
Unfortunately siding of any sort will often be hiding damage to the structure of your property. If, when the siding has been removed, your contractor finds damage that has gone unnoticed for many years then it will have to be repaired before the new siding is installed.
This will add to your original estimation of the cost and you must be prepared for the contractor to mention this in his estimate and propose a method of how you should pay for any repairs over and above the fixed price.
There are many factors that will affect the cost of your fibre cement siding home improvement:
The time of year. Believe it or not this has a big effect on the cost. Many contractors charge less in their slow time, usually the colder months. If you live in a climate that has a distinct rainy season then you will find that during the rain the cost goes up slightly as it is more difficult to do outside work during this kind of weather.
The style of siding. Some styles are very basic and just need one board nailed on top of another. Other styles have a more complex pattern and need more cuts and more planning to make it look good. The more complex patterns are the ones that cost more.
Where you live. If you live in a more high income area then you will find that the cost of your siding will be much higher than if you live in a poorer district. If you live somewhere close to where the fibre cement is made then you will find that the cost is less too, this is because the boards won’t have to be transported so far. There are many on-line estimating calculators that can work out how much the cost of the siding will be and you may have noticed that they mostly ask for your postal district. This is the reason; it affects the price of the installation.
Size of job. It probably goes without saying that if your house is large then you will need more siding. This will cost more. On the other hand however you will probably end up paying a little less in installation charges because it is such a big job and in material charges because it is cheaper to buy in bulk.
Type of architecture. If your home has some complicated architectural features then it means that the siding boards will need more cuts and more complex angles and measurements. This will of course increase the installation costs and may affect wastage of materials too.
Your choice of contractor. With any job done by contractors you always get what you pay for. Each contractor has his own profit margin he adds on to the estimate but in order to be competitive, most contractors will charge approximately the same rates. If you find you have an estimate significantly lower than the others, then the contractor has probably forgotten to include something. Check the estimate and see if you can spot what has been left out. It might be the removal and disposal of the existing siding or it might be that he has not specified insulated underlay to be fitted behind the boards.
Painting. Most manufacturers give their product a coat of primer before it leaves the factory, this allows you to choose the finished colour and paint it accordingly after installation. However, for an additional fee the manufacturer will provide factory painted panels. To have your siding pre-painted has advantages as well as disadvantages, one of which is that the factory will probably only give the boards one coat of topcoat.
We have already mentioned many times that fibre cement siding does not lend itself to installation as a DIY project, the difficulty of handling the boards and fixing them correctly will be much better dealt with by a professional contractor. If you do think that your DIY skills are good enough to install fibre cement then there will be special tools that need to be bought and safety rules you should comply with.
For your own safety you should comply with the following safety rules:
✓ If the board is too heavy to lift on your own, get help.
✓ Make sure you have a suitable access platform from which to work. Ladders are not safe enough when handling long siding boards.
✓ Be careful when cutting fiber cement boards and the power cutters can be dangerous, especially if the workpiece is not held correctly.
✓ When cut this material gives off a fine silica dust. Always work in the open air and wear a suitable dust mask or a respirator.
✓ Remember that you can be electrocuted if it is raining when you use electrical tools.
✓ Keep children and pets away from the work area.
We have found out from the information here that fibre cement siding has many advantages over other types of siding but on the other hand has many disadvantages too. It is up to you as the customer to do your research, there are many websites offering much information, and consider each of these thoroughly before making your final decision as to siding material. If you decide that the factors for using fiber cement outweigh those against using it, then you will probably find that you have a hardwearing and durable addition to your house that will last you for many years.
We hope you have learned something from this article and we thank you for reading.