OK so this weekend may not have been entertaining, unless you love being outside and getting your hands dirty building a house. This weekend was the first of several weekends where we are installing fiber cement siding on two houses, the latter house of being ours. If you are considering building a house, one of the decisions you need to make is which exterior siding to use. The three most common choices are vinyl, brick, and fiber cement. You may know fiber cement better as “Hardie siding”, as James Hardie is the most common brand, although there are several fiber cement siding manufacturers that offer comparable products.
Why We Chose Fiber Cement Board
We chose the Certainteed brand of fiber cement board, primarily due to (1) cost ($4 per board) and (2) overall long-term durability compared to vinyl siding. I will explain our decision process below:
- A Quick Rundown of Our Material Cost Estimate (Siding Only)
- Vinyl- Local estimate was $960 at $6 per board
- Would have been more for insulated vinyl
- Fiber Cement
- $1400 (Certainteed @ $ 4 per board) *OUR price in Nashville
- $1925 (James Hardie @ $5.50 per board) *The cheapest fiber cement estimate in our town 2.
- Our situation is unique because several relatives have construction backgrounds, so we do not need to hire a contractor to install our exterior siding. 🙂
- That means a DIY project for us that you would watch on HGTV or DIY network and extra savings for our mortgage.
- Our primary concern (& the other family building the house) is cost. This meant installing either vinyl or fiber cement, as brick was too expensive. We are two families building on a budget so we were looking for the cheapest choice, but not something chinsy & would look aged in 5 years.
We found a Craiglist ad for a wholesale warehouse in Nashville that was selling the Certainteed brand for $4 per primed, unpainted board. So after borrowing a F-250 diesel pickup & gooseneck trailer for a 6 hour round trip & $100 in diesel, we were able to get the siding for two houses. Although the warehouse salesman said he would deliver for $500 (still a money saving opportunity if you do not have access to a heavy-duty truck & trailer or the time to pick it up yourself).
After getting the quote at $4 a board, we determined the extra cost for fiber cement outweighed the benefits of vinyl. In our city, fiber cement boards ranged from $5.50 a board to $10 per board depending on the dealer. All these quotes were for the same primed, non-painted James Hardie 12-foot plank board.
There is a variation in the grain pattern between Hardie and Certainteed, with the former having a deeper pattern. But this was an overall non-issue for us considering the price difference.
For an extra cost, we could have gotten pre-painted boards that had a 15-year warranty but decided non-painted boards were still better for our situation. ALL fiber cement requires some caulking at installation, but with prepainted boards there is some additional cost with touchup.
Comparing Fiber Cement to Vinyl
We compared vinyl to fiber cement. The pros with vinyl are: DIY install, no painting required, and low cost. On the contrary, some of those same advantages are vinyl's downside: needs to be replaced about every 20 years due to fading, less durable in weather than cement siding, & requires more routine maintenance and cleaning.
The fiber cement also shared the same advantage as vinyl in that it can be a DIY install. It is more weather-resistant than vinyl. Cement Fiber resists mold, mildew, bugs (I've never heard of cement bugs), and will resist extreme weather, like hail, due to it's durable structure. We also liked fiber cement because it only needs to be repainted at the 15-20 year mark, instead of being replaced, and has an estimated lifespan of approximately 50 years.
Installation Thus Far
With the view of fall foliage in the background, we were a team of four and in two days, we installed two sides on the house. Just the siding and trim so far, we still need to install the soffit. The boards are 12 foot long & 8 inches wide (they come in varying widths). They need to be 6″ off the ground & 2″ above a deck or step. We used PVC coated metal flashing in these areas.
Installations is pretty easy. Like I said, its a must to have helpers that have done this before. For holding the boards in place while nailing, I recommend Gecko Gauges. They are about $30 each ($60 total) & you can get them at a local hardware store but are the easiest & quickest way to install the board at the desired height. You just need to make sure the boards are level then you can use a pneumatic nail gun to blind nail each board.
The slowest & most tedious part of the installation thus far, is working around trim & windows. We cut the cement boards with a circular saw & ceramic blade. Wearing a dust mask & having good airflow is highly recommended. When cutting boards to length, the dust is like firing off a cannon. We setup a small fan to help assist in blowing the dust downwind.
The boards are pretty sturdy, but if carrying them you need to hold the, perpendicular (90°..straight up & down) to the ground. If you hold the full length boards parallel, they will bend in the middle and snap. This happened a couple times until I figured this out.
This weekend was a learning experience, as I have never done siding installation before. But this is a doable DIY project if you have the applicable help & supplies.
If you are building a house on a budget, I at least urge you to look around for your different materials. One of the benefits of the internet, is Craigslist, so it's easier than ever to capture savings. So far, we have saved $$$ in our siding & got some Corian countertops with a sink for cheap by using Craigslist. These little savings begin to add up quick!
Until Next Time,
P.S. If you have any questions or your own building experience to share, please leave a reply below!
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.