How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes
What is the difference between composite and regular wood siding?
Friday, October 19, 2018
Wood siding is made of solid wood, which is milled to the specifications of the particular siding type. Composite wood siding (also sometimes referred to as fiber-board siding) is made of wood fiber pieces that are bonded with a resin-like material and formed into siding boards in a factory. It is a less expensive, value-oriented product that has a shorter expected lifespan than wood or fiber-cement siding.
The life expectancy of composite wood siding is 20 to 35 years. There are several manufacturers of composite wood siding and they all had a disclaimer that reads something like this: “Because it is not a solid wood material, it must be installed and maintained properly.” In other words, the material must be nailed properly, caulked and painted correctly, and the paint surface maintained scrupulously--or it will possibly suffer an early failure.
Multiple manufacturers of composite wood siding that was sold from the 1980s to mid-1990s were the target of class-action lawsuits over the premature failure of the material. Moisture that got behind the paint finish or entered at a poorly nailed areas caused the material to balloon up and then crumble away in pieces. The photo above shows an example of this problem (repaired and painted over in spots, but continuing to progressively deteriorate) at a home in the Serenola Manor neighborhood of Gainesville from that era. Settlements were issued to claimants in many cases, and the period for accepting new claims expired several years ago.
Occasionally we come across a home that was originally constructed with composite wood siding, and it has been partially replaced with fiber-cement siding (often called by the trade-name “Hardi-Plank”) only at the areas of failure--usually the lower boards on the walls. Because both products have a similar embossed wood-grain pattern, it can take a little time for us to sort out where the original material still remains in place.
The newer generation of composite wood siding—which has been rechristened as “engineered wood”—does not appear to have the same problems as the earlier manufactured product. To read more about it, go to our blog post What is engineered wood siding?
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