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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To learn more about exterior walls and structures, see these other blog posts:

What is the average lifespan of a house foundation?

What causes vertical cracks in fiber cement siding planks?

What causes raised white lines of residue on a block wall that are crusty and crumbling? 

What is the difference between soil subsidence, heave, creep, and settlement? 

How much ventilation is required for the under-floor crawl space of a home? 

 What causes stair-step cracks in a block or brick wall?

What causes a horizontal crack in a block or brick wall? 

How can I tell if a diagonal crack in drywall at the corner of a window or door indicates a structural problem?

What causes the surface of old bricks to erode away into sandy powder? 

What are the pros and cons of concrete block versus wood frame construction?

Should I buy a house with a crawl space? 

Why is my stucco cracking?

There's cracks running along the home's concrete tie beam. What's wrong? 

What would cause long horizontal lines of brick mortar to fall out?

How do I recognize serious structural problems in a house?

What is engineered wood siding?

Should I buy a house that has had foundation repair? 

What is a "continuous load path”?

Should I buy a house with asbestos siding?   

How can I tell if cracks in the garage floor are a problem or not? 

What do you look for when inspecting vinyl siding?

Why is housewrap installed on exterior walls under the siding? 

Why did so many concrete block homes collapse in Mexico Beach during Hurricane Michael? 

How can I tell if the concrete block walls of my house have vertical steel and concrete reinforcement?

Should I buy a house with structural problems? 

What are those powdery white areas on my brick walls?

What causes cracks in the walls and floors of a house?

How can I tell if the exterior walls of a house are concrete block (CBS) or wood or brick?

What are the common problems of different types of house foundations? 

• What are the warning signs of a dangerous deck?

How can I tell whether my house foundation problems are caused by a sinkhole or expansive clay soil?

        Visit our EXTERIOR WALLS AND STRUCTURE page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles. 

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