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How to Choose Siding for Your Home

The Right Siding Makes all the Difference

If you’re thinking about new siding for your home and could use some straight talk about how to choose from among the many options, you’ve come to the right place.

If you knew exactly what you needed, then you’d probably not be reading this, but would just be looking for a good contractor to install your siding at a fair price. (We hope you’ll take a look at our many hundreds of reviews here and will give us a chance to earn your business.)

But if you’re not yet sure about which siding to get, we want to help you make a decision that you’ll be happy with for many years to come. We’ve been installing siding for close to two decades, and that means we’ve been to all the trade shows, seen all the “revolutionary” products, and have also seen how they perform in the field.

There are always tradeoffs
That’s right: no siding choice can be the most beautiful, with the least maintenance, the most durability, and at the lowest cost. Such a product doesn’t exist, especially because people’s tastes differ and what works great for one person might be a bad choice for someone else. Anyone who tells you about a “perfect” siding is either misinformed or not telling the truth.

For example, you can have a super-attractive home exterior made of the ultimate impressive siding that will look great, and hold up with zero maintenance for literally 1,000 years! It’s called stone. Castles are proof. The tiny little tradeoff is that matter of money: expenses could easily get into millions of dollars, considering the army of stone masons needed, not to mention many tons of stone.

Be on guard for “too good to be true”
Way at the other end of the spectrum are the ads from big-box stores and flyers in your mailbox with statements that seem to promise no tradeoffs at all: they’ll install “no maintenance” attractive, bug-proof and rot-proof vinyl siding for what seems like half the going rate! (If you “Act NOW!!!”)

The tradeoff? It’s quality—or more specifically the lack of quality. Companies that advertise super-low prices simply do not have some secret knowledge of how to deliver a high-quality product at half the going price. Instead, they must be cutting corners somewhere. Maybe it’s paying very little for unskilled labor and not bothering with workmen’s compensation insurance or licenses; or it’s using inferior grades of thin, recycled vinyl that will crack and yellow quickly. Maybe it’s a “bait and switch” where they hook you on a low price and then hard-sell you on a more-expensive option. But it definitely will be something, if the price is that low.

What we’ve learned from experience
Yes we could offer every type of siding under the sun, but we don’t. For example, we don’t offer stucco siding, because with all the hail storms we get in Colorado, stucco can be easily damaged, and the repairs never look quite right.

Likewise we don’t offer brick and stone because—as beautiful as those products are—they require highly specialized crews and there just isn’t sufficient demand for those exteriors in Colorado. So if you’re after one of those types of exteriors, we’re not the company for you. (But feel free to contact us, because we might be able to recommend a specialist for whatever you’re after.)

Instead, we offer what we think is the sweet spot of siding options, where we can stand behind proven products, there is substantial demand for those products, we can get a reliable supply from the manufacturer, and we can keep specialized crews busy with working their craft. For example, in all of Colorado there are only six certified James Hardie installation crews–and three of them work for us.

Exterior Siding | Loveland, Colorado

Given all these factors, we focus on five types of siding:

  1. Fiber-cement
  2. High-end vinyl
  3. Cedar
  4. Metal
  5. Engineered wood

Let’s look at each of these types, what we like about that type of siding, and the tradeoffs:

Exterior Siding | Boulder, Colorado

Northern Lights Exteriors is rated 4.8 out of 5 by actual customers:

I dealt exclusively with my project manager at NLE. He laid out my options, worked well with my insurance company, kept me informed and quickly responded to my questions. I never felt pressured. Wes managed to have repairs on my house completed before many of my neighbors even got started. The workmanship on the roof, windows, gutters and paint were excellent.
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Fiber-cement siding

The big dog in this category is James Hardie. In fact, some people call fiber-cement siding “Hardie board” because Hardie is so closely associated with the product.

Fiber-cement siding has a lot going for it:

  • It comes in a very wide range of colors, or you can get it primed so you can then paint it any color you wish.
  • Because it’s made from dense materials including cement, the product has great resistance to fire, rot, mildew, and mold.
  • Given its great durability, the product is warranted for as long as 50 years.

The tradeoff: fiber-cement siding is more expensive than other mainstream options like vinyl.

We’ve assembled in this FAQ many of the questions we get about James Hardie siding, and our answers.

Vinyl

Let’s be honest: we’ve all seen bad examples of vinyl siding on low-end properties. But the thing about vinyl is it spans a wide range of quality: some manufacturers focus on the thinnest, cheapest, low-quality stuff in order to be the lowest price around. But other manufacturers have taken the opposite approach, with high-quality resins, thick panels, and even insulation behind the panels. We of course only offer the high-quality vinyl options, with these benefits:

  • Vinyl siding comes in hundreds of different colors, as well as many textures and widths. It is even available in a style that looks like cedar shakes and shingles.
  • Manufacturers make a wide variety of trim to go with the siding, and that makes installation faster and less expensive.
  • High-end vinyl is resistant to fading and its solid nature means there’s nothing to chip off or peel.
  • Bugs leave vinyl siding alone.

The tradeoff: In addition to overcoming the stereotype of being “low end” (which it is not), vinyl is not the best choice if your home is in a fire-prone area. Vinyl will melt at high temperatures.

Cedar

Especially in Colorado, it’s hard to dispute the beauty of cedar, which fits right into our mountain environment. Cedar is a great siding material as long as someone performs basic preventative maintenance regularly. Depending on the look you’re after, the maintenance involves clear or tinted sealants that protect against the elements.

Cedar has natural compounds that resist insects, rot, and mold. However, the tradeoff is it can be more expensive than manufactured materials, it’s not fire-resistant, and cedar is not zero-maintenance.

Metal

Metal siding has become quite popular, for good reason:

  • It’s of course completely resistant to insects and rot.
  • The right thickness of metal will also survive all but the most historic hail storms (in which case you have bigger problems).
  • Metal can be formed to look like just about anything: it can appear to be horizontal lap siding, vertical shakes, smooth, wood-grain, and more.
  • It gives you peace of mind in a fire zone
  • With factory-applied paints and finishes, you may never need to refinish this siding for decades.

The tradeoff: high-grade metal siding is not inexpensive, but the up-front costs are offset by the lower ongoing maintenance.

Engineered wood siding

We offer engineered-wood siding because it’s a great solution for many homeowners. One of the leaders in this type of product is a company called LP. You’ll also sometimes hear this type of siding referred to as “Masonite siding.”

Manufacturing has reached the point where wood fibers can be combined with minerals and other materials to create just about any look you’re after, at an approachable price. The result is a type of super-wood that looks like wood, with all the grain, none of the cracks and voids, and consistent dimensions.

  • Engineered wood is highly resistant to insects.
  • It’s a great product in areas subject to hail storms, because it has just the right combination of strength and resilience to withstand the worst storms.

The tradeoff: Colorado is technically a “semi-arid” environment; but in other parts of the country where it’s continuously wet or humid, engineered wood siding can be prone to mold and mildew. In such environments, the solution is more-frequent washing and refinishing.

Three steps to choosing the best siding for you

Notice that we didn’t say “the best siding” but said “the best siding for you.” Your home, preferences, and situation are not exactly the same as anyone else’s, so it’s important to follow a step-by-step process that will narrow the huge variety of siding options down into something that allows you to make a confident decision.

Step 1 is to get out a piece of paper and try to rank-order a series of factors as best you can. What are the factors? We’ve mentioned most of them in the descriptions above:

  1. Ease of maintenance
  2. Resistance to fire
  3. Resistance to rot, mold, mildew, and insects
  4. Price
  5. Color choices, especially if you have a very specific custom color in mind
  6. The “Wow factor.” Of course all types of siding can have attractive elements, but sometimes homeowners want that extra curb appeal that makes a statement.

Maybe some factors are of equal weight to you, so it’s fine to put them side-by-side and not force a ranking. Still, try as best you can to to come up with a list of higher and lower priorities.  

Step 2: Once you have that list, put a star next to any items that in your opinion are non-negotiable. Maybe it’s all negotiable, but for some people, they really are dead-set on certain factors like not exceeding a fixed budget, or having the minimum-possible maintenance.

Another scenario is let’s say you’ve been wanting to upgrade the exterior of your house for quite some time. You don’t do it often, but when you do, you want to make a statement and for it to be something that gets your attention, every time you pull into your driveway. You might put a star next to “wow factor” in that case.

By this point in the process, you may already have a strong sense of the kind of siding to go with, but if not, Step 3 will come to the rescue:

Step 3 is bouncing your thoughts and questions off one of our project managers. Not only can they show you samples of the different materials, but they bring many years of problem-solving experience to the table.

For example, if you really can’t exceed a certain dollar amount but are looking for the absolute lowest-maintenance siding that’s also good in a fire zone—give your project manager the challenge of seeing what might work. We hand-pick these guys to be friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful.

In fact, our project managers get paid the same whether you decide to go with the least-expensive or most-expensive options, so you can relax: you’re in a No-Pressure Zone.

We move at your pace
Speaking of “no pressure”, we recognize that people have different timetables: of course, after a hail storm, some people will have an urgent need for a solution. In that case, we can swing into high-speed mode, and can even help them to negotiate a better payout from their insurance company for the damage. We discuss that in detail here.

For other people, they’re just in the early stages of thinking about exterior remodeling, and want to kick around some options. We’re fine with that, too: after all, big decisions should not be rushed.

Most people need to see and touch different types of siding before getting completely comfortable with choosing one for their home. That makes a lot of sense because as great as the internet is, still it’s no substitute for the kind of impressions you get when you can actually handle different siding materials.

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