When considering buying a home, one of the first things we see is the outside skin of the home. We look at the color and design and very often just the look of the outside of the home gives us a perception of the value of the home inside. Realtors call this first impression 'curb appeal'. The outer skin of our homes plays important roles beyond just looks though. It is also responsible for keeping the home protected from wind, rain, bugs, and protect the home from damage from trees and people.
Not all siding materials are made equal. Some like the exterior insulated finish system (EFIS) were very popular in the 90’s because people liked the appearance but in later decades we discovered this material was very susceptible to hidden water damage. The siding products below are based in order from our favorites to our least favorites keeping in mind we live on the wet Canadian West Coast.
Fiber Cement Siding (Commonly called Hardieboard)
Available in planks, panels, and shingles, fiber cement boards are an excellent exterior finish product. This product is a composite material made from sand, cement, and wood fibers with one of the largest suppliers being the JamesHardie company (hence the common term Hardieboard). It is impervious to water and when installed properly also forms a rain screen barrier to protect from wind driven rains. It requires low maintenance and is very resistant to mechanical damage and bugs. It is available in many faux-wood finishes giving builders many architectural design options for the home. When we see this material in a home inspection, we tell our clients it is a great material.
Vinyl siding has been with us for a long time and is an excellent product for our wet climate. As a plastic, the material is water proof and when installed properly it has the effect of a rain screen to help prevent wind driven rain damage. The flexibility of vinyl siding, low maintenance, and ease of adjustments and repairs make it a very forgiving material to own. The downside of vinyl siding is it can be brittle when cold, can be mechanically damaged more easily than other siding products. We also ocasionally see in home inspections vinyl warping under intense heat like being too close to a BBQ. When well maintained, vinyl siding can have a 50 year service life.
Aluminum siding shares the appearance, water resistance, and rain screen benefits of vinyl siding and is less brittle and susceptible to cracking under mechanical damage. Like vinyl siding, it is also very low maintenance and is not commonly re-painted. Aluminum siding is susceptible to denting from mechanical damage. A well installed aluminum siding will last up to 50 years. Aluminum siding is not commonly installed in our service areas today as it is much more expensive than vinyl which has replaced it.
Most brick surfaces we see on buildings are only a surface covering called a veneer. The brick is not part of the structural support for the home. Brick is more resistant to light mechanical damage than vinyl or aluminum siding and it also shares a rain screen principle when installed correctly. Brick is not water proof and wind driven rains can penetrate the surface. When installed correctly with a rain screen and weep holes, the brick will correctly manage penetrating water but may show signs of water movement (efflorescence). Bricks require periodic maintenance to the mortar, are labour intensive to install, and are difficult to match and replace if damaged. A well installed and maintained brick veneer can last up to 100 years.
Conventional stucco is a multi-layered product essentially made of the same materials as concrete. Stucco is rarely installed using a rain screen system which means the surface of the stucco must remain ‘face sealed’ to prevent water from penetrating behind the structure increasing maintenance demands on the home owner. Stucco is resistant to light mechanical damage but can break off under heavier damage and is difficult to match and repair. Quality stucco installations have lasted for over 50 years but installations are commonly rated to be around 25 years. Water that gets behind stucco can do major hidden damage.
Wood makes an excellent building product and a good exterior finish. Painted or stained wood can shed most water from the surface and water that does penetrate the wood, as long as it dries quickly, will not cause damage to the wood. Wood exteriors are very dependent on good installation and regular owner maintenance to maximize their potential 100 year lives. Poorly installed wood finishes typically have horizontal surfaces where the water can sit on the wood and create damage. Many home owners also neglect maintenance which can result in shortened life cycles. When we see wood in a home inspection we pay attention to details of installation, maintenance, and signs of rot and educate clients on the need to perform regular maintenance.
Exterior Insulated Finish System (EFIS)
EFIS is a composite product made up of a ridged foam board with a top layer of stucco overtop. It is a very versatile system to install, particularly in large wall sections, which makes it very popular for commercial buildings and condominiums. EFIS is a face sealed system which means it needs to remain water tight to prevent damage to the structure behind. EIFS is susceptible to moderate mechanical damage but is repairable. When installed well and maintained properly, EIFS is a very good finish system that also allows for many architectural design options. Unfortunately, poorly installed and maintained EIFS systems are largely responsible for the leaky condo epidemic that is still hitting Canada’s west coast. This product may be more well suited to dryer climates and we caution clients during a home inspection if a face sealed EFIS finish system is present.
There are many more exterior cladding systems available such as metal, glass, structural brick, slate, and asphalt but these are not very common. A good exterior finish will always be resistant to wind, water, mechanical damage, and be attractive in appearance.
When is comes to exteriors, there are better materials for homeowner costs and maintenance than others. It is important when you buy a home to know what costs you are signing up for to maintain the home properly. Getting a professional home inspector to review any home purchase will give you the knowledge you need going into a home purchase.
SitePro, LLCVan Hibberts
362 Gulf Breeze Parkway, #214
Certified Residential Building Code Inspector ICC-5319905
Gulf Breeze, Florida 32561
850.485.3209 (Cell / Text Msg)
Certified Residential Building Code Inspector ICC-5319905
Florida-State Certified Master Home Inspector Lic. #HI89
Florida-Certified Wind Mitigation Inspector
203(k) FHA/HUD Consultant #A0900
WDO Certificate #JE190791
"Looking Beyond The Obvious"
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