Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sustainable Exterior Siding Options

As our cabin is being built, there are many decisions to make. We try to balance making a good decision, better decision, and best decision with the information available at the time and resources available for each project.

For exterior siding there are many options. When weighing these options for sustainability, we can think about them in these terms:

- Upfront costs vs Ongoing maintenance costs
- Supporting local economy
- Fire resistance
- Toxins/VOCs
- Installation labor/tools
- Energy used to manufacture
- Insulation benefits
- Limit waste

I tend to think more about functionality, while my husband has a much better perspective of style and elegance. It's important to consider both of these with any project. A beautiful and useful home will be most comfortable.

Some of the materials we considered for the exterior siding are: brick, locally sourced stone, vinyl siding, wood lap siding, and cement/fiber board siding. There are many more options that we did not consider or research, such as stucco, faux stone, concrete, and others.

Right away we eliminated brick and vinyl because they did not blend organically into the site and style of our cabin, but these have similar attributes and are appropriate for many applications. They both take a lot of resources to manufacture. Brick and vinyl both require special skills and tools to install (defeating our goal to build and maintain it ourselves). Brick has a higher cost upfront, but lower maintenance cost. Vinyl has a low maintenance cost, but it will release VOCs over many years. Neither have susbstantial insulation factors. Vinyl is not fire resistant, but brick is.

The locally sourced stone was an option that we really wanted to use, but realized that it would require hiring a master craftsman and would take time to do it right. Generally, in construction, that means it will cost. Even though stone has low insulation value, With low maintenance cost, fire resistance, no toxins, and supporting the local economy, this was the most sustainable option. Locally sourced stone was also the most costly. So we did not choose this option for our cabin project, but we do plan to use it for accent work, such as retaining walls, gate postes, and patio posts.

Wood lap siding is another very sustainable and natural option, but the maintenance of repainting real wood every 8-10 years, makes wood not a good option for us. The biggest downfall is that it has no fire resistance. I love the look of wood, but wood needs more maintenance/ongoing costs than the other options. However, we did decide to use it in some accent areas, such as under the eves near the sofits.

In the end, we choose cement/fiber, most widely known as Hardie Plank. We choose 8" lap siding. It was cost effective and will require little ongoing maintenance. A lot of resources go into making this product; however, it is fire retardant (important to us after all the wildfires in 2011). It releases a very small amount of VOCs and has little insulation factors. This product is readily available and can be purchased by the plank, thus avoiding buying too much and wasting it. We have a friend that was very knowledgeable about the product, both personal use and professional installation, so we hired him and a crew to install it. It was done quickly and beautifully. It will last forever and will not need to be repainted as often as wood.

In the end, we did not opt for the most sustainable exterior siding, but it is far better than many other options and we believe it is the right option for this project and budget.