Park City Home Trend Report: Exteriors
Call it the facade, siding, skin or shell — your home’s exterior keeps it safe, comfy, and looking good
Whether building a new home or renovating an old one, many people choose the exterior materials based mostly on aesthetics. And looks do matter. Who doesn’t want a home that neighbors and prospective buyers admire for its beauty?
But for the happiest siding experience, considerations other than looks are equally important. What does it cost? How long will it last? What’s the deal with maintenance and repair? Does it suit the climate? How well does it serve as insulation?
Here are some pros and cons for popular sidings found in the Mountain West.
Natural stone is about as distinctive, durable, and expensive as siding can get. Because of the installed cost, from $30 – $50 per square foot, and because natural stone’s weight makes it so hard to work with, a number of stone siding alternatives have been developed, often designed to be used as architectural accents. They range from stone cladding, which slices the natural stone into more manageable slabs, to natural or manufactured stone veneers. As impervious to harsh weather as it is, stone siding, especially stone veneer, can suffer moisture-related problems if infiltrating water is allowed to become trapped behind it. But even in a climate where severe winter freezes are a regular part of life, if properly installed to allow for drainage a stone exterior can last 100 years or more.
Attractive, a better insulator than most other sidings, and — if regularly maintained — durable, wood is a popular and timeless choice for home exteriors. Relatively easy to install and repair, wood siding comes in a variety of species, including cedar and redwood. Both offer resistance to insects, although redwood has become increasingly hard to find. Wood siding is available in many styles, including clapboard (or lap), which runs horizontally; board and batten, which is oriented vertically; and tongue and groove, which can be installed in any direction, including diagonally.
Be aware that while shingle-style wood siding and similar but thicker and more roughly milled shake-style have traditionally been admired for their natural beauty, and are still in wide use, they can present a significant degree of fire risk. Other drawbacks of wood siding are that maintaining it takes work, and that if it is rotted, cracked, or in some other way damaged, it needs to be repaired immediately to prevent moisture problems. Installed, wood siding costs $3 – $10 per square foot and needs to be repainted every 3 – 5 years. But properly maintained, it can last a house’s lifetime.
A special variation of wood siding, logs, which form an integral part of the dwelling’s walls, often bring to mind off-the-grid cabins in the woods. But in fact, log homes’ unique ability to meld with their natural surroundings have long made luxury versions of them envied fixtures of communities throughout the Mountain West. The logs are either individually peeled by hand for a more rustic look or pre-milled for uniformity. And they work well with many architectural styles, ranging from American craftsman, with its gabled roof and overhanging eaves, to mountain modern, whose expanses of glass can bring the outdoors into the living room. Drawbacks are that the log walls are difficult to maintain and insects can be a problem. Because of the fire risk, log homes may not be insurable. On the other hand, insurance companies might want to note that the oldest log cabin in America, still standing in Gibbsville, New Jersey, was built in 1638.
Mountain homes have traditionally made minimal use of glass, as the material provides limited insulation. But for those unbothered by the energy bills, walls of folding or sliding glass doors have become synonymous with modern mountain style. Their beauty is dependent on cleanliness, which means frequent professional washing. And unless you invest in draperies, glass walls put whatever is happening inside your home on public display. In cold climates, glass wall systems are built with aluminum-wood clad, with wood as the foundation, which helps thermal performance. While the cost of installing simple glass walls runs $25 to $75 per square foot, the national average of folding glass walls is a hefty $800 to $1,200 per linear foot.
Sometimes called Hardie Board after its most successful manufacturer, cement fiber siding is so flame-resistant that it is becoming a preferred material in areas where wildfires are a growing threat. Often molded to look like wood, compared to which it can be more durable, it also features low maintenance and resistance to rot and insects. Installed, it costs $6 – $13 per square foot. Cement fiber’s chief shortcomings are difficulty of installation and brittleness, which may cause it to chip or crack. But its longevity is such that warranties of up to 50 years are available.
Easy to install, maintenance-free, and affordable, vinyl has become the most popular siding in the country. Like cement fiber siding, it can chip or crack in extreme winter cold, although that risk can be lessened by using thicker, higher-quality material. It can be molded to replicate wood grain, but a general perception is that vinyl siding does not have a luxury-home look. But that, too, can be countered by using higher-quality vinyl, which comes in many styles, textures, and colors, including an insulated option that can reduce energy costs. It costs $3 – $8 per square foot, installed, and will last up to 40 years. Keep in mind that after a decade of harsh weather, vinyl can look worse for the wear.
Mainly because of cost, aluminum siding is decreasing in popularity in the U.S. while steel siding is increasing. There’s an aesthetic reason as well. While aluminum siding has never been chosen for its looks, black steel has become a trendy material, particularly for doors and window frames. Both metals share attributes that can make them practical choices. They are durable, low maintenance, and resistant to rot, insects, mildew, and fire. Both are available in a variety of colors and styles, and both are environmentally friendly. Steel is cheaper, $5 – $10 per square foot installed, compared to $7 – $14 for aluminum. And steel will last longer, up to 60 years, compared to up to 50 years for aluminum. Both can be subject to dents and dings, but steel less so. Because steel is heavier, it is more difficult to install. And while both stand up well to harsh winters, aluminum is a better insulator. Although steel is better if the Wizard of Oz is trying to blow your home off its foundation.
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