I want to do a complete siding replacement. This is a ranch style home with panel looking wood siding. In my area, I’ve been seeing other remodel jobs in which the siding is replaced with overlapping wood planks. Or, is appears to be wood. I got a few prices and cedar or fir planks are definitely not in the budget. My question is: Are there any other type of materials, other than the traditional vinyl siding, that are visually appealing as wood and good for siding? Ant synthetics?

Fiber cement. Only way to go. Fiber cement is a mixture of Portland cement, sand and wood fibers that is formed in a machine with tremendous heat and pressure. It looks better than vinyl, it lasts longer than vinyl and I think it’s easier to install than vinyl. You only have to paint it once every fifteen years or so.

The only real advantage vinyl has is that you don’t have to paint it, ever–which also means that if you wake up one morning and decide you don’t like Cheap Trailer Yellow anymore, you get to reside the house because there’s only one kind of paint that will stick to vinyl and polyurethane paint is very difficult to find. (Note: polyurethane paint sticks to fiber cement siding too, and it’s the most durable kind.)

Fiber cement is usually called Hardipanel or Hardiplank (depending on whether you get lap siding–Hardipanel–or vertical siding–Hardiplank) because most of it is made by James Hardie and those are their trademarks. Hardipanel comes a lot of ways–there’s one that looks like grooved plywood siding, one that’s completely smooth and one that looks very much like stucco. If you like the look of stucco, this is the
stuff to get.

I have a modular home with some masonite siding that there was a law suit about. The hardipanel looks similar to the siding I already have, so I would be able to start putting up a little at a time without it looking any worse than it does already. Can I put it up over the siding I already have? How do I install it (can I just nail it up, caulk and paint, or are there certain things that have to be done)? It seems really heavy and I would worry that it would break in trying to move it around. Also, how much does it weigh? I’m a single mom, so usually I end up doing these projects by myself. Also, the squirrels have taken to chewing holes in my siding. I am hoping that the hardi panel will discourage that.

“Can I put it up over the siding I already have?” No, but it is possible to “piece” it in. Here’s how: You will need a box of 8d duplex nails (these have two heads; they’re made for concrete forming so you can pull the nails out when the concrete is hard), a box of two-inch roofing nails, your Hardiplank siding, enough Harditrim to do the corners of the home, and some caulking and paint. Preferred caulk: PL polyurethane window & siding sealant.

The only really unusual tools you’ll need are lap gauges, which you can make for almost free. Go to any lumberyard and you’ll notice that all of the dimensional lumber is internally-stickered with these real thin boards, almost like lattice strips. Ask an associate if you can have some of those strips. We throw them away, so they’ll give you all you want. Go home and lay two of these strips side-by-side on the kitchen table. Draw two lines 6.5 inches apart, then write the word “INSIDE” between the lines. (Or don’t write it and just remember that between the lines is inside.) Glue a strip to the outside of one line. This is the bottom lap strip. Wait till this dries, then flip the thing over, make another line 6.5 inches up from the strip you glued on, then glue a strip to the inside of this line. This is the top lap strip. Let this dry overnight, then trim away anything above the top lap strip and below the bottom lap strip, and cut the two gauges apart.

You also need a coarse-toothed sawblade for your circular saw. (The best alternative is the fiber cement shear, which creates no dust, but you can do this with a circular saw.) The official Hardiplank blade has six teeth on it, but a 16-tooth blade is okay too. Always dedicate a blade to fiber cement: cutting fiber cement then wood will ruin your blade in an instant, but you can cut a lot of fiber cement with a dedicated blade.

You use this by installing the first hardiplank piece, then hooking the lap gauges under the bottom of that piece. Bring the next piece right down to the tops of the lap gauges and nail it up. All commercial Hardiplank installers use roofing nailers because otherwise you’re using your first hand to hold the lap gauge and the siding, your second hand to hold the nail and your third hand to hold the hammer. I recommend renting one.