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Fiber cement siding is durable

Dear Ms. Builder: I am a divorced mother of three, so I have little time for house maintenance. My house needs new siding, but I do not like the look of vinyl. Does old fashioned fiber cement siding make sense for me? - Janet G.

Dear Janet: Fiber cement siding is one of the best, low-maintenance materials available. Once it is installed and painted, it looks just like regular wood siding, but without problems with moisture, rotting, insects, fire resistance, etc.

When fiber cement siding was first used in the early 1900's, it used asbestos fibers mixed in with the cement. Asbestos is probably the best fiber material, but unfortunately it presents a health hazard. Today's fiber cement siding typically use cellulose (paper) fibers instead.

With all its benefits, fiber cement siding material costs about the same or slightly less than high quality vinyl siding. Since you will paint it after it is installed on your house, the overall cost of the fiber cement siding may be slightly more than vinyl siding.

You will like the look of fiber cement siding. The strong pieces are available in widths from about 6 inches to 12 inches wide and in 12 foot lengths. This range in sizes makes is possible to create many unique looks. Most of the siding is produced in a 5/16 thickness.

For a really clean appearance on pieces less than 10 inches wide, the strength of the fiber cement material allows it to be blind nailed. This means that the nail heads are totally hidden by each successive piece of siding. Choose either a smooth, stucco or vertical groove appearance.

Most home center stores do not stock fiber cement siding. Contact these manufacturers for local sources - Cemplank (888-327-0723), Certainteed (800-566-2282), GAF (800-223-1948), James Hardie (800-942-7343) and MaxiTile (800-338-8453).

A 12-foot long fiber cement siding piece is cumbersome and heavy, so unless you look like Zena, Warrior Princess, you will most likely have a siding contractor do the installation for you. Other than the trim, fiber cement siding is installed with nails similar to wood siding.

When selecting your contractor, find someone who is familiar with installing fiber cement siding. Check out several of their local installations that are at least five years old. If they were done properly, they will still look like new siding.

Make certain that your contractor plans to use vinyl trim pieces at windows, corners, etc. Without them, you may get some leaks. You should not use aluminum trim with fiber cement because it will react with the fiber cement material. Tamarack & Sons (800-334-1676) has the best selection of vinyl trim.

It is also a good idea to install a moisture barrier under the siding. In the old days, tar paper was used exclusively and most of it is still functioning well. The first piece of tar paper should extend at least one-half inch over the top of the foundation.

The trim goes on first. Install all the inside and outside corner boards, starter strips, window/door trim and flashings. Once this is done, the installation of the siding pieces is a snap. It is a good idea to caulk all the butt joints and to use small pieces of felt paper as a flashing behind each butt joint.

For a more decorative appearance, tudor-style accents can be very attractive. There are fiber cement building panels available that are ideal for creating a low-maintenance tudor/stucco appearance. These stucco surface panels are available in 4-foot widths and 8 to 10-foot lengths.

It is best to finish the siding with 100-percent water-based acrylic paint. Since the fiber cement material expands and contracts very little, you should have few paint adhesion, blistering or peeling problems. If you choose to use the panels, some will also accept stain.

Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.