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Wood Siding: The Pros and Cons

By Donna Pols Trump Rise Writer
Jan 19, 2021

Wood, a beautiful material, is an abundant, renewable resource. But it requires maintenance, especially in unforgiving outdoor environments. So what's the real deal with using it on the exterior of a home?

First, let's run the numbers. It may surprise you to learn that the use of wood as the primary exterior surface in homes has decreased in the last few decades from a high of 43% in 1986 to 5% in 2019. In 2019, new homes used vinyl siding 25% of the time, brick 20%, stucco 27%, and 21% clad with fiber cement. While this may seem, initially, as a "win" for those worried about preserving trees and forests, it may cause concern.

Modern Green Home
Photo Credit: Modern Green Home

How Does Wood Compare To Vinyl Siding?

Of the siding types listed in the 2019 census, wood is one of the most sustainable products for a home's exterior, and vinyl siding is one of the least sustainable. So why does vinyl have the largest market share? The answer comes down to cost. To side a 45 X 20-foot ranch style home with cedar clapboard costs $12,455. Vinyl siding comes in at a little over half that price, at $7,000.

Is Vinyl Siding Environmentally Friendly?

One major con in the use of vinyl siding is that made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC production releases dioxin, a deadly toxin that can harm both humans and animals. Many environmentally-conscious organizations have called for a ban on PVC.

Painting Wood Siding

How Long Do Vinyl and Wood Siding Last?

A large factor in vinyl's sustainability is its long, maintenance-free lifespan of over 50 years. By contrast, for wood exteriors, ongoing maintenance is the single biggest issue. Wood exteriors require maintenance for problems like moisture damage and insect invasion. Wood siding needs to be sealed with paints or stains regularly.

House With Painted Wood Siding

How Can You Choose Environmentally Friendly Siding?

When considering what siding to choose, several environmental factors come into play, as follows. 

  • Siding Material: Consider the material itself. What is it? Is it human-made, does it contain unhealthy chemicals and, is it biodegradable? Does it hold any sustainable certifications?
  • Source Location: Where does the material come from? Is it local? Or does it need to be shipped from far away, which means it takes more energy to get to you? 
  • Energy Efficiency Benefits: Does the product you are considering insulate against harsh climate? What is its R-value (its ability to withstand the transfer of heat)? 
  • Manufacturing and Production: Does a given siding option require a lot of energy to produce (like brick)? 
  • End of Life: Can the siding be recycled at the end of its useful life? What happens to the ten to fifteen percent of the material that is typically wasted on-site during construction?
  • Ease of Installation: How labor intensive is it to install? Do you need a specialized professional, or can it be completed by a general contractor or you?

For a more detailed look at the pros and cons of other siding options, see Rise's In-Depth Siding Guide.)

Building Passive
Photo Credit: Building Passive

What Are The Best Types of Wood Siding?

Rise's guide to wood siding cites the following as the best options for wood siding:

  1. Cypress
  2. Cedar
  3. Redwood
  4. Pine
  5. Thermally Modified, and
  6. Engineered Wood

Depending on your budget, location, and preference, any of these would make beautiful options for the outside of your home.

Thermalwood Canada
Photo Credit: Thermalwood Canada

Do Low Maintenance Alternatives to Wood Siding Exist?

It is possible to have low-maintenance wood siding. It comes in a form known as thermally modified timber or thermally modified wood. Manufacturers undertake a process using only heat and water to make natural wood more durable. The heating process lowers the wood's possibility to absorb moisture (and subsequently rot) and reduces the risk of pest infestation. The treatment process darkens the natural wood, giving it an aesthetically appealing look.

Several companies are specializing in this innovative product. Some of these include Thermalwood, in New Brunswick, Canada, Americana by Bingaman, from Pennsylvania, and Arbor Wood Company (AWCo), in Minnesota.

In addition, thermally modified wood can be glued, painted, and finished like untreated wood, and it is lightweight. This product is a new durable option for locally grown timber, a great addition to the market when wood siding is comprising a smaller and smaller share of the exterior home siding market.

Americana by Bingaman
Photo Credit: Americana by Bingaman

While not all thermally modified wood is made from FSC certified wood, but the options mentioned above are located in North America and source wood from their local forests. Other companies that clarify their relationship with FSC are Vulcan TMT (New Zealand) and Nova Thermowood (Turkey) - but they come from much further afield.

Thermally modified wood does need some upkeep. AWCo mentions that "If not finished, the wood will naturally wear to a shade of gray because of exposure to the sun's UV rays." In other words, the consumer may still need to do some painting or staining of thermally modified wood.

There is no doubt that thermally modified wood is more expensive than its untreated wood counterparts, like standard clapboard wood siding. Depending on the type of untreated wood siding being compared, their thermally modified wood costs about 50% more than untreated wood siding. Their EcoVantage products are sourced from sustainable forests. Their website boasts that they come with a 30-year warranty protecting from "rot, decay, mold, and insects…the longest warranty for real wood products currently on the market."

Wood Siding Rustic Lumber Co
Photo Credit: Rustic Lumber Co

Bottom Line

The price to reclad your house with wood siding will depend on the type of wood you choose. Wood siding will generally cost less than brick and stone, more than vinyl and fiber-cement composite, and about as much as stucco. Choosing wood for the exterior of your home can be the right choice for you, as long as you know that it does require more maintenance than other types of materials. As thermally modified wood gains more traction in the marketplace, it might be worth checking out!

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-22T17:01:48+0000
Donna Pols Trump

Article by:

Donna Pols Trump

Donna Pols Trump’s work has been published in literary magazines and online. She has received several Pushcart Prize nominations. Donna’s education includes degrees in Biology and Physical Therapy and a host of writing classes taken and taught at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her short story “Portage” was selected by judge Anne Tyler for first prize in a 2018 contest sponsored by december magazine.