Over the past few years, the rising prices of now scarce lumber has led to the rise in the use of fiber-cement sidings. It is seen as a better alternative to vinyl. The drawback is that fiber-cement isn’t easy to work with, but it does outperform its lumber based counterparts in several ways. That is one of the reasons why it is grown in popularity.
What is Fiber-Cement?
It is a mix of cellulose, Portland cement, water, sand or fly ash, which is a byproduct of burnt coal. The use of fiber-cement dates back several years before the 1980s, as the material was initially developed by Ludwig Hatschek in 1901, and the process was patented. But unlike in the past asbestos is no longer the prime ingredient in this mixture because of the health risks associated with it. Asbestos was swapped out for cellulose which is biodegradable and not harmful.
Some variations of fiber-cement sidings use silica sand, which has its own set of health issues, especially if inhaled. So, instead of silica, many manufacturers opt to use fly ash.
A Builders’ Perspective on Fiber-Cement
Now it is essential to mention that fiber-cement sidings look very much like wood, wood clapboards, and wood shingles. However, it does have a couple of shortcomings associated with wood, which continues to become pronounced with the decline of quality lumber. The big upside is that unlike wood, fiber-cement isn’t attacked by termites and ants amongst other insects. It also does not rot, happens to be pretty hard, and comes with a warranty of up to 50 years.
What builders don’t like about fiber-cement is that the material is heavy and brittle. Not to mention that there are many health risks associated with it if the dust isn’t controlled. Speaking of weight, a good example of it is that a 4×8 feet panel will weigh in excess of 70 lbs. So, it has to be carried very carefully by two people.
Fiber cement, similar to other types of sidings, will need to be installed over a vented rain screen. Having that air gap is beneficial because it helps with the paint, as it lasts longer.
Silica Dust is Dangerous
Silica dust is a serious health hazard and causes progressive lung diseases, referred to as silicosis. So, steps need to be taken by people who work with it to protect themselves, but this risk isn’t just with fiber-cement but also with stone, quartz, etc. It is best to hire a professional for anything to do with fiber-cement sidings.
Fiber-cement sidings, besides its downsides, offer more upsides to homeowners. Not only is it cheaper to maintain, but it lasts longer. However, builders need to be very careful when working with the material. Fiber-cement sidings can be made to look any way you want, but its brittle and heavy nature places a couple of limitations on it.