Cedar Siding vs Fiber Cement: Pros & Cons

We often get questions from homeowners who need to replace their wood siding, and are trying to decide whether to stick with cedar or reclad the whole house with fiber cement.

Both are great options for that traditional American look of clapboard or shingle style siding.

Hardie Siding Installation - West Hills Country Club - Middletown, NY

Hardie shingle fiber cement panel with Hardie trim, “Cobblestone”

But which one is right for you?

Cedar siding is typically made from Western Red Cedar, but sometimes White Cedar is used. It can be applied in the form of horizontal lap panels or traditional shingles or “shakes.” It can be painted or treated with stain, oil, or even left untreated.

Fiber cement siding is a man-made product made from a composite of sand, cement, and cellulose fibers, pressed together to form planks or shingles. It comes primed and painted, but can also be painted after installation.

Each has its own benefits, so there are a number of things you should keep in mind:

Cedar Siding Aesthetics

Cedar siding comes in many different styles, including lap siding, bevel, and traditional cedar shakes or shingles.

You can also get a modern, seamless look with tongue-and-groove panels, or a rural look with board-and-batten.

Cedar Siding - Lap Style

Painted Cedar Siding – Lap Style

Beveled Cedar Siding

Beveled Cedar Siding – Stained

Traditional Cedar Shake - Straight Edge

Traditional Cedar Shake – Straight Edge

Traditional Cedar Shake - Staggered Edge

Traditional Cedar Shake – Staggered Edge

White Cedar Shingles - Round Edge

White Cedar Shingles – W/ Round Edge

Fiber Cement Siding Aesthetics

Like cedar, fiber cement can be used to achieve many styles such as lap or clapboard, shingle, and board-and-batten. It also comes in various finishes that mimic wood grain, from a modern smooth finish to a more rustic rough-hewn look.

New Hardie siding installed

James Hardie Fiber Cement – Lap Siding

Fiber cement does a good job of replicating the look of painted wood. If you examine it very closely, you may notice that the grain is perhaps a little too even and perfect to be real wood.

Hardie Fiber Cement Shingle - Straight Edge

Hardie Fiber Cement Shingle – Straight Edge

But from curbside, it looks so much like wood that it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference.

Hardie Siding Installation - West Hills Country Club - Middletown, NY

Hardie shake 4′ panel with Hardie trim, “Cobblestone”

In fact, it’s been approved to replace wood siding in Historical Districts all over the United States, including the Village of Rhinebeck, Kingston and LaGrange right here in the Hudson Valley.

Take a look at some of the close ups, and see how well fiber cement stacks up against wood…

Hardie Shingles - Staggered Edge Panel

Hardie Shingles – Staggered Edge Panel

Hardie Shingle Halfrounds

Hardie Shingle Halfrounds

The one aspect where fiber cement cannot compete with cedar, is if you want to use a clear sealant or semi-transparent stain to reveal the natural wood color underneath.

Fiber cement can only replicate the look of painted wood.

Some homeowners like the look of weathered White Cedar, and leave it untreated to take on a silvery patina over time.

Weathered Cedar Shingles Left Untreated

Weathered Cedar Shingles Left Untreated

Fiber cement cannot replicate this weathered patina, so you will need to use cedar to achieve this look.

Cost

Neither wood siding or fiber cement are the cheapest options in home siding. Fiber cement generally costs slightly more than vinyl siding, at $3 to $4 per square foot for materials. Cedar siding can run $5 to $7 per square foot.

You should also keep in mind that the maintenance required with cedar siding adds thousands to the overall cost. You will need to paint or stain cedar siding every 3-5 years, and periodically repair or replace the shingles or panels.

So be sure to factor in the long-term costs of cedar when making your decision.

With the nearly maintenance-free durability of fiber cement, you will end up saving many thousands of dollars over the long run.

Durability & Maintenance

With proper maintenance, cedar siding can last for many years. Cedar is a very durable species of wood that resists rot and pests much better than other types of wood.

With cedar, the most important thing is to minimize exposure to moisture which can cause rot.

Scraping paint sucks

Scraping paint off cedar siding – Fun times!

This means you should maintain a finish coat of either paint or stain to seal the wood against the elements.

Paint will need to be scraped and repainted every 5 years, while stain needs to be reapplied every 3 years.

Cedar is vulnerable to woodpeckers that will drill holes in wood siding, allowing for insect and moisture penetration – not good.

Fiber cement is extremely low-maintenance and requires only a periodic washing with a hose. The paint finish on
James Hardie siding is guaranteed not to fade or chip for 15 years.

Fiber cement is also very durable. Because of its cement content, it is impervious to termites, woodpeckers and other pests.

It resists rotting, warping, and cracking. It will withstand extreme weather including rain, snow, hail, hot sun, and even hurricane-force winds.

That’s why hurricane and tornado prone areas in the U.S. specify the use of fiber cement siding in their building codes.

Fire Safety

In the event of fire, your choice of siding may make a difference to the amount of damage to your home. Cedar siding will add fuel to the flame, unless the cedar has been specially treated to be fire-retardant.

Fiber cement will not will not ignite when exposed to direct flame or extreme heat, and has been rated for fire-resistance rated construction (ASTM E119).

Eco-Friendliness

Both wood and fiber cement are a great choice for “green” siding.

Wood is biodegradable, so it won’t be sitting around in a landfill for hundreds of years. It also requires less energy to produce than synthetic options, like vinyl siding.

Although, it’s good to make sure that the cedar you select isn’t from old-growth timber. Choose wood that has been certified by the Forest Service Council (FSC) to minimize impact on forests.

Fiber cement is made from inert materials (sand, cement, cellulose fibers, and water) that are sustainable and won’t release toxins into the environment.

Some CO2 emissions occur during the production of fiber cement. But its durability also requires fewer resources for replacement and maintenance.

Fiber cement is approved for use in LEED® rated buildings.

The Verdict

So which type of siding material should you choose?

The truth is, the answer is different for everyone. But in our experience as trusted exterior home improvement contractors in the Hudson Valley, we recommend James Hardie fiber cement in most situations.

We install all types of siding, and we see how well they hold up over the years. It’s clear to us that it’s the best choice when you consider all of the options.

Your home is an investment, and although cedar may offer a unique aesthetic appeal, we think fiber cement offers the best long-term value for your money.

Check out our page on James Hardie fiber cement siding

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I run company of skilled exterior specialists in Hudson Valley NY. We install siding, roofs and windows, with a focus on James Hardie fiber cement siding. Have a question? Just ask me in the comments below and I will do my best to respond in a timely manner.

Comments

  1. I have new construction and getting Hardy board primed only. What finish coatings would you recommend I have applied to our home near Russellville Arkansas 72801? Thank you for your time and help,

    Rodney

    • Rodney,

      It’s an excellent question that I will respond more to fully after the weekend. Currently we are using a local, custom wood supplier to have the fiber cement painted before it’s installed on the customer’s home. It’s more cost effective for the client to do it this way, as apposed to painting after installation. There are some other considerations to take into account as well, which I will comment on next week. Please watch this space.

      • I have looked at a fair number of homes with the cement fiber siding and there seems to be a wide range of suitable installation appearances. Is this siding difficult to install and how do you find a contractor who knows what the are doing?
        LMc

        • Thank you for your inquiry regardin Hardie siding. Yes, Hardie siding has different install requirements than other cladding products on the market. Where are you located? To find a good solid contractor that is versed in Hardie, I would recommend going to James Hardie.com and choose “locate a contractor.” This will give you someone in your area to help you with your project. I hope this helps you, and best of luck.

          • One more question. Is there a moisture problem with the fiber cement over time resulting in some form of rotting.
            I so appreciate your previous response and current help.

          • In the many years of installing Hardie siding, I haven’t seen any moisture issues if the product is installed correctly. However, I have seen a lot of Hardie jobs that have had problems due to improper installation. That’s when you see moisture wicking issues.

            The key is the install! The product is engineered for the elements only if it’s installed as per the manufacture’s requirements. We are one of the few certified “Hardie Preferred Contractors” in the Hudson Valley. If you are considering using Hardie, I highly recommend that you find a certified installer in your area. You can find one on the James Hardie website

  2. What type of maintenance is required besides hosing? Also, since it has a 15 year lifetime, do you have to replace with new siding?

    • Jeanie, The product will live a lot longer than 15 years if it’s installed correctly. You may have to touch up some area with paint being the worst case scenario. Hosing it down is the only maintenance I have ever done. You don’t have to repaint it every 5 years like you would with cedar siding.

  3. I read consumer complaints of Hardee board deteriorating after jus 5 years and the company not honoring complaints, how prevalent is this in the Hudson Valley?

    • Thank you for the inquiry! The number one thing with Hardie is to have a quality installation. It has to be installed to the manufacture’s requirements. Adhering to proper clearance specifications is critical. The deterioration issues you might be reading about are usually due to moisture wicking behind the product as a result of improper installation.

      Many contractors just don’t follow the directions and they cut corners. Then when the product fails, the customer is left on the hook and the contractor blames the product. So I can fully understand why Hardie may not warranty jobs where the product is fails after 5 years. If the product was not properly installed, why would the manufacturer warranty it? We have been contacted to correct such issues in the past…

      We have seen the botched jobs done by contractors that think they can install this product like they would install vinyl. It’s much, much more labor intensive and there are nuances to the installation process that are key to success. For example, each piece of Hardie that we cut with our saws, needs to have its cut edge painted with Hardie approved paint.

      Yes, you heard the correctly. The guy on the ground doing the cutting, hand paints the cut edge of each piece of Hardie before handing it off to the installer. That’s just one example of the level detail that goes into the installation process. And there a bunch of other ways a contractor not versed in Hardie can unknowingly sabotage his work and cause problems for the customer down the road.

      When installed correctly, if an problem arrises, I can assure you, Hardie would address the issue at hand. They have always been very attentive to our needs where our customers are concerned. We have installed hundreds of thousands of square feet of Hardie in the Hudson Valley area and haven’t had an issue! If the product was problematic, we wouldn’t use it. Who wants to install a product that’s going to come back to haunt you?

      James Hardie has designed a system will live up to its life expectancy if it’s installed to the manufacturer’s specifications. That’s why it’s important to use a professional contractor with Hardie experience. And if you can find one in your area that is a Hardie Preferred Contractor, then you will know the job is done to spec and you shouldn’t have to worry about issues.

      The price may be higher for a Hardie contractor, but it will be cheaper in the long run! I hope this helped you in your research for the proper cladding on your home. Please feel free to reach out for any additional information you may need.

      Kind regards,
      Anthony

      PS we’ve been installing this product for 10 years and have never had a complaint about the product failing.

  4. I live in a 20 year old home with cedar veneer siding. The siding is showing signs of age, cupping, loose boards etc. My painter says he can treat the siding with “peel bond” to avoid further deterioration and then if I paint it every four years it will last indefinitely. I am considering residing with fiber cement, but the painter’s suggestion sounds much less expensive. In your opinion, is this a viable alternative?

    • Hi Ted,

      The problem with this solution is that you are still going to have the painting costs every 4-5 years. That won’t go away. But you’ll have no painting costs ever with Hardie fiber cement.

      Peel bond is for the paint, not for the cedar substrate. The Peel Bond isn’t going to save the cedar and or fix the cupping issue. The Peel Bond will reduce the cracking and peeling of the top coat of paint by staying flexible over the life of the paint, which again will be around 4-5 years.

      You already know you’ll need at least 2 paint jobs in the next 10 years. The question is, will the 20 year old cedar siding hold up for another 10-20 years… or however long you plan to be in the house. Hope that’s helpful.

  5. Hello,
    Our fiber cement sidings has a number of damage from lawn mower hits.

    What is the best way to repair them; one outfit mentioned using hydraulic cement application.
    Please help.

    • Hi Felix, maybe it’s time to find another landscaper or use a trimmer close to the house instead of the mower… or maybe point the mower away from the house for several passes. But that’s not going to fix the damage that’s already done.

      I’ve never used hydraulic cement. To repair pockmarks, we recommend “MH Ready Patch.” It comes in a black tin with orange lettering. You can find it at Home Depot. Alternatively, you could take the bad pieces out and replace with new pieces. You’ll want to make sure you replace the new pieces correctly though. You might want to consult the James Hardie website for further direction on replacing individual pieces.

      • Anthony, you are really GREAT. You responded to my request for info on my exterior siding problem though I am not local; I am in Jax, Florida.

        I wish I live in NY (too expensive for us) so I can do business with you; I have a few rentals.

        Regards.

        Felix

  6. Anthony,

    We are struggling with removing our Western Red Cedar (6″ clapboard) that has some rot and also cupping and replacing it with either Cedar Impressions, Hardie, Everlast, or Vinyl siding. Our home is field stone and cedar. We love the look of the wood, but the woodpeckers also love it. I worry about the moisture and flaking issues I’ve read about with Hardie (and also the fact that nothing ever really looks like real wood), the cheap look of vinyl, the expense of Cedar Impressions, etc. What would look most like the cedar? Also, do you prefer Hardie over the other types of fiber cement board? Is the 6″ a nicer look or the 8″?

    We also need to have new windows installed and are trying to decide which type (aluminum clad, vinyl, etc.) brand to get. Can you help with that, too?

    Thanks,
    Debbie

    • Hello Debbie,

      Thank you for the question! This question does come up. People worry about moisture and flaking with Hardie. Hardie is going to flake and breakdown if NOT installed correctly. The manufacturer has some very strict installation requirements that must be adhered to in order for the product to perform as expected. I can’t emphasize this enough. I would recommend using a Preferred Hardie Installer in your area that is well versed in the product and installation requirements.

      If you love the look of wood, I think Hardie is going to be the closet match to PAINTED cedar siding, without the hassle of maintenance. Hardie doesn’t offer a natural wood look at this time in the Northeast United States. What part of the country are you in?

      As for the reveal selection you mentioned, the commonly used plank reveal that we use most is 6’’. It really boils down to your taste and liking.

      Hardie has their product down pat with years of experience in the fiber cement industry. We’ve been installing it for 10 years without any of the issues you spoke of. We really like this product and feel it’s the best Fiber Cement cladding option on the market. I wouldn’t recommend any other manufacture at this point.

      What kind of interior windows jambs are you looking for? Wood, vinyl, stain grade or pre-primed?
      We use a couple different window companies, depending on the look the client is trying to achieve. Some reputable brands we can vouch for are Grand Estates, Pella, Marvin, Trimline or Anderson.

      Again I thank you for the inquiry and I hope this helps you in your remodeling decisions. All the best with you project!

      Kind Regards,
      Anthony

  7. Hi, Anthony,

    Lot’s of good information here. I have two questions:

    I’ve seen a detail showing fiber cement siding installed on vertical battens (furring). These are not existing battens left in place. What would be the reasons for doing (or not doing) this?

    I’m considering using battens/furring on my 1880’s row house in Missouri to give solid continuous nailers. Exist wall is studs (24+/- in o/c), one-inch softwood plank sheathing (rough) with 1/4 inch gaps, all exterior coverings removed. Sheathing is cracked and split in places. I really do not want to replace all of it. Otherwise, wall is ready for necessary skirt boards, fascia, flashing, building wrap and siding (plus battens/furring, if used).

    What do you think?

    and 2) Can you use screws to install Hardie fiber cement siding?

    Thanks much in advance.
    MG

    • Hi MG,

      Fiber cement can be installed on battens and or furring strips. Sometimes it’s used for the same reasons you were explaining and or for a rain screen application.

      My recommendation is to run the furring at 16’’ on center layout and put a good wrap on the existing sheathing that the furring strips are going to be attached to.

      In reference to your question about using screws to install Hardie, yes they can be used but it’s a hell of a lot longer of an install with screws compared to nailing it with a nail gun. One thing to watch with screwing the Hardie in, is that the screw isn’t over-driven and or under driven. I feel as if a nailer is going to eliminate that concern once the air pressure is properly regulated.

      Hope that answers your questions.

  8. Anthony I am very interested in James Hardy Color Plank Fiber Cement Siding my question is to you in the 10 years that you have been installing it have any woodpeckers succeeded in damaging it have they penetrated it? I have read on another site that squirrels can damage the bottoms have you seen that and what if any guarantee does JHardy give for either of the two problems that can occur. I have a woodpecker that will not go away since my next door neighbor feeds and shelters them. Thank You Dee

    • Hi Dee, I had a wood pecker problem on my house before I installed Hardie. After it was installed they never messed with it again. I know Hardie states that it is recommend by 5.5 million homeowners and 0 wood peckers. It is designed to resists woodpecker and insect damage. As far as the squirrels go, I have never heard any complaints and or feedback about squirrels eating or ruining Hardie siding.

      • Anthony
        We have decided to bite the bullet and live without this aggravation that has taken a toll on our nervous system. JH Siding will be a member of my household after Thanksgiving it will be our Christmas Gift and Happy New Year combination to OURSELVES! thank you for the contact it is greatly appreciated we went with the 3rd choice saved the best for last! Dee

  9. Hi Dee: We live in an attached townhome that has cedar siding. As you can imagine, some of the wood has rotted and needs to be replaced. Would you recommend that we “patch” portions of the rotted parts or totally do the entire front of our townhome Many thanxs for your assistance.

    • Karen I would tell you to replace the entire front if you are going to stay there and patch it if you are going to sell .My entire 1700 sq ft house is cedar siding and I have a bad woodpecker problem. If I didn’t I would opt for the replacement, as it is now any replacement would be subject to further damage and be a waste of money. Cedar siding was no problem up until 3 yrs ago when my neighbor started to feed and shelter woodpeckers.The patching was done with bondo and it was small holes if the damage is big replace the shingles. Good Luck

  10. I am thinking of having Hardie installed on my house. However, the house is 100 years old with a stucco exterior and the frame is made of stone or bricks. If the exterior stucco is removed, can Hardie be installed on the stone frame or would it only be possible to install on a wood frame house? Thank you.

    • No, Hardie can’t be installed directly to the stone and brick frame. In order to install Hardie and or any other cladding (besides stucco) you are going to have to fir the building out with wood or metal strips. I would recommend putting a vapor barrier on the stone before the strips are installed to prevent any issues between the masonry frame and the back side of the cladding. After the strips are install you would be able to install any cladding. Each manufacture may require different thickness of the actual firing strip so you may want to inquire on their requirements. I hope this helps you in your new cladding decision and best of luck with your project!

  11. Hello! I have a cedar lap sided home and am ok with redoing the stain ev 5 odd yrs, but only on places no higher than about 15 ft. The problem is the pitch rises up another 30 ft, and I have had to contract that out. I would like to consider redoing the cedar lap with hardy for the higher pitches. Can I get the stain like tones (med dark brown) on the hardy to match up?

    • Michael,

      This question as come up a couple of times glad you had asked it! To the best of my knowledge you can not stain Hardie Siding only paint it. The best advice on the finishes I could give is to contact Hardie Directly. When you speak with Hardie be certain to tell them where you live considering the product is made and designed for the elements! Sorry I couldn’t be much help on this question but best of luck with your project!

      • Thanks Anthony, just for clarification I would have the Hardi painted to match the red cedar tone. I use Cabot Austrailian Timber Oil on the cedar, a medium dark brown semi-transparent. So, again do you think I might be able to match up the Hardi paint tone to the cedar stain tone I mention? Does Hardi have wood grain look to it? I am located up here in MT.

  12. Hi Anthony,
    Does the James Hardie’s Cement siding (factory-paint) really hold up in the North East ?
    NY-New England Area.

    thank you Sir !!

    • I haven’t had an issue with the color plus product in the northeast, if it is installed correctly. When we see problems with this product, it can always be traced back to poor installation. If you’re going to hire someone to install Hardie, find a Hardie certified contractor in your area. The product has very specific installation requirements. It just needs to be installed correctly and you’ll be golden… and thank you sir for your question. 🙂

  13. Can you install Hardi plank siding directly over wooden lap siding? Also does it matter what reveal you choose. Can I choose a 4″ reveal with a 6″ reveal product.

    • Derek … No! You should remove the cedar lap siding. And if no sheathing is present, you have to sheath the building with plywood first before siding with Any cladding material. If you go over existing cladding, you have high chances of accumulating moisture between the layers. This is because there will be voids that can’t be filled.

      James Hardie makes there plank siding with the following reveals 4’’, 5’’, 6’’ and 7”. You can not buy a 6’’ reveal board and install with a 4’’ reveal. The product isn’t going to sit against the wall the properly and will cause issues down the road. Best of luck with your cladding project!

  14. Anthony,

    I’ve read all your posts, and understand about having a certified installer. My question is, I have a new modular home, that’s 58′ long, and 2.5 stories. Won’t I see tons, and tons of seems with such a long run of a house? Aren’t these boards only 12′ long, and they don’t want you to caulk the seems. Is this one of those times where this fiber cement shouldn’t be used? I trust your honest opinionion. I’m concerned when I try and sell this house, it will irritate me, and perspective buyers. Again, I know all the other great things about this product when properly instslled by a certified installer. I appreciate your time.

    • Matthew,

      Apologies for the late reply. I was on a two week hiatus when your comment came in and then when I got back I was slammed with work. To answer your question … You are correct, the product only comes 12′ long and you do not caulk the butt joints. You will see some seams mainly under windows and above windows. In between windows should be full pieces.

      There really isn’t a product out there to give you a seamless look. They do make a 25′ vinyl panel. We have done some big homes with long walls. It all blends together nicely. Make sure the installer nails the plank correctly to ensure the end product looks good. I hope this info helps in your cladding decision.

  15. Our existing cedar shakes are 45 years old and one peak side of the house is missing 84 shakes that have worn off, or have been pecked off my pesty woodpeckers in recent years as they got brittle. They have not been treated with any product,but allowed to just weather naturally. My husband wants to keep the real wood, and spend the money to replace the one whole side, but replace single shakes on the rest of the house and garage as needed. This leaves the house looking unmatched on the one side, and have the look of band aids where single shakes were replaced on the other sides. When we replaced some missing ones years ago, I painted the new wooden shakes with an exterior brown stain so they would blend in nicely which they seem to do. But, I have failed to date, to convince my husband that another twenty years we hope to live here of having them retained so they will stay the golden new color, and replacing those the woodpecker destroy will drive me crazy! The new Certainteed shake look styles have been used in our development by others, and look wonderful with no real upkeep to them. Our house is very sunny, so getting the green mold on them doesn’t happen with this house luckily. How can I convince him it’s the smart thing to do for our enjoyment while living here(he does no work on the outside of the house) and not fighting over the house needing yet more staining every 3-5 years to keep it the golden color with great expense? Younger buyers all seem to want maintenance free homes.

    • Hi Sharon,

      From your comments, it sounds like working on the house to maintain the siding seems to be a source of friction for you and your husband. The fact that your husband is a wood guy doesn’t surprise me. We talk to people all the time that are on the fence about making the switch from cedar to fiber cement.

      I think it comes down to what your priorities are. Some people just love wood and that’s ok. Wood is beautiful and there is no substitute for that natural golden glow of new cedar shakes. But as you stated, with that comes the additional maintenance of staining every 3-5 years and that adds to the longterm cost.

      In my experience, it’s difficult to convert a wood guy (or gal) to a fiber cement lover, unless there is proper motivation. That motivation usually comes from the wallet and or the body. If money isn’t a concern, then it’s hard to convince a wood lover they shouldn’t have what they want, especially if they can afford to buy and maintain it. BUT, If you’re thinking of staining yourself, then you’re in for a lot of extra work on ladders every few years, which is hard on the body. None of us are getting any younger.

      So, part of this dilemma, depends on who is more flexible. if you’re trying to convince your husband to go with with fiber cement over cedar, I would highlight the money you will save over the long haul and what you can do with that money instead. If he doesn’t subscribe to the “happy wife happy life” school of thought, then maybe you just have to acquiesce and do what he wants for the sake of the marriage? 🙂

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