Siding 101: What a Certified Home Inspector Needs to Know About Common Cladding Materials

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Do you know the difference between clapboard and board and batten? What’s the average lifespan of vinyl siding? Do cedar shakes ever rot? For that matter, why do some homes have shakes on the roof?

Home siding takes a lot of different forms and comes in all shapes and sizes. Here’s a little background information to help clarify the basics.

What’s the Difference Between Cladding and Siding?

In the purest definition of the words, siding and cladding mean the same thing. They both refer to the exterior wall coverings on a house. However, siding is more often used for wood, vinyl, aluminum or engineered materials installed vertically or horizontally. Cladding, while meaning the same thing, is more often used when describing brick, stucco, stone or similar materials.

It’s not incorrect to say that brick and stone are siding. Likewise, cladding can refer to wood as easily as it describes stucco or masonry.

How Does Board and Batten Siding Differ From Clapboard?

Board and Batten and clapboard siding materials are some of the oldest and most traditional in America. They look quite different, but if you aren’t familiar with the names, it’s easy to forget which is which. It’s simple, really. Board and batten siding is installed vertically and clapboard is horizontal.

Board and batten siding consists of wide boards that butt together at the left and right edges. A long strip of wood called a batten is fastened over each seam. Together, All About Siding says the two components make board and batten. Clapboard, on the other hand, is the classic horizontal siding with each higher row slightly overlapping the row below it. Both styles are available in natural wood, engineered materials, vinyl and aluminum.

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Shakes look rustic, which is why many homeowners skip weatherproofing and let them weather naturally.

What are Cedar Shakes and Shingles?

Shakes and shingles are similar but slightly different. Generally, shakes have an irregular, rustic appearance. Shingles are more uniform in width, length and thickness. Both can be installed as siding or roofing, although the irregularity of shakes makes them more prone to lifting and leaks.

With care, shake and shingle siding can last many years. Cedar is naturally weather, disease, and insect resistant. Some homeowners use cedar stain, which is a tinted cedar oil, to treat the wood, while others let the wood weather naturally to a silvery gray.

What’s the Lifespan of Vinyl Siding? 

It’s one of the most popular choices in home siding for a reason. Vinyl looks uniform, high-quality materials can mimic the appearance of wood, and it never requires painting. A light hosing off and occasional deeper cleaning are all it takes to keep vinyl looking beautiful for 15 years or longer.

Earlier vinyl versions introduced in the 50s might require replacement now, according to This Old House.   But new vinyl should last at least 20 years with almost no maintenance besides cleaning.

Are Brick and Stone Structural Elements?

Looks can be deceiving. While brick, stone and other masonry homes look structural, most often they’re not. At least not in modern construction. Usually, they’re a cladding just like any other siding. Some brick and stone siding materials are actually a veneer that’s no thicker than a floor tile.

As with other sidings, stone and other masonry materials need a waterproof barrier underneath. They’re not waterproof on their own, so they can’t keep water out. The cladding usually has weep holes that let moisture escape.

Siding is part of the curb appeal that makes a buyer fall in love with a house. But even veneer materials are more than just decorative. The first job of any cladding is to protect the home from impacts and the elements. Some shed water and some help water escape. Some require almost no maintenance while others, such as natural wood clapboard, need regular sealing or a healthy coat of paint.

You’ll inspect miles of siding in your years as a certified home inspector. But you can’t get started until you get an education. Enroll now with ICA School and you could earn your certification in as little as a few weeks.

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