Wood, PVC and Fibre Cement

Wood, fibre cement or uPVC cladding: which is best?
When it’s time to replace your home’s exterior cladding, the three most popular options you’ll encounter are:

• Fibre cement cladding
• Wood cladding
• uPVC (PVC or vinyl) cladding

Whereas wood is the most traditional product, UPVC and fibre cement cladding offer a more contemporary choice.
Here you can find out more about the strengths and characteristics of all three materials, and make an educated decision about which is the right facade for your home.

With each cladding type, there are options aplenty; textures, colours, sizes, finishes and installation methods. From horizontal ship-lapped fibre cement weatherboards or vertically installed painted wood, through to diagonally installed uPVC cladding, below we aim to guide you through the choices, being as unbiased as we feel we can be.

After consulting with many homeowners, architects and builders, we think that ultimately, the choice of exterior cladding type will come down to the following variables:

• Ease of installation
• Cost
• Design aesthetics
• Maintenance and durability
• Safety characteristics: in particular the fire resistance of the cladding

Installation: which is the quickest & easiest?

All three types of cladding form part of what’s known as a ventilated rainscreen facade. Rainscreen systems are designed to protect your home by offering a ‘double defence’ against the elements.

Typically, houses are built using either timber frame or blockwork construction, and typically weatherboard cladding is mechanically fixed – with either nails, screws or clips – to timber battens over the substructure. Cladding allows rainwater to permeate the system, but is ventilated to dry out after adverse weather conditions.

The installation of fibre cement, wood and UPVC cladding is similar. They are all affixed in the same way and there is no real winner here in terms of ‘speedier fixing’. Labour costs are approximately the same per square metre.

Cladding installation can be made simpler and more efficient though through use of specialist tools; in the case of our HardiePlank weatherboard, the gecko gauge tool allows for an easier one person installation.

Maintenance and durability: how long can I expect my cladding to last?

With proper maintenance, wood cladding can last for many years. Cedar in particular is a very durable species of wood that resists rot and pests much better than other type of wood.

With wood, the most important thing is to minimize exposure to moisture which can cause rot. This means you should maintain a finish coat of either paint or stain to seal the wood against the elements. Painted wood will need to be prepared and repainted every 5 years, while stain needs to be re-applied every 3 years. It’s important to upkeep maintenance on wood cladding as moisture movement can cause paint to crack and peel, leading to deterioration of the planks underneath.

Fibre cement is extremely low-maintenance and requires (only if and when needed) a simple washing with a hose and soapy water. The ColourPlus Technology™ paint finish on James Hardie cladding is guaranteed not to crack, peel or chip for 15 years, and the weatherboard itself is BBA certified with a life expectance of 60 plus years.

Fibre 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 and will withstand extreme weather including rain, snow, hail, hot sun, and even hurricane-force winds.

uPVC cladding, like fibre cement, is also low maintenance and has a similar life expectancy. Aesthetically, the finish tends to look more pristine for longer than natural wood, although unlike fibre cement, it can be susceptible to fading, warping, cracking and sagging over time. It also becomes brittle and susceptible to cracking in very cold weather conditions.

Aesthetics: which type of cladding looks better?

Wood cladding (most often made from western red cedar wood or larch) can be painted with stain, oils, or even left untreated for a totally natural look. Planks are available in several different styles, including chamfered channel cladding, beveled edge cladding, tongue and groove interlocked or ship-lapped effect. This allows for both traditional and modern design aesthetics. You can achieve a modern, seamless look with tongue-and-groove panels, or a rural look with board-and-batten.

Vinyl/PVC/UPVC cladding comes in a variety of colours and sizes and offers both smooth and wood grain effect finishes. Despite the variety of more traditional effect finishes on offer, UPVc cladding is best used for a modern design as in our view, the wood effect and more natural finishes are easily seen through even when inspected from a curb-side distance. Up close, wood effect vinyl is fooling no-one.

A unique combination of cellulose fibre and cementitious material, fibre cement cladding comes in long, horizontal strips, just like wood cladding planks. It is available in a wide range of colours – James Hardie offers 21 shades to choose from, for example – and typically two textures, from a modern smooth finish to a more rustic rough-hewn look.

Fibre cement does an extremely good job of replicating the look of painted wood. It cannot really replace a natural unpainted wood finish convincingly, as if you examine it very closely, you may notice that the grain is perhaps a little too even and perfect to be real wood.

So decision wise on aesthetics, your choice of material really should come down to the look you want to achieve. Do you have your heart set on natural, untreated, unpainted wood? If so, there is really no substitute for cedar wood cladding. It can look very beautiful immediately after installation, although you should take into consideration the way the facade will date, and the likely maintenance and repair issues that will arise.

If however you love the idea of a traditional or contemporary painted wood finish, but would rather pass on the ongoing heavy maintenance, a convincingly realistic fibre cement cladding such as HardiePlank® weatherboard, just might be the solution for you.

Safety characteristics: fire resistance of the cladding

In the event of fire, your choice of cladding may make a difference to the amount of damage to your home.

Wood cladding will add fuel to the flame, unless the cedar has been specially treated to be fire-retardant. Unfortunately in the event of a fire vinyl cladding does not perform well. Here you can see a side by side fire test of all three materials.

HardiePlank cladding is fire resistant and will not ignite when exposed to direct flame or extreme heat; it is non-combustible with a fire classification of A2, s1 d0 – the highest possible fire rating for a coloured facade board.

The verdict: Which type of cladding material should you choose?

The truth is, the answer is different for everyone. Our advice is to consider what matters most to you. Then talk to dealers and manufacturers – in the case of dealers, those who specialize in selling different cladding materials can give you the most unbiased view as to the strengths and weaknesses that are likely to have the most impact to your home. If you are not sure where to start, check out our dealer locator here: https://www.jameshardie.co.uk/find-a-dealer/.

Many of our dealers sell all three cladding materials and can give you some great pointers and tips, plus the average square metre costs of each product (on the costings side, don’t forget to factor in accessories such as trims which can add costs to your overall budget).

If you want to know more about fibre cement specifically, please read more on our website or pick up the phone to our customer services team, who will be happy to assist you further.