Updated on July 21st, 2021
While vinyl siding is among the two most popular options of siding in America, fiber cement siding continues to grow in market share. In a side by side comparison between the two, they both have strong and weak points. Let’s explore.
According to JamesHardie.com, fiber cement wins in a landslide over vinyl. But let’s take a more nuanced approach to this ongoing battle.
Top Comparison Factors
There are several factors to consider in what makes for quality siding. Some are weighted stronger than other considerations, but it’s up to you to decide what you value most. Here are the factors that are often considered most important.
The bottom line, or total cost of siding installed, is often the chief consideration for most homeowners. Vinyl is well known as the most economical siding available.
The basic, hollow-back, version costs just $6.50 to $7.50 per sq.ft. to install. Premium vinyl or insulated foam-back vinyl will run $7.50 to $12.50 per sq.ft. installed.
Expect to pay between $8.50 to $14.50 per sq.ft. for the installation of standard fiber cement siding like Hardie Plank or Allura.
For a typical American home (2,000 sq.ft of siding), the average total cost can range from $13,000 to $25,000 for standard vinyl siding. — Compare that to fiber cement which on the same house will cost between $17,000 and $29,000 fully installed.
Total Cost Verdict: based strictly on which option is more budget friendly, vinyl would be a clear winner.
Vinyl siding consists of 80% PVC resin (the V stands for vinyl), while the remaining 20% are components that provide color, texture, flexibility, and impact resistance.
Standard vinyl siding is based on material thickness, ranging from .040 to .046 inches for residential use.
Premium vinyl is typically greater than .050 thick, offering great impact resistance, less prone to cracking in freezing temps and slightly better insulation. Foam-back offers much greater insulation, but that’s another factor listed below.
Warranties are one way to measure durability.
Vinyl generally has product warranties between 25 and 40 years versus fiber cement warranties which typically range from 30 to 50 years.
In terms of resistance to weather related elements, vinyl usually fares better in high wind than fiber cement. Whereas in conditions of moderately sized hail, fiber cement will hold up better than vinyl.
Both materials are essentially designed to last 50+ years, with the sun and aging surface materials being the most detrimental factor over the long haul.
By the 50-year mark, vinyl’s baked in colors will fade significantly enough to warrant new installation, whereas fiber cement will most likely have been repainted in that time frame, allowing homeowners to consider keeping it for up to 100 years.
Fiber cement is, as the name suggest, made up of cement, wood fibers and sand. It ranges from 5/16th to 5/8th inches thick. It is very rigid and quite heavy per board.
Durability Verdict: While vinyl is indeed fairly durable, fiber cement gets the overall edge on the durability factor.
R-Value Insulation Factor
We already discussed the thickness of each material. Standard vinyl siding has an R-value .6. — This beats fiber cement, which has an R-value of .5, at most. Adding foam-back vinyl siding leaves fiber cement in the dust as that has at minimum 1.8 R-value.
Underlayment material, even a foam board, doesn’t offer much extra and would be applicable to both materials.
Alternatively, pumping insulation into exterior walls would enhance the R-value, but again that applies to both materials.
Insulation Value Verdict: Clear victory here goes to (foam-back) vinyl siding.
Comparing Vinyl and Fiber Cement – Secondary Factors
The following considerations routinely come up when discussing these two materials or most siding options. How much weight these are given is entirely up to you.
ROI — Cost-to-Value Return Factor
Return on investment is a big factor for many home improvements. What you spend for installation on siding can be recouped at time your home sells, assuming the product is still in good condition or better.
According to the 2021 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report, siding replacement, in general, has an approximately 70% ROI. In recent years, the ROI (cost-to-value return) for fiber cement siding has come in the range of 69% to 77%, while, perhaps surprisingly, insulated vinyl siding obtains a 68% to 75% cost-to-value return at resale.
As ROI often relates to the curb appeal, a very important consideration is trim options for siding. This includes window casings, entry ways and corner posts or moldings.
The 70% cost-to-value return assumes basic trim that is essentially updated and looks new when installed. Quality trim though will increase the ROI, to as much as 77% to 90% for any siding replacement.
At any rate, with the above referenced ROI figures in recent years, (cost-to-value return) this is nearly a push between vinyl and fiber cement, with just a slight edge for fiber cement.
Fiber Cement is 4th, behind brick, and comes in at 21%. Looking over this data, you can see that vinyl has been the #1 siding material for much of the last decade.
This would seem to indicate clear victory for vinyl siding, until you look at trends. In 2005, it was vinyl at 31% and fiber cement at 9%, which is first time it was tracked on such a report. The trend clearly favors a rise in popularity for fiber cement and a downward trend for vinyl.
What market share generally translates to is how readily available it is to find competitive pricing by qualified contractors. For both these materials, it ought to be easy in most regions of the U.S., except for the Western part of the US where stucco reigns supreme, to find qualified contractors.
Let’s call this a push, with a possible edge to vinyl siding.
Ease of Installation
This factor matters to the DIY crowd. When it comes to fiber cement installation, it is strongly suggested to go with experienced, professional contractors. The material is heavy, fairly labor intensive, and takes up to two weeks for many installations.
Compare this to vinyl, where there are plenty of guides available online to install the product yourself. A professional crew can easily accomplish most installations in under a week.
Verdict: Vinyl clearly wins on this factor.
Colors and Design Options
While design and appearance are ultimately subjective, the options are fairly well known. With color, there’s technically no limit to what either product can provide.
Though manufacturers produce in bulk popular sets of colors that are well received within the market. James Hardie is not the only maker of fiber cement siding, but they are by far the most popular.
Did you know? In all, there are roughly 50 color options for fiber cement that are readily available, compared to 360+ colors for vinyl siding.
Both materials offer essentially 4 levels of product, ranging from economic to architectural grade or premium grade. Standard grade is in the middle and what most homeowners choose.
Textures on planks as well as width of laps that make for a dozen or so variations are about the same for both products. Plus, both contain product lines that are not in the category of bevel boards, or lap siding. These alternatives include vertical boards, tiles, and shingles.
Trim board styles are roughly the same in selection, but the appearance is noticeably better for fiber cement. Vinyl trim can look wonderful and again will increase curb appeal if done right. But it does have a tinge of plastic appearance, where fiber cement overcomes that.
Overall, on the design factor, this is virtually a push between the two.
Vinyl is a product that once it is installed, has very low maintenance. No need ever to paint it as the colors are baked into the material. An annual cleaning is the most likely scenario in terms of ongoing maintenance for most homeowners.
Fiber cement benefits from annual cleanings and the process is fairly similar between the two materials, though fiber cement can handle spray from a pressure water a bit better.
While cement board may have factory finished boards that are part of initial installation, those colors will fade dramatically within 25 to 35 years.
So, fiber cement is a product that will need repainting as part of its ongoing maintenance. Plus, as part of annual cleanings, re-caulking of seams is generally suggested.
The cons associated with vinyl are that it doesn’t hold up to intense heat. If a grill is kept too close to the home, or if a neighbor’s window reflects sunlight in just the right way, the vinyl siding will warp.
While this is rare, it does occur. Whereas fiber cement has no such issues. Yet, fiber cement board does have the con of moisture problems in underlayment material that over time can lead to mildew or drainage issues.
If either material needs repair, where planks / panels need replacing, vinyl is significantly easier to work with. — Panels pop out with relative ease and putting in another panel isn’t all that challenging for a handy person. With fiber cement, qualified contractors would be called in to handle any repairs.
Verdict: the maintenance factor clearly favors vinyl siding.
The Enjoyment Factor
The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) published their Remodeling Impact Report, accounting for many factors on several home improvement projects.
One of those factors was known as the “Joy Score” or the enjoyment that homeowners received once the project was completed.
Only two items received a perfect score (10) and one of those was new fiber cement siding. Compare that to the 8.9 score that vinyl siding received, and it is very clear that homeowners love their fiber cement siding more than homeowners who went with vinyl siding. 😉
For those of you keeping score at home, according to the factors we listed, vinyl would win in a landslide, as the final score is 6 factors favor vinyl, 2 favor fiber cement and a tie on one other factor.
But the fact that fiber cement wins on durability and enjoyment level can’t be denied.
While vinyl is still ahead in terms of market share, is easier to install, maintain, and more cost effective, the looks and style of fiber cement will often tip the scale in its favor with many discerning homeowners desiring a high-end look.