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Natural vs. Synthetic Siding


Natural Bark Siding vs. Synthetic Siding Materials

‘Au Natural’ has unarguably become the trend these days, with natural foods, cleaning supplies, body care products, and more making their debut on shopping lists across the country. These items may be the first to come to mind when practicing a more eco-friendly lifestyle inside the home – but what about greening the home itself?  A change in façade can go a long way in improving the appearance and value of your home, even when you opt for a natural look that is better for the environment, like poplar bark siding.

Common Synthetic Sidings

A variety of man-made and synthetic sidings are on the market, covering the gamut from metals to plastic, and even incorporating some natural materials like wood chips. While these materials tend to be inexpensive or readily available, these conveniences often have many drawbacks over the long run.

Metal Siding (Corrugated Aluminum, Steal)

While the popularity of metals as a siding has declined since the advent of vinyl, they are still used for a variety of structures due to their durable and fireproof nature, and are an excellent choice for coastal environments. Some of the negative traits of metal siding include:

•    Limited color palette
•    Dent easily and are difficult to repair
•    More expensive than vinyl
•    Not good insulators

Vinyl Siding

Used as an exterior cladding since the late 1950’s, vinyl siding is the most commonly installed residential siding material in the United States. Vinyl siding is composed primarily of PVC resin, and has a number of characteristics that make it a popular choice for home siding:

•    Generally low maintenance
•    Low cost, compared to most siding materials
•    Easy to install
•    Wide variety of colors to choose & does not require painting

However, vinyl siding does come with a number of downsides, too. While it may be low maintenance compared to other sidings, it still requires washing (generally in the spring and fall) to keep it clean. It also expands and contracts considerably with each season, and if cracked it is relatively difficult to repair.

Air, Water, and Fire
In addition, the composition of vinyl siding makes it susceptible to problems. Vinyl siding holds vapor, which can create moisture-related problems in the walls, and the material itself has no insulation value. Vinyl siding can melt under intense heat, and can ignite at 400 degrees – leaving it prone to damage from grills, nearby fires, and more.

Some people complain that the appearance of vinyl is simply not to their liking, that it looks artificial and that the seam lines between panels are a little…’unseemly’. The color of the siding is also prone to fading, and the siding is difficult to paint over.

Environmental Concerns
Vinyl siding is a far cry from being a ‘green’ siding option. It is very difficult to dispose of in an ecologically responsible way, and is not currently recycled. It cannot (and should not) be burned, because PVC vinyl releases toxic dioxin gases.

Fiber Cement Siding

Fiber cement products have been around since the 1980’s, originally designed as a replacement for asbestos cement sheeting. It is made from compacted layers of cellulose fibers, silica sand, and cement. It is a popular siding material, and some argue that it is a slightly more eco-friendly alternative to vinyl. Proponents like it because it is low cost, flame retardant, and durable. Some of the negative traits of fiber cement include:

•    Poor insulator
•    Requires painting after installation
•    Manufacturing process emits sulfur dioxide – a gas that forms acid rain and smog.
•    Cement production requires large amounts of water
•    Very heavy
•    Releases silica dust when cut – inhalation is a health concern

Composite siding

As the name suggests, composite siding is composed of a variety of materials. These can include asphalt, wood, asbestos, fiber cement, aluminum, and more, and are generally formed into shingles or boards. The cost of composite materials tends to be lower than most other sidings, but will vary depending on the material used.

Two of the most popular composites are wood based and cement fiber based. The wood based siding is composed mostly of ‘wood scrap’ materials, such as wood chips, wood discs, wood wafers or sawdust. It is an inexpensive siding option, but has a bad reputation as an exterior cladding material as it is susceptible to mold, rot, and potential structural damage if the siding fails (which it tends to do). Cement fiber composite siding has all the benefits of traditional cement fiber siding, but can also be purchased pre-colored, and only has to be painted every decade or so. It is, however, very heavy, cannot hide irregularities in a building’s framing (creating a bumpy or wavy look), does not insulate well, and releases silica dust when cut, which can cause respiratory problems.

Bark Siding

There are few natural siding alternatives that are as eco-friendly, resilient, and low-maintenance as poplar bark cladding. Originally utilized by Native Americans and incorporated into modern home building since the 1800’s, bark siding has a long tradition of use in North America. It was, and still is, valued for its incredible durability and resistance to wear.


•    Adds to a home’s insulation
•    Beautiful, natural look
•    Can last over 50 years without the benefit of paint, stain or chemical protection
•    Resistant to weather – does not require sealants or any other chemicals
•    Does not attract carpenter bees or termites
•    Water resistant when properly installed
•    An eco-friendly choice for many reasons:
o    Natural resource
o    Renewable and Biodegradable
o    No chemicals, preservatives, or borax are added to it – so no leaching
o    Long Lasting
o    Some bark siding manufacturers, such as Parton Bark Siding in western NC, are Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified

With all these positive traits, it’s almost difficult to imagine any downsides to using bark siding. The most common complaint with bark siding, however, is the cost factor. But when compared to the average life expectancy of bark cladding, the cost can be easily justified.

While there are a variety of options for residential siding, the synthetic sidings listed above may not be the best choice for an ‘eco-friendly’ exterior. For quick, short term results, these cheaper and sometimes toxic options can be a tempting choice, but in the long run poplar bark is one of the most beautiful, durable and ‘green’ sidings for your home – naturally.