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Cladding options for house exteriors
Jun 06, 2013

 

by Elden Freeman
The story of the three little pigs has a certain relevance in our modern, eco-conscious world. 
Based on the fairy tale, brick homes are the strongest and most enduring, attributes any homeowner would value. But plenty of other cladding or siding options are available, so clearly there are contenders that beat out sticks and straw and may even give bricks a run for their money. 
Whether you’re building a new house, adding an addition or perhaps just patching up an old one, it’s good to know what your choices are. Cladding materials come in a wide range of prices, materials, colours and styles depending on your budget and taste. So let’s take a look at what really counts: exterior cladding materials that get a green thumbs up because they go easy on the earth.
Vinyl — Vinyl or PVC siding accounts for a large chunk of the flexible siding market in Canada because it’s a relatively inexpensive product. Light and easy to install, vinyl is a low-maintenance siding that never needs scraping or repainting. This versatile material comes in dozens of colours and profiles and can be recycled when its time is up.
On the down side, vinyl siding is made from oil, which is not a renewable resource. Also, a lot of energy is burned to produce PVC. Subjected to fire, its performance isn’t the greatest and the fumes can be toxic. PVC is pretty much the bottom of the barrel from an environmental standpoint because of its chemical formation.
Wood — Wood offers homeowners a beautiful, traditional look. It’s readily available in Canada and its production emits small amounts of pollutants so it’s common to think of it as a great renewable resource. 
From a practical standpoint, wood has its challenges, though. It’s not the strongest material and can be prone to mould and rot, insects and rodents. Needless to say, it’s not the most flame-retardant material either. Wood is also fairly high-maintenance, requiring regular painting or staining and caulking to prevent weather damage. It also tends to be pricier.
Stucco — Esthetically, stucco is versatile and can be textured and shaped to achieve a variety of architectural styles. Stucco rates well in its resistance to pests and rodents. It’s fire resistant and the materials required to manufacture stucco —traditionally a cement mixture with sand or lime — are in heavy supply.
Unfortunately, making concrete creates a large carbon footprint. It doesn’t weather as well as other materials and stucco is difficult to install and to maintain.
Brick and stone — The durability of these materials makes them building superstars. Granite, slate and limestone are virtually immune to the ravages of Mother Nature. Brick, which is made of fired clay, means some maintenance for homeowners, as a light washing may be required from time to time.
Brick and stone resist the elements extremely well and are impermeable when it comes to pests, mould and fire, making them low-maintenance products.
On the pricier side, brick and stone are difficult to install. They also burn a significant amount of energy during their extraction and production processes, but fans of the products say their longevity makes up for this.
Metal — On the performance end, metal ranks high. Resistant to weather conditions, mould and parasites, metal is easy to install and maintain. It’s also durable, long-lasting and recyclable. While it’s been mainly used for roofs, it is gaining ground as a siding option.
However, mining the products that go into some metals (copper and zinc, for example) come at a high energy cost to the environment.
Like any major purchase, we need to consider the pros and cons when covering our homes and buildings. And we should bear in mind the lasting consequences our choices make on the environment. While considerations such as durability, water resistance, energy efficiency and esthetics are big factors, don’t forget to consider the environmental cost your product has made on the planet. How much energy went into extracting the materials used in those shingles or bricks? How about manufacturing and transporting them?   
Thankfully, big bad wolves don’t really huff and puff at our doorsteps. But if there’s a moral to this story, it’s keep up your chinny chin chin, do the right thing and select the greenest product your money can buy.
(The National Association of Green Agents and Brokers (NAGAB) provide a Greenbroker and Greenagent certification program to REALTORS® across Canada. For more information or to sign up for a course, visit www.nagab.org. Elden Freeman MES, AGB, broker, is the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization: phone 1-877-524-9494, or e-mail to elden@nagab.org)