In 2009, Bruce Peter’s home-siding crew began drawing some attention as they worked on a house in the tony Kingwood Park neighborhood of Poughkeepsie. A few concerned neighbors eventually converged on the property and asked the owner what kind of siding was being installed. Building restrictions required that siding be made only from natural materials, such as wood or stone. Vinyl, the budget-friendly standard in home siding, definitely need not apply.
When the homeowner told them it was fiberglass, Peter recalls one neighbor saying, “Don’t you dare take that beautiful wood siding off and put that stuff on your house.” Peter chuckles as he describes the homeowner’s response: “He looked at them and said, ‘The house is done.’ They couldn’t tell the difference between wood and fiberglass.”
If siding is the clothing a house wears, then wood is luxurious silk, and vinyl is affordable, workaday denim. But Peter, owner of Wappingers Falls-based Just Exteriors Plus, offers Valley homeowners a slick new look with fiberglass, which closely mimics the look of wood but with more durability and at a lower price. “There is some visible wood grain, but it is very, very subtle,” Peter says of fiberglass siding. “It truly looks like a mill-finished piece of wood, and that’s one of the reasons it captures the appeal of wood — without having the maintenance.”
With more than 40 years of experience in siding, Peter says that fiberglass is the leap forward in the field that he — and many homeowners — have long awaited. Manufactured by Minnesota-based Marvin Windows and Doors under the brand name Ultrex, fiberglass siding has overcome many of the shortcomings of other siding materials. Unlike vinyl, fiberglass doesn’t shrink or expand with temperature changes, nor will it shatter under hail. Its melting temperature is much higher than vinyl’s, and it won’t release toxic chemicals if it does burn. Unlike wood, fiberglass siding doesn’t rot or require frequent painting. It isn’t brittle like fiber-cement siding (often referred to as Hardie board), and it’s much lighter. “With fiberglass, there’s nothing but advantages,” Peter says.
Fiberglass costs more than vinyl, but less than wood — a lot less in the case of cedar, the “gold standard” in wood siding. Just Exteriors Plus supplies and installs fiberglass siding for about $10 per square foot; high-end vinyl costs about $8.25 per square foot installed, Peter says. Wood runs anywhere from $12 to $20 per square foot installed. (Prices vary depending on the individual home.) Although Just Exteriors Plus doesn’t offer fiber-cement siding, it costs about the same as fiberglass, Peter says.
The one thing that’s made Peter particularly enthusiastic about fiberglass siding, though, is its environmentally friendly manufacturing process. Unlike vinyl, it’s not petroleum-based, so no volatile organic compound gases are released during its manufacture, he says. In addition, all leftover materials from manufacturing are ground up and reused. “Fiberglass is made of sand, just like glass is made from sand,” he says.
Ultrex siding is prefinished in 10 colors — everything from the dark-cherry “Wineberry” to earthy gray and gold. It comes in four- and seven-inch widths. “It’s a paintable product, but the color on it will last as long as you own it,” says Peter. Fiberglass siding is expected to last about twice as long as the 15- to 20-year life expectancy of vinyl. “Think of it this way,” Peter explains. “Fiberglass is what’s used for the hulls of boats, and there are boats 60 years old made of fiberglass that are still floating.”
Because fiberglass doesn’t expand or contract, two pieces can be butted together so tightly that the joint is “pencil-line thin,” according to Peter. That eliminates the unsightly joint trim required on vinyl siding.
Just Exteriors Plus has installed fiberglass siding on about 20 homes in the Valley; Peter has been surprised by the clientele most interested in this new, yet more expensive siding. “I fully expected that I would not be putting this product on for the average-Joe homeowner, but I’ve found just the opposite. It’s people who don’t want vinyl because they can’t stand it or it’s not a green product.”
Still, he doesn’t expect fiberglass will be everyone’s choice — even if Mother Nature is on his side. A friend of his owns a house with cedar siding in a forested area, and woodpeckers find it irresistible. Peter has shown him the fiberglass, but as impressive as it is, “it doesn’t absolutely duplicate his cedar,” he says. “So he refuses to take it off. But he’s just going nuts with the woodpeckers.”
The siding used on homes in our area is usually made of vinyl, wood, or fiber-cement. Here are the pros and cons with each of these materials:
• Least expensive of all options (from $6.50 to $9 per square foot installed)
• Little to no maintenance
• Handles moisture well
• Very wide range of colors, sizes, and textures
• Impervious to insects
• Easy installation and very “forgiving” of mistakes made by do-it-yourselfers
• Cheaper varieties can look tacky
• Melts easily (at about 160 degrees F)
• Releases toxic gasses when burned
• Cracks and chips under strong hail
• Petroleum-based product that leaves a large carbon footprint
• Organic and sustainable product
• Provides small amount of insulation against cold and heat (known as R-value)
• Looks natural – because it is
• Can be expensive ($12 to $20 per square foot installed)
• Requires frequent maintenance, painting/staining, and sealing
• Some varieties of wood are susceptible to bug infestations
• Can mold in damp weather
• Long-lasting (up to 50 years)
• Insect resistant
• Fire resistant, though not fireproof
• Easily repainted and holds paint well
• More expensive than vinyl siding (about $10 per square foot installed)
• Requires regular caulking to remain waterproof
• Difficult to install because it’s heavy and fragile (a challenge for do-it-yourselfers)
• Contains crystalline silica, which has been found to cause cancer if breathed into the lungs; thus, special cutting tools are required to reduce silica dust during installation