Exterior Siding: Wood vs. Hardiplank

Q. My husband and I have been having "discussion" for almost three years regarding the siding of our circa 1780 home. A large portion of the siding is original; some has been replaced with poor quality wood. We can't agree on what replacement material to use. One of us believes that a version of Hardiplank would be appropriate because it is less expensive than wood siding and it is fire resistance. The other one of us favors using cedar to match the original. What would you do?

Midlothian, VA

A. I don't like to use Hardiplank for historic projects because it is too thin. It is approximately 1/4" in section and untapered, which means that it doesn't give the correct shadowline "look" of historic weatherboard. For a recent addition to my Queen Anne home in Swarthmore, PA, I used tapered cedar siding -- 1/2" by 5 1/2" -- tapered and pre-primed on both sides.

Hardiplank for non-historic projects, or rear addition elevations that no one sees from the street would be fine in my opinion, but not on an 18th century house that has heavy timber framing, authentic window surrounds and fine interior detailing. Authentic window muntins profiles and weatherboard siding profiles are important details to maintain to achieve a quality exterior restoration for most historic houses.

I also recommend using stainless steel annular siding nails for the installation. They are roughly twice the cost of galvanized nails, but they will never deteriorate or produce rust stains through the paint. My basic premise is that one should first do right by the historic resource, and not opt to substitute a non-matching composite material such as Hardiplank, even though it may be sanctioned for use by the local by architectural review board.

Incidentally, red cedar siding is a very durable, rot resistant siding. Kept properly primed and painted, it will last for many generations, which makes it a good "green" choice. It is relatively more affordable than white pine or douglas fir, due to its greater longevity.

Doug Harnsberger is the Senior Historic Architect for John Milner Associates in West Chester, PA. He can be reached at dharnsberger@gmail.com.