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Exterior Home Building Materials: What To Know

Building a new home or cabin? Know the kind of design and types of exterior building materials available and the pros and cons of each.

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Home SidingScottNodine/Getty Images

Choosing Your Home’s Exterior Materials

When choosing building materials, you may be more excited about your options for interior elements like floors, cabinets and plumbing fixtures than exterior building materials. But don’t just settle for the builder’s preference or what is the least expensive. Carefully consider how different materials will impact the overall look of your new home.

When determining which exterior home building materials to choose, the main factors to consider are:

  • Location;
  • Cost;
  • Maintenance;
  • Sustainability.

According to an October 2021 report by the National Association of Home Builders that cites data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction, the most common exterior wall materials used in new U.S. homes are:

  • Stucco: 27 percent;
  • Vinyl siding: 25 percent;
  • Fiber cement siding: 21 percent;
  • Brick or brick veneer: 20 percent;
  • Wood or wood products: five percent;
  • Stone or rock: one percent.

Here is a rundown of the most prevailing exterior material options (and maybe a surprise or two) on the market.

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Stucco

Often confused with plaster, today’s stucco is typically made from Portland cement, sand and water. The most sought-after home exterior material in the U.S., it can be applied with a hand trowel or gun over practically any surface. Not surprisingly, stucco is most prevalent in the Western and Southwestern states where Spanish and Mexican architecture has strong influence.

Pros

Cons

  • Not suitable in humid climates;
  • Shows dirt and wear;
  • Expensive to install.

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Vinyl

Arriving on the scene in the late 1950s as a replacement for aluminum and wood siding, vinyl siding is made of synthetic PVC resin material. Cheap, lightweight and easy to install, the quality of vinyl siding has improved over the years, which may in part account for its popularity.

Vinyl siding comes in several variations and styles, from basic clapboard profiles to different thicknesses, textures and colors. Some vinyl siding is made to simulate stone, brick or wood.

Pros

Cons

  • Prone to cracking with sun exposure;
  • Not biodegradable.

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Fiber Cement Siding with a wood patternkasipat/Getty Images

Fiber Cement

Invented late in the 19th century by Austrian Ludwig Hatscheck, fiber cement became commercially viable by the 1980s. A man-made composite of Portland cement, sand and water reinforced with cellulose fibers derived from trees, fiber cement can mimic natural wood, brick or stone.

Pros

  • Cheap;
  • Durable;
  • Fireproof and water-resistant;
  • Won’t rot, warp or buckle;
  • Paintable.

Cons

  • Heavy;
  • High installation cost;
  • Requires a special cutting tool to DIY.
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Brick Siding JamesBrey/Getty Images

Brick

One of the oldest and most beloved exterior building materials, modern brick is made of clay, fire clay and shale that’s formed, dried and fired in a kiln at a high temperature. Brick can come textured, coated or glazed.

A brick house is constructed in two layers. The resulting exterior walls support the structural load of the house. Brick veneers, on the other hand, are thin bricks or brick panels attached over sheathing or insulation on the outside of an existing structure. They are not load-bearing.

Pros

  • Classic look;
  • Durable;
  • Long-lasting.

Cons

  • Expensive;
  • Labor-intensive installation.

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Wood

Wood, also known as timber, is one of the most traditional and charming materials for home exteriors in America. Think San Francisco Victorians, California Bungalows or Cape Cod-style homes. The most common types of wood siding are timber logs, planks, clapboards, shingles and shakes.

Pros

  • Naturally beautiful;
  • Paintable and stainable;
  • Easy to install.

Cons

  • Requires regular maintenance;
  • Susceptible to rot and pest infestations;
  • Prone to moisture damage;
  • Not fire-retardant.

Note: Engineered wood is a composite material made to imitate wood. It looks like wood but holds up better than the real thing.

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Stone Siding cstewart/Getty Images

Stone

Natural stone or rock siding (granite, slate, limestone, travertine, etc.) adds drama and texture to a home. Though costly to install, it is an enduring material that doesn’t decompose over time.

Stone veneers are a cheaper and easier alternative. Trends are pointing to linear stone, which has randomly cut horizontal lines in irregular lengths and widths. It’s a look more contemporary than traditional.

Pros

Con

  • Expensive to buy and install.
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drilling concrete fasteners stopping pointFamily Handyman

Concrete

Lending itself to a minimalist aesthetic, concrete is comprised of cement, gravel, sand and water. A material that’s virtually indestructible, concrete can stand up to catastrophes such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and wildfires. It’s versatile as well, able to take on almost any size, shape or form.

You can camouflage the concrete using a “skin” of stucco, vinyl, wood, brick or stone veneer.

Pros

  • Long-lasting;
  • Low maintenance;
  • Stands up to harsh weather conditions;
  • Good insulation.

Con

  • Can be expensive to install.
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Logs

Log siding is different from wood siding in that round or square timbers are stacked horizontally to form the outside and inside walls of the house. Cedar, pine, cypress and redwood are the most common types of logs used.

The log home can be traced as far back as the Bronze Age (c. 3500 BC). Early settlers to America constructed log cabins using Finnish methods. Today they’re popular as second homes, sprinkled in rural, alpine regions and near mountain ski resorts.

Pros

  • Rustic look;
  • Durable;
  • Energy efficient;
  • Renewable source.

Cons

  • Expensive;
  • Needs regular wood treatments.

Note: Companies like Conestoga Log Cabins & Homes offer DIY kits to build your big or tiny house made of logs.

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Looking At Aluminum SidingImagesbybarbara/Getty Images

Metal

A metal exterior creates an industrial-chic vibe. Generally, steel, galvanized aluminum or zinc are used. These metals are water-resistant (aluminum fares better against rusting), but steel, while more expensive, stands up better to wear and tear.

Pros

  • Long-lasting;
  • Doesn’t rot or mold;
  • Fire- and pest-resistant.

Cons

  • Expensive;
  • May rust;
  • Difficult to install;
  • Doesn’t retain warmth in winter.

Note: Metal shipping containers are having a moment as housing solutions. An affordable “green” building material, you can create a small vacation cottage with one or turn several into a design-forward abode for the ages.

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Construction Panel brizmaker/Getty Images

Panelized

Panelized building systems (different from modular homes, which are built at a factory) are a way of pre-constructing wall sections and structural components in a controlled setting. When completed, the panels are delivered to the job site and erected.

Pros

  • Affordable;
  • Computer-assisted design for more flexibility;
  • Faster construction;
  • Creates less material waste;
  • Energy-efficient.

Cons

  • Potential delivery and transport issues;
  • Off-site quality control.

Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.

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