The Good the Bad and the Ugly in Siding Choices



In the south, we love brick and rock façade homes. In fact, many neighborhoods require a large percentage of it on their homes.  This is a shame because not only can siding be beautiful, it is also a much more energy efficient choice for our climate.  Rock and stone provide a thermal mass that act as a significant solar collector gathering heat and dissipating it to the home throughout our long summers. One of the likely reasons that neighborhoods tend to require lots of masonry is because we so often get siding wrong.  Here is a look at a range of common choices.

The Ugly

Vinyl – Though this is a very common siding material, it is, in our opinion, one of the worst.  Generally speaking, vinyl is an especially bad building material in most applications.  There are a few exceptions to this such as Andersen 100 windows; which include fiber in the vinyl to help stabilize it. One of vinyl’s many problems is that it expands and contracts rather drastically with changes in temperature.  In fact, we have seen the reflection off of nearby windows melt vinyl siding. We have always been told that the UV inhibitors in vinyl keep it from cracking. Nonetheless we have seen large sections of wall rot behind vinyl siding that had cracked. The cracks were not easily seen and the wall rotted without the homeowners even knowing that it was happening; at least until the siding started to fall off the house. But the most frequent failure we see with vinyl siding has nothing to do with the vinyl but with the aluminum trim that is applied on Fascia and othr trim.  In very many, perhaps most cases, water is able to get behind this metal and it cannot escape.  As a result, the rot cannot be seen and is not realized until it is too late.  This also happens with aluminum siding but because we do not see all that much of this siding in our area we have left it off of our list.

Hardboard – This material is often referred to generically as Masonite, who was an early manufacture of the product.  In 1996 the maker of Masonite Siding lost a large class action suite because the material was unfit for exterior use.  Today, Masonite no longer makes siding.  However, much of the siding remains in place and there are other similar products on the market. A few years back, when there was more of this product still around, we may have put this above vinyl as our least liked siding.

The Bad

Engineered Siding – This is a large group that includes plywood’s and composite woods; such as Smart Siding.  Our hot, humid climate is hard on these products.  More often than not, failures are more a product of poor installation than anything else. Commonly this siding is run closer to the ground than it should be because our slab foundations are built too low to the ground.  In addition, they are often improperly flashed to protect them from water infiltration.

Pictures 003

Pictures 003

Wood – This is difficult – we love wood siding. It is the real thing.  Nevertheless, for several reasons, it is not a great choice for our hot, humid climate.  Over the years, as we have grown wood faster and faster, it has lost a lot of the durability that it once had. But even well-cured, old growth wood has a tough time in our climate.  Nonetheless, we feel that for the well-informed and motivated client, it can be a great choice.  There is a lot that can be done that goes above and beyond a typical application to give wood siding a fighting chance.  This includes making sure that protective coating goes on every surface; especially end grain which is most vulnerable to rot and most often left unprotected. Though we almost never see it in our area, a rain channel behind the siding is also crucial to making wood siding durable.  Furthermore, proper window and trim details are also rare but important to maintaining wood siding.

The Good

A great siding choice for our climate is fiber cement siding. It is stable and rot proof. It also holds paint very well and is fire proof.

At Stearns Design Build, we specialize in wood and fiber cement sidings because we feel that they are the best choices for our climate.

To schedule a free siding or trim inspection, give us a call 979-696-0524 or your can arrange to have us call you.

New Division Provides Essential Help for Your Home

New Division Provides Essential Help for Your Home


Contact:        Sheila Lukes

                     Communications Director

                     (979) 696-0524

New Division Provides Essential Help for Your Home

College Station, TX (June 15, 2015) “Like the skin on your body, the exterior of your home is a vital organ for the health of the structure and those in it,” says Hugh Stearns, owner of Stearns Design Build; a College Station based remodeling and custom home builder.  The company has announced the launch of a new exteriors division that will handle siding, windows, doors, decks and patios.

While Stearns Design Build was founded in 1993, and has always done projects that include these elements, the new division provides crews and processes dedicated exclusively to the exterior of the home. “This is important to two key aspects of our overall mission,” says Stearns. “It addresses both form and function.  Our Transitions design concept identifies the outside of the home as an important environment that we feel is too frequently ignored. And, as students of building science, we know the importance of the outside of a home for energy efficiency, durability and health; not just of the home but also those in it.”

Stearns Design Build has developed their own design concept called Transitions.  The focus is to create both visual and physical transition into inviting outdoor spaces.  In college, Stearns studied psychology and learned that people who are in tune with the natural world, such as what time the sun rises and sets and what phase the moon is in, consistently report a higher level of happiness than those who do not have that connection.  The company’s tag line is “we design and build happiness,” which they believe they can do partly by creating connections to nature and the community.

Outdoor rooms are becoming increasingly popular. Stearns Design Build has always made inviting outdoor spaces such as decks, patios and screened porches a part of their projects. Stearns said, “not only does this invite people outside, it also provides low cost, high quality of life space for relaxing and entertaining.”

Stearns explains that replacing siding, doors and windows is much more than an aesthetic upgrade; it is also an opportunity to provide improved air, moisture and sound sealing, as well as improve  insulation.  “With both remodeling and new construction, we are very focused on what we can do to lower utility costs and increase comfort because this is the best way to maximize return on investment.”

Stearns Design Build is the Brazos Valley’s first green builder. Their exteriors division will continue to focus on their core values of stewardship and energy conservation. For more information Stearns Design Build can be reached at (979) 696-0524 or visit www.stearnsdesignbuild.com

How to Choose the Right Siding for Your Home

Like many building products in existence, choosing the right siding for your home is never as easy as Eenymeenyminy-moe. Each material comes with its own set of pros and cons, based on price, climate appropriateness, aesthetics and sustainability, if that is an issue for you. The type of siding to be chosen is only one of the considerations when thinking about the exterior cladding of you home.  In this article we will only consider this choice.


Wood is the real thing, the original authentic siding.  Many consider wood the ultimate sustainable material and renewable resource. It has a long history as an exterior finish and has an established appeal.  You cannot beat the look of real wood… when it is new. Unfortunately in our hot humid climate, it does not hold up so well.  And, to make matters worse, modern, fast grown wood does not hold up as well as the wood of even 15 years ago.  It rots easily and it does not hold paint well.  But if you are a purist and insist on wood, there is a lot that can be done to give your siding a fighting chance.  There are quite a few details involved doing wood siding properly that tend to get skipped.  To start with the siding should be primed on all sides before installing.  It is especially important to prime the grain at the ends of each piece of siding.  It is also important to provide an air space behind the siding for proper drying.

Fiber Cement

Fiber cement has become our siding of choice, due to its durability and the fact that it replicates the look of wood but is easily maintained and holds paint well. Fiber cement siding and trim consists of cement, sand, and cellulose fiber. Also fiber cement is non-combustible and is resistant to rot and termites. Many types of fiber cement include warranties as long as fifty years and cost less than brick, wood or stucco. For the hot humid climate of the Brazos valley, fiber cement siding is our top choice.


Vinyl siding is often used for its affordability. There are few products that have made more dubious claims than vinyl siding.  It was not supposed to crack, yet we have seen numerous homes with cracked vinyl siding.  It was supposed to hold its color yet we see dingy faded vinyl siding frequently.  It contracts and expands so much that we have seen it droop off the side of a house. The process of making polyvinyl chloride is very dirty and it releases dangerous materials when it ages and, worse, it releases dioxins when it burns. One positive attribute to vinyl siding is that it can be recycled. Though that, too, is a high energy and dirty process.


Brick attracts many home buyers for its aesthetics, low maintenance, and resale value.  Brick can also be ground up for road base, landscaping or can be used as clean fill.  For energy efficient building in hot humid climates brick should be used sparingly and only in well shaded areas or on the north side of a building.  As a thermal mass, brick absorbs heat through the day.  Because the nights do not cool down enough in a humid climate, most of that heat will eventually migrate into the building. For this reason we discourage the use of brick, stone and other thermal mass cladding on the outside of a home.  Unfortunately more neighborhood require large amounts of masonry, which, more often than not, means brick.

Manufactured Stone

Manufactured stone is a lightweight, lower-cost alternative to brick. The products are durable, offering long warranties similar to those of fiber cement. Like other cement based products, manufactured stone does require a higher amount of energy in production. At the end of life, manufactured stone can be grounded up and reused for roadways and sidewalks.


Most stucco today is made with Portland cement and sand, and, the surface is considered low maintenance, affordable, and durable. Stucco offers very versatile design options, a variety of color choices, and is very easily repairable. However, color matching the stucco can be difficult. In terms of energy efficiency stucco has less thermal mass than brick and is in this way preferable.


There are also artificial stuccos known as Exterior Insulation Finishing Systems (IEFS ) These systems have received a bad rap because they were the source of a lot of litigation.  But these cases were brought due to a failure in the application of the material, not because the material is bad.  If properly installed, EIFS can be a great choice. Unlike traditional stucco it does not transfer heat easily.

The siding on your home is like the skin on your body it is a large, vital organ that will help maintain the health of your home if properly cared for.

Wood, Plastic or Composite: A Customer’s Guide to Decking

Composites are the new face of decking The most notable changes in the decking market have come with the creation of synthetic decking materials. Most synthetics require less maintenance than wood, but are far from perfect. They are more expensive than basic wood decking materials and although much more weather proof than wood, they are not immune to weather damage. No decking is perfect, but the variety of natural wood and synthetic products on the market today are providing both home builders and home owners a longer list of possibilities and options than ever before.


Wood appears to be America’s deck material of choice, making up more than three-quarters of decks built in the United States. It includes a broad range of choices form pressure treated softwoods to imported exotic and domestic species of wood that are often naturally more resistant to insect and moisture damage. The cost and durability tends to vary quite a bit. Wood is a renewable resource, so, from a green perspective that is a positive. However most of the best wood for exterior use comes from the rain forests, which from a green perspective, we strongly discourage.

Pressure treated soft wood

Southern yellow pine treated with chemical preservatives is fairly inexpensive and widely available in the states. This type of decking is available in a variety of grades and standard lengths. Freshly pressure treated wood has a characteristic green hue that fades with exposure to rain and sunlight to brown and then to gray. It can also twist and develop checking or cracks in the board with exposure to weather. A regular application of deck stain or a wood preservative can extend the life of the deck and give it a more polished appearance.

Pros: Natural wood; widely available; some grades are inexpensive.

Cons: Relatively soft; clear grades are expensive; needs finish to maintain color and minimize checking or cracks in the boards of the deck; the treatment process uses chemicals that are unhealthy and not good for the environment.

Locally Found: Many types of pressure treated wood decking are found at your local Lowes, Home Depot’s, or McCoy’s hardware stores.

Naturally Resistant Wood

Some species of North American softwood are naturally resistant to decay and insects without chemical treatment. They include redwood and several types of cedar wood. These types of wood are especially soft and as a result are not as scratch and damage resistant as other types of wood. They range in color from deep red to light yellow, and weather to gray. Though more resistant, these species are not much of a match for out hot humid climate.

Pros: Natural wood; widely available; some grades are inexpensive.

Cons: Relatively soft; clear grades are expensive; needs finish to maintain color and minimize checking or cracks in the boards of the deck.

Locally Found:  Many types of naturally resistant wood decking are found at your local Lowes, Home Depot’s, or McCoy’s hardware stores.

Imported Exotics

An array of tropical hardwoods are imported from South America, Africa and the Far East and are used for decking material. Exotic woods are much harder than weather resistant domestic species, making them much more impact and scratch resistant. Many of these types of wood are extremely durable, requiring little to no maintenance. These types of wood are typically clear and knot free. They come in colors that are often rich, reddish brown that fade with exposure to a silvery gray. The most recent addition to the selections of exotic wood is bamboo decking. Technically a grass rather than a type of wood it has gained popularity in the recent years. None of the exotic woods can be considered green as they travel a long distance to get to us and they contribute to the reduction of the rain forest.

Pros: Dense, hard, resistant to rot and insects without chemical treatment with a dramatic color and grain.

Cons:  Expensive and planet killing.

Locally Found: Exotic decking woods are seldom found locally and can be ordered only through various online lumber retailers.

Non-chemically treated wood

There are several types of wood decking that are specially designed to offer protection against insect and weather damage without the use of chemicals. One type is thermally modified wood which is heated to temperatures up to 500°F, a process which makes wood sugar inedible to mold, fungi, and insects. The process also improves the stability of the wood by lowering water absorption. This type of decking needs no chemical additives but UV resistant finish helps to preserve the original color of the wood.

Pros: Nontoxic, noncorrosive, long warranties, more stable and resistant to insects and fungi.

Cons: Expensive and limited availability.

Locally Found: Non-chemically treated wood is seldom found locally and can be ordered only through various online lumber retailers.


Although wood makes up over three quarters of the decks built in The United States, more than any other type of material, the number of man-made substitutes has expanded into a variety of choices. All synthetic decking are designed to be low-maintenance alternatives to real wood that does not decay, split, bend, or is vulnerable to insect damage .

Wood Plastic/Composites

Many composites are made out of polypropylene or polyethylene, a mix of wood and plastic. The plastic used in the composite decking material is often recycled and is somewhat soft. The wood/plastic blends were supposed to overcome problems associated with wood decking, but it too can support the growth of mold and sometimes even rot.

Pros: insect resistant, low maintenance, resists checking and splintering, and often made from recycled material.

Cons: May support mold and mildew and the color may fade.

Locally Found:  Some types of wood plastic/composite decking can be locally found at your local Lowes, Home Depot’s, or McCoy’s hardware stores.

All Plastic Decking

Wood free synthetic decking is made from a variety of plastics including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene and polyethylene. Different types of plastics contain different properties for example high-density polyethylene is highly flexible and resistant to high impact. Wood free plastics don’t require any maintenance beyond some light cleaning. On the down side, some types of all plastic decking have the distinctive look of plastic.

Pros: Low maintenance, fade and scratch resistant, and splinter free.

Cons: More expensive than composites and some have the look of plastic.

Locally Found:  Some types of all plastic decking can be locally found at your local Lowes, Home Depot’s, or McCoy’s hardware stores.

Four Tips to Help You Choose an Exterior Paint Color

Summer is coming and maybe you have some house painting that you want to do. This is a chore that many homeowners choose to do themselves. While painting is much more involved than getting the paint from the can to the wall, and there is a great deal to know to get a quality job that will last, it is, nonetheless, one of the more popular do it yourself projects. So let’s get started choosing a color.

  1. Research –  Chances are that you have already done a good deal of research just by paying attention to your preferences as you look at other houses.  Once we start thinking about painting our house we tend to become more aware of other houses and their colors.  There are also good online tools for helping think about colors.  Most Paint companies have their own free service such as Valspar’s Virtual Painter.  But if you are willing to fork over a few bucks ($12/month in May 2013) you can have access to a nifty web based application that includes the color fans of most major paint companies at Colorjive.com.
  2. Don’t let yourself be tied to the color fan. You can have any color custom matched.  The technology for matching colors are greatly improved over the last few years.  The question is what do you want to match? One strategy is to create continuity from inside to out by taking an inside color and adjusting its shade.  Our design theory that we call Transitions encourages this kind of strategy as it helps pull the eye outside. Perhaps the best way to create transition is to start outside with the colors around your home, whether from nature or other buildings.  Perhaps you have a particular rose or other plant that you would like to highlight.  One way to do this is allow it to guide the pallet of your paint selections.  Of course plants change color throughout the year and other people repaint their buildings but usually such changes remain relatively within a similar complementary range.  This approach allows you to connect beyond the walls of your home in a gratifying way.
  3. Don’t depend on you’re a small swatch.  Once you have narrowed your search to a few colors invest in quarts of those colors and paint large swatches on your house.  No matter how good the technology, this is the best way to get a real sense of how the color is going to work for you.  Things such as lighting and surrounding colors play a huge part in how this color is going to look in place so, until you put it up, you will not know.  And it has to be a large swatch. Don’t forget to thoroughly clean the surface first, make sure it is dry and don’t do it in direct sunlight. But, you may be thinking, what will the neighbors think?  That is the best part. It is a way to engage the neighborhood.  People will be curious what is going on when your house starts to look at bit like a calico cat. They are likely to ask you if you are about to paint.  You can solicit their input.  There will probably be at least one neighbor who will say that they don’t like any of the choices.  Don’t worry about that neighbor, the probably would not like any color but what is on their house and they would probably be unhappy if you painted your house the same color as theirs. Other neighbors will stop, look and think about it.  It will create a conversation piece in the neighborhood.  If you leave it this way too long the nature of the conversation will change but for a week or two people will have fun with it.  You may even get some good input, but don’t abdicate your own preferences for those of the most popular neighbor.
  4. Look at the colors in a variety of light.  Don’t make up your mind when you first put it up. Look at it in the morning afternoon and dusk. We would encourage you to spend a year making up your mind so that you can look at it in each season but we don’t want your neighbors talking about you.