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.

Check Grout and Caulk inside the House

Caulk is an important barrier against water and air leaks but it does not last very well.  If the caulk is dried and cracked or if it has come loose you will need to replace it.  When repairing caulk clean all of the old caulk out and clean the surfaces.  Use a hair dryer to make sure that the surface is very dry before you apply caulk. If you are dealing with a gap of 1/8” or larger, we recommend that you use backer rod before applying caulk.  If you are not experienced with a caulk gun, it is a good idea to run a piece of tape along either side of the caulk line, leaving enough room for the caulk to make good surface contact.  Once you have smoothed the caulk you can pull the tape and have a very clean professional looking caulk joint. With the grout you will be checking for a few things. First check to make sure that it is clean.  Dirt and grime can discolor grout.  Often when grout is dirty it will take on more of a modeled look.  Using a cleaning solution scrub a small section of grout to see if it changes color.  If it does it will need to be cleaned.  Depending on how dirty it is, this process will determine how you will need to clean it.  There are specialized, often toxic, grout cleaning products.  Almost always the most important ingredient in cleaning grout is elbow grease.  Once the grout is clean you can check for loose and cracked grout that will need to be removed and repaired.  If the grout does not seem to be overly dirty or in need of repair, check to make sure that the sealer is still working.  If water beads up on it, the sealer is working.  If you have to scrub the grout, clean it or if water did not bead up on it you will need to reseal it.  There are many different sealers on the market. While we specify penetrating grout sealers in new construction they are usually not a good choice for resealing because previously sealed grout will not allow absorption.  In most instances we recommend an acrylic surface sealer for regrouting. Read the instructions carefully and follow all of the recommended steps accordingly.  This is not difficult but attention to detail is important.

Changing AC filters

It is our recommendation that you change AC filters once a month when you are leaving your system on all the time, so you will see this task on our list for most, but not all, months. Changing out the AC filters will extend the life of your system, allow it to operate more efficiently, and even help keep the house clean.  That’s right – the filters collect dust that would otherwise be spread through the house.  It is a good idea to buy a carton of filters at a time.  Pay close attention to the direction arrows when installing each filter.  We also recommend writing the date on the filters so that you will know at a glance when they were last changed.

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.

Why We Recommend Metal Roofs

Why We Recommend Metal Roofs

There are many advantages to standing seam metal roofs, which is why we recommend them to our clients for most home projects.

Traditional composite roofs absorb a lot of heat much of which gets transferred into the home. Light metal roofs do a great job of reflecting radiation. They also do not hold heat. These features make metal roofs especially appropriate for homes located in hot climates.

Metal roofs also lasts about two to three times longer than conventional roofs.

Another thing that we like about standing seam metal roofs is that most profiles accept a clip to provide connection for solar panels and to water systems without penetrating the roof.

Metal roofs can also be attached to lathing or a series of narrow strips of wood, used with other strips to form latticework to create a support for many types of roofing material thus allowing for increased ventilation under them, providing even more cooling.

Not everyone likes the look of metal roofs but for most home styles we think they work very well. And they have a broad popularity in the design community.

The primary drawback is that metal roofs cost more than traditional roofs do. But when considered over their entire life, they are a bargain. The value of metal roofs is well recognized in home appraisals, which means that their life long value will be considered when your home is put on the market.

To view an example of a metal roof on one of our very own Stearns Design-Build homes, check out our beautiful bright yellow custom built house soon to be completed on our Houzz site.