Tiny House Inexpensive Lap Siding Alternative

Learn the advantages of using an engineered wood siding product to create the curb appeal and look of traditional wood lap siding for your tiny house.

As noted at the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company website, since 1997, company owner and founder Jay Shafer has championed the idea of tiny houses as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly housing alternative.

Shafer’s company markets construction plans for homes that range from an austere 65 square foot micro house to a comparatively palatial house of 874 square feet to those interested in self contracting or self-building their own home. After purchasing a plan, owner-builders make the decisions about what types of materials to use to finish the small homes inside and out.

In anticipation of retirement in late 2010, Shafer’s tiny house concept captured my imagination. Confident that a small house would meet my needs for housing during retirement I began construction on my own, self-designed 384 square foot tiny house.

Once the house was framed, sheathed and roofed it was time to choose the exterior siding. Cost, durability, and curb appeal considerations were the primary factors that led me to choose an inexpensive yet sturdy engineered wood product for the exterior siding. The means of use and installation of the product selected were altered to meet my own personal preferences and it occurred to me that others might benefit from using this material in a similar way for home construction projects.

Lap Siding Options

While there are many different options for finishing a home exterior fewer choices exist for those seeking the look of traditional wood lap siding. Some commonly used options include:

  • Traditional wood lap siding
  • Cement fiber siding
  • Vinyl siding
  • Aluminum siding

Each of the listed options has unique pros and cons with respect to cost, durability, the complexity of installation, and ease of maintenance.

Real wood offers the most authentic traditional look but with the wood of course termites, maintenance considerations, and rot pose potential problems.

Cement fiber siding, a relatively new but increasingly popular siding option offers a look that closely resembles traditional wood lap siding. Manufacturers also claim that cement-fiber siding holds paint better and needs less maintenance than wood. The material presents challenges however for do-it-yourself builders.

While cement-fiber siding can technically be cut with a regular circular saw, doing so creates considerable silica dust that requires respiratory protection. As illustrated at the James Hardie website, one manufacturer of cement fiber siding, it is recommended that specialized cutting tools and methods be used to reduce exposure to the silica dust. The cost of such tools would be difficult to justify for a one time installation by an owner-builder.

Although reasonable in price, cement fiber siding turned out not to be the least expensive option. Using the prices for cement fiber siding available at my local home improvement stores, cost for the material averaged about $7 per 8-1/4 inch x 12-foot plank or about 85 cents per square foot.

Vinyl and aluminum siding, while popular and cost-effective siding choices, presented some drawbacks for me. First, these materials have a more unnatural, imitation wood look. Living in an area where some fairly extreme weather commonly occurs including thunderstorms with large, damaging hail, the susceptibility of vinyl and aluminum to impact damage and weathering were major durability concerns. Installation can also be too complicated for an inexperienced owner-builder as a number of specialized tools, techniques, and components are required.

Another Lap Siding Smart Choice

After discarding vinyl and aluminum as options I estimated the cost for the material I was leaning toward for my project, cement fiber siding, arriving at an estimated figure of $1,000. While visiting a retailer to price that option I happened to discover another option to consider in a siding product called SmartSide®. This engineered wood siding material offered some similar advantages to cement fiber at a lower cost. It could be installed without the need for any specialized tools or silica dust concerns.

According to the website of SmartSide® manufacturer, LP Building Products, the material is termite and rot-resistant. It is easy to install with common tools and fasteners. A quick inspection revealed that the material even closes up, offered the authentic look of real wood. The 5/50 year transferable limited warranty offered by the manufacturer gave me confidence that the material would likely prove durable.

Cost, the final factor I considered, made the decision easy. Priced at about 51 cents per square foot, I estimated my total project cost using SmartSide® at just over $500.

Installation Of The Siding

SmartSide® was available in my area only in 96″L x 48″W x 3/8″D sheets. The primer painted sheets had six, 8 inch on center planks delineated by grooves between each plank. As manufactured, the siding sheets were designed to be installed as a unit either horizontally or vertically. Desiring lap siding, I easily altered the product by cutting the sheets with a common table saw between the grooves to produce six individual 96″L x 8.25″W x 3/8″D planks.

Since the sheets were primer painted on the front side only, to guard against water absorption, before installation I applied a good grade paint primer to the backside and cut edges of each plank. The planks were then fastened with a 6 inch exposure, just like traditional wood lap siding planks over plywood sheathing covered with 30# builder’s paper using 8d galvanized, ring shank nails. The result was a pleasing, authentic traditional wood lap siding appearance.

Those looking for an attractive, durable, easy to install lap siding option for a tiny house or backyard shed building project should consider SmartSide® siding among the available alternatives, especially where cost is a prime consideration.


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