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Community and Q&A

Aluminum Siding

John Hess | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

I’m wondering where aluminum siding fits into green building?

On the plus side aluminum is long-lasting, recyclable, weather-resistant, low-maintenance, and easy to install.

On the minus side I suspect it has high embodied energy, and many may not like its looks (though surely it’s no worse than vinyl).

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    I think you have accurately summed up the pluses and minuses of aluminum siding.

  2. Riversong | | #2

    It is no worse than vinyl, except that it dents and fades and makes a house look cheap.

  3. Andy Ault, CLC | | #3

    vs. alternates such as cementitous or FSC wood, I'd argue that it's a net negative. Even though it may be recyclable, there are not any brands that I've seen yet which are made from post-recycled content. That means they still have to mine the raw materials which is not a good thing.

    Also, if you get a hail storm like we had here this past spring, there were so many insurance claims, the adjusters had a multi-week backlog. Those with cement either had no damage or easily repaired single boards. Then you always have my kids who realize (after the fact) that the sidewall of the house is not the best place to practice their lacrosse rebounds or the landscaper who runs his mower right underneath of (and into) the bay window overhang --- i.e. all expensive fixes with aluminum. And when the original is 20 yrs old, matching just wasn't going to happen.

    If you get the pre-finished cement, other than keeping an eye on the caulking and joints, you won't have to repaint that stuff for 20-30 years depending on the brand. And at least one of the cement brands use recycled content and/or fly ash. Both of which are better than taking virgin ore from the ground.

    And as for vinyl, well you may as well just go and start dropping dollar bills of the closest bridge now. If you run fast enough to the other end of the stream you have a better chance of getting your money back from that exercise as you would spending a single dime on vinyl :-)

  4. Riversong | | #4

    And I'd argue that any wood siding that's logged and milled within 100 miles of the end use is more green than FSC lumber from half way around the world (some of which comes from large-scale monoculture plantations) or fiber-cement board which contains more than 6 times the embodied energy and GWC of dressed, kiln-dried softwood.

  5. James Morgan | | #5

    Andy, about 55% of the aluminum produced in the US is recycled. It's far too common to make much of (though I'm sure someone will). Steel is about 83% recycled. This is not to say that recycled content is any great measure of green. No one will ever convince me to use plastic deck lumber even if it does use old plastic bags. Most recycling processes are energy intensive, many use toxic processes, eg the chemicals used to strip inks from newspaper. REduce, REuse, then as a poor third, recycle.

    That said, aluminum has its place as a cladding and roofing material. Just not as a crappy imitation of wood siding.

  6. Riversong | | #6

    REduce, REuse, then as a poor third, recycle.

    Even this "green" motto is still a remnant of the consumer culture, when the best we can do is "reduce" consumption.

    The first mandate of the more complete motto is REFUSE.

    Or ,as the wise and frugal old Yankees used to say: "Use it up, wear it out, made do, or do without."

  7. John Hess | | #7

    One of the reasons I asked about aluminum siding is because it is fire resistant. A house that I grew up in as a child recently burnt to the ground, along with over a hundred others, in a forest fire in Colorado. Wood siding might be GREEN, but when reduced to ash its value is greatly diminished! Perhaps cementitous siding is my best bet. Is there such a thing as good looking, durable, rust-resistant steel siding?

  8. Dan Kolbert | | #8

    It makes renovation work a huge PITA - worst material to try to modify.

  9. Riversong | | #9

    If you want fireproof, you'll have to live in an underground concrete bunker.

    Almost all house fires start on the inside, and any material that can keep fire out will also keep it in and turn the space into an inferno. The first thing we firefighters do at a structure fire is open holes in the envelope in order to ventilation the fire and heat. Keeping it inside is a death sentence both for the occupants and the structure.

  10. James Morgan | | #10

    Aluminum oxidizes at fairly low temperatures and in a serious house fire your siding will turn into a pile of white powder. If fire resistance is what you want, Al ain't it.

  11. John Hess | | #11

    All the houses which burned in this Colorado fire were ignited from the outside. "My" house had brick cladding on the lower four feet, then wood siding above. There were additions to the house since I last lived there, and I don't know how they were sided.

    I'm wondering how houses are most apt to ignite from the outside? Is it embers landing on a roof? Is it a bush growing against the side of the building and catching on fire? Are sofits vulnerable? How about external fuel tanks (fuel oil or propane), or a stack of firewood laying against the house?

    A metal or tile roof, and metal or cementitious siding might have saved my house from flying embers. Perhaps metal exterior doors should be considered.

    I've changed the topic of this thread somewhat, but I appreciate the comments specific to aluminum siding. It's just that in my initial query I didn't make clear my particular concerns with fire.

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