Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A look at fiber cement cladding from an architectural point of view

If fiber cement were a character from a teen rom-com, it would be the nice guy, the reliable friend who is not too flashy or too demanding and stands by you even as you opt for the flashier date, only to be there with open arms when you go over budget and realize you had the right answer standing in front of you the whole time.

OK, don’t focus too much on the metaphor; the point is that fiber cement cladding is a great, durable low-cost alternative to more extravagant siding options like wood and stone. It’s usually a background material, the kind of nice lightly textured stuff that you could walk by every day and not notice. But when you do notice it, you realize that it’s actually kind of pretty. Maybe it’s gently washed with gray tones, or it’s neatly accented with corner screws, or tiled in a nice fractal pattern. Huh. It looks pretty good.

Fiber cement is usually compared to other budget-friendly heavily processed materials like PVC or aluminum panels. There are a variety of reasons that you could pick fiber cement over other options, but one of the main reasons that designers opt for fiber cement over other low-cost alternatives is that, if detailed properly, it can look like a much more expensive product. Dense high-quality fiber cement panels can mimic the appearance of stone or concrete at much lower cost. If you’re looking for a relatively cheap option but still want a nice slightly textured finish, fiber cement could be a good choice.

During the Industrial Revolution, a lot of new materials were made by soaking fabric or mixing fiber into durable materials like asphalt or cement that would harden or dry. The fiber bits provide internal stability to the material, almost like millions of tiny little bits of rebar in concrete block.

Originally, asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral fiber, was used as the reinforcement in fiber cement, but after studies showed that asbestos is carcinogenic, the mineral has been replaced with cellulose, the harmless and plentiful material that gives wood its rigidity. The cellulose is mixed with sand and concrete, which makes panels fire- and rot-resistant.

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