The exterior of a house sometimes is viewed as important for aesthetic reasons alone. But exterior walls serve a much more practical and important attribute -- to protect the home from the elements. From the home inspector's perspective, looks can be deceiving. Function over form is the main consideration. Keep in mind that the exterior of a house is not waterproof. It is weather resistant and is meant to shed water.
A home inspector sees beyond the physical appearance. They are paid to inspect how an exterior has stood up to or can stand up to the test of time.
Common Types of Exterior Cladding Materials
There are numerous cladding materials used for the exterior walls of homes in North America.
Wood siding is one type of cladding that has been around for centuries. If properly maintained, wood can last for hundreds of years. However, the key word is maintained. Timely painting, staining and caulking are required to keep wood siding in good shape.
Brick is one of the most durable materials in used for exterior walls. It is extremely durable and much less dependent on yearly maintenance than wood. The mortar joints between the brick are the areas that wear faster than the brick itself. But properly pointed mortar can last for decades before it needs to be repaired or replaced.
Stucco is another durable material that can last for years. However, cracks can lead to water penetration, which will deteriorate the wood behind it. There is not too much a homeowner can do to maintain stucco, but crack repairs should be made by professional installers.
Synthetic stucco or EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish System) is a product used for exterior walls that looks like stucco to the untrained eye but is entirely different. The first generation of EIFS was unforgiving if/when water penetrated behind it because there was no way for that water to drain. The latest generation is more effective and allows water to drain from behind it. The advantage to EIFS is its insulating quality. However, it is susceptible to physical damage. Maintenance of the caulking around the windows, doors and other penetrations is required to help prevent water from getting behind it.
Stone veneer is another popular material used for exterior walls over the past few years. Although it looks like natural stone, this product is manmade. It is more porous than stone and since it is typically attached directly to the substrate without an air gap, it is hard for water to evaporate, which can lead to moisture problems.
Vinyl siding is the modern cladding of choice in moderately priced homes. It has replaced aluminum siding for the last few decades because of cost and ease of installation. Vinyl requires no painting because the color is impregnated in the material itself. It can be very durable; however, it is subject to physical damage from impacts. In addition, outdoor grills used too close to the house will cause the material to melt.
Hardboard siding is cladding consisting of wood byproducts. This product is relatively inexpensive but is very susceptible to water penetration. Hardboard siding is rarely used in new construction today.
Fiber cement siding resembles wood but is made mostly of cement, sand, wood pulp and water. It is relatively inexpensive considering its durability. But like any cladding, it must be installed properly with periodic maintenance such as painting every 15 years or so. Caulking around penetrations also is important.
Schedule a Home Inspection
In exterior walls, moisture is the most common cause of deterioration. ASHI home inspectors are well trained to inform you of the visible signs of problems. Cost estimates for repairs can vary dramatically. Therefore, a home inspector will likely advise homeowners to get several quotes for the cost of those repairs.
Periodic inspection of the entire home is recommended every few years. Find an ASHI home inspector in your area to schedule a home inspection and improve your home maintenance.