Masonite's 1990s entry into the siding market siding was not a success. Class lawsuits were filed by the end of the decade involving three of its hardboard products. As the clock runs out on the claim deadlines in these cases, it's helpful to review the material's history. There is still a great deal of the siding around, particularly in the southern part of the US, that requires proper maintenance if homeowners wish to avoid a total re-siding job.
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Hardboard is an engineered material composed of expanded wood fiber and resin. The wood fiber is compressed to a density of between 30 and 65 pounds per cubic foot, making the material considerably heavier than wood. The siding that was used during the 1990s had a layer of linseed oil baked into it to improve water resistance. The material was sold as clapboards and as embossed sheets and was installed on many homes, especially those that were faced with a more expensive material like brick. The material was phased out when it began breaking down mid-decade.
Hardboard was developed by William Mason in the 1920s as a way to use waste lumber from saw mills. He heated wood chips in a sealed metal tube until they exploded, causing the wood to burst into fibers that Mason then compressed using a steam press. The resulting material, which he named after himself, was the first truly engineered lumber, more durable than plywood--which tended to fall apart--and less expensive than wood. Mason's timing was perfect; the Great Depression made his less expensive material a hit in the construction trade. The company thrived during the next decades, acquiring forest areas for lumber supplies and developing new products, most notably oriented strand board (OSB), a cheaper, less dense process that was adopted in hardboard manufacture. The first class lawsuit against Masonite for defects in its exterior hardboard siding was filed in 1995. By the end of the decade, Masonite had abandoned the siding business and today makes hardboard for interior applications only.
The basic problem with Masonite's siding products was that the company had rushed the OSB process into production without proper testing. The OSB process used wax and water-based resins that was especially susceptible to humidity and precipitation. Even the old standby, hardboard, began to break down when the new process was used. Clapboards and panels that had been warranted for 20 years began to crumble around the edges and decompose after just a few years.
The entry into exterior siding finished Masonite off as a company. Naef v. Masonite was the first suit to be filed and was settled in 1998. The claims deadline was January of 2008. Cosby v. Masonite claims closed in 2009. A third suit (Smith, et al. v. Masonite, CV-98-2447) concerned Masonite's roofing material, "Woodruf". Awards in these cases, which were based on the degree of deterioration of the materials, forced the company to pull out of the siding products market and forced a merger with a Canadian doormaker.
Many neighborhoods built with Masonite's hardboard still retain many homes with siding that is performing according to promise by the company. These homes generally had siding applied according to very specific instructions to paint both sides of the board with oil-based paint and avoid puncturing the surface by "overnailing." In applications where only partial deterioration had occurred, damaged clapboards were successfully replaced with "Hardiplank" fiber-cement siding.