When choosing a siding for you home, you have numerous options, such as stone, wood, aluminum, Masonite or vinyl. There are a few others, like steel, but they are rarely used. Two of the most common are compressed wood fiber and resin, called Masonite, or vinyl. Whether you choose vinyl or Masonite weighs variables of durability, cost, look, and ease of maintenance. Appearance plays a role, too, but that is a purely personal choice.
By the 1970s vinyl had replaced aluminum as the preferred choice of siding for numerous reasons. It's cheaper, it doesn't dent, scratches don't show because the color permeates the entire vinyl slat, it's relatively easy to install (you can even do it yourself if you're so inclined) and it won't pit, rust, corrode or fade. And compared to Masonite, it's easier to maintain. As a veneer, it can also replicate the look of wood, mortar, brick or stone.
Masonite, commonly referred to as hardboard, is made of wood fibers, wax and resins compressed under high heat and pressure to form the boards. They're typically tongue-and-groove, so they can be installed either vertically or horizontally, depending on the effect you prefer. Hardboard is harder than wood, giving it greater durability, and also more flexible. It can cost 25 percent to 50 percent more than vinyl but is cheaper than wood. The main drawback is that, unlike vinyl, it requires more maintenance than vinyl and requires repainting or restaining every eight to 10 years because the color will fade. Unlike vinyl, it gives a warmer, wood texture and ambience to the home's exterior. But unlike wood, there is no swelling, blistering or splintering.
Both vinyl and hardboard will get dirty over time. No avoiding that. The advantage of hardboard, depending on the degree of dirt, is that it is less noticeable unless the marks are large and well-defined splatters of paint or mud. Dirt tends to be more visible on vinyl, most usually because lighter color are used. Other than occasional cleaning, vinyl is relatively maintenance-free while Masonite requires some preventative steps before it is installed to prevent premature care.
Masonite's Bad Rap
Masonite got a bad reputation in the 1970s and 1980s when some manufacturers didn't properly manufacture or seal the hardboard, making it susceptible to mildew and rot. The result caused expansion and contraction of the boards, making them susceptible to rot and mildew. Also, where they were nailed to the home, the board rotted away and, in some cases, the hardboard fell off the houses. Homeowners won a class-action suit against the shoddy manufacturers but the reputation lingers. Masonite, which is a trademarked name, was not part of the suit. So if you're buying a home with hardboard siding, check that the manufacturer of the hardboard is a reputable company. If you're putting it on an existing home, make certain of the same thing.
Neither vinyl nor Masonite has an insulation value. That is especially important to keep in mind, no matter the climate. No matter your choice of exterior, Tyvek should be applied against the skin of the house before installing vinyl or Masonite. Tyvek is a high-density polyethylene fiber spun into sheets that protects against moisture and winds. It will protect against a drafty or moist home interior. In colder climates, installing insulation may be advisable as well.