ALL ABOUT FIBER-CEMENT SIDING

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All About Fiber-Cement Siding

It masquerades as wood or masonry, wears like concrete, and survives even the harshest elements. This Old House investigates what may be your best siding option

By Sal Vaglica - This Old House magazine - Originally Published 2012

TOH-01-siding

01 - Photo Credit: Certainteed

Wonder Siding

Picking the right siding for your house is a delicate balancing act between good looks, durability, maintenance, and affordability. With wood, vinyl, stone, brick, or stucco, you might get only two or three of these. But with fiber cement, a resilient mix of wood pulp and portland cement, you get all four. It's the only siding that combines the performance of masonry—minimal upkeep; rot-, fire-, and termite-proof; unaffected by wind or cold—with the look of painted wood clapboards, shingles, even stone or brick. Yet fiber cement goes for just a fraction of the cost of these other materials. No wonder nearly 15 percent of new homes—and many TOH TV projects—are clad with the stuff.

All this has happened in just 25 years, since fiber cement was first introduced. Now architects regularly specify the siding because it holds down costs without compromising aesthetics. It's even accepted for use in some historic districts.

Shown: The siding on this Gothic Revival-style home looks like wood clapboard, but it's actually fiber cement painted a custom color. 7¼-inch-wide smooth lap siding, primed, about $1.50 per square foot; CertainTeed


TOH-02-siding

02 - Photo: Brian Henn/Time Inc. Digital Studios

What's in Fiber Cement?

The basic recipe has just four ingredients: Wood pulp, fly ash, portland cement, and water

  • Water: Dissolves the wood pulp; activates and hardens the cement.
  • Wood pulp: Improves flexibility and resilience.

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03

The Vitals

  • What's it cost? Clapboards, the most common type of fiber-cement siding, range from 70 cents to about $5.25 per square foot uninstalled. Shingles sell for about $2 to $8. Pricing depends on finish, size, and where it's sold.
  • DIY or hire a pro? Because of its weight—about 2½ pounds per square foot—its tendency to crack if mishandled, and the specialized tools needed to cut and nail it, fiber-cement installation is best left to pros.
  • How long does it last? Warranties against defects range from 25 years to limited lifetime. Factory finishes carry a 15-year warranty against flaking and fading.
  • How much care? As with wood siding, spray it with a garden hose every 6 to 12 months; inspect caulked joints every few years, and be sure to keep foundation plants pruned back so that siding can dry out.

 

TOH-04-siding

04 - Photo: Courtesy Matt Thompson/Thompson Construction

Need to Know: Finish and Trim

  • Finish: Fiber cement has to be painted or stained. This can be done before it's installed—either by the manufacturer or by a paint shop hired by the lumberyard where you order the siding—or after it's up. Manufacturers charge about $1 per square foot and offer a 15-year warranty, but color choice is limited and you get only one coat. Paint shops provide two coats, 25-year warranties, and hundreds of hues for about $2 per square foot, not including the cost to ship your order to and from the lumberyard. On-site painters generally offer one- or two-year warranties on their work.
  • Trim: For minimal maintenance, use trim made of fiber cement or cellular PVC. Both are rot-proof and come in standard ¾- and 1-inch thicknesses for use as corner, frieze, and fascia boards. Crown moldings are also available. You can also use wood trim with fiber-cement siding. Wherever trim and siding meet, there should be a 1/8-inch gap, concealed with caulk.

TOH-05-siding

05

Need to Know: Layout and Installation

  • Layout: Fiber-cement panels butt together at the edges, making layout a no-brainer. With clapboards and shingles, each course overlaps the next by at least 1¼ inches. The portion that's visible—not overlapped—is called the exposure. (A 6¼-inch-wide clapboard with a 1¼-inch overlap has a 5-inch exposure.) Exposure has to be decided before you order because it determines how wide your siding will be, how much you will need, and how it will look once it's installed.
  • Installation: Make sure your contractor uses rustproof stainless-steel nails, primes all cuts, and caulks joints with a paintable exterior-grade sealant that will remain flexible. To reduce water absorption, fiber cement has to be installed at least 2 inches above steps, decks, and roofs, and at least 6 inches above grade. Check joints every few years and recaulk as needed.

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06

How Much to Buy

The calculation varies based on the type of siding. For panels, simply divide the total square footage of your exterior walls—including windows and doors, which account for waste—by the number of square feet in one piece. There isn't an easy equation for shingles, so it's best to have your supplier do the math. For clapboards, use this formula, which factors in how much of each board is exposed.


TOH-07-siding

07 - Photo: Roger Foley

Fiber Cement vs. Mother Nature

This durable material outperforms many of its siding competitors in a range of climates.

  • Out west: In arid locales that are prone to wildfires, particularly in the western U.S., some insurance companies offer a discount for homes sided in fiber cement because it's noncombustible. It's also unaffected by the strong UV radiation typical at high altitudes.
  • On the coast: Salt air, high humidity, and bright sun are constant challenges in seaside environments but have no effect on this siding. With a proper nailing pattern, it will also withstand winds up to 130 mph.
  • Down south: Termites and fungi thrive in the warmth and moisture of the southeastern U.S., such as in New Orleans (ABOVE), but they get no nourishment from fiber cement.
  • Up north: Unlike vinyl, fiber cement doesn't become brittle in cold weather. It easily withstands below-zero temperatures and won't crack because of freeze-thaw cycles.

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08

How Does Other Siding Stack Up?

Fiber cement averages about $1.70 per square foot and is practically indestructible. Sources: SPG Marketing, R. S. Means, National Home Improvement Estimator

Wood: Prized by traditionalists, it's lightweight and easy to cut and work but vulnerable to rot, insects, fire, and splitting. Individual shingles are time-consuming to install and maintain. Expensive.

  • Clapboards average $4.70 per square foot; shingles, about $7.50

TOH-09-siding

09

Brick and Stone

Just as resistant to rot, insects, and fire as fiber cement but much heavier and more costly. Requires a skilled mason to install.

  • Brick averages $5.25 per square foot; stone, about $9.50

TOH-10-siding

10

Vinyl

Low-maintenance and lightweight, it melts in fires and can easily blow off in high winds. Comes in textures but doesn't replicate wood siding as well as fiber cement.

  • Available in both clapboards and shingle strips, it averages about 75 cents per square foot.

TOH-11-siding

11

Aluminum

It holds paint well, won't rot or burn, and is easy to maintain. Dents easily and is difficult to repair.

  • Clapboards average about $3 per square foot.

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12

Stucco

This thick, cement-based material is durable and fire resistant but requires skilled installers to trowel it on.

  • Common in warm climates. Averages about $2.65 per square foot.

TOH-13-siding

13 - Photo: Andrew McCaul

Type: Clapboards

Sold in: boards - Also known as lap siding, it's fast to install and looks great painted or stained.

Shown:

  • A. HardiePlank Select Cedarmill, 6¼ inches wide in Countrylane Red, about $1.65 per square foot; James Hardie.
  • B. WeatherBoards smooth beaded lap, 7½ inches wide in Wicker, about $1.60 per square foot; CertainTeed.
  • C. HardiePlank Select Cedarmill, 8¼ inches wide in Heathered Moss, $1.55 about $ per square foot; James Hardie 

TOH-14-siding

14 - Photo: Ken Graham

Clapboards (Finishes)

Available in smooth, wood-grain, or rough-sawn surface treatments; in widths from 5¼ to 12 inches; and with a primed or factory-applied finish.

Shown: Clapboards work for a range of styles, from contemporary to classic, as this Alaskan house shows.


TOH-15-siding

15 - Photo: Courtesy of Lew Oliver, Whole Town Solutions

Clapboards (Sizes)

Most clapboards are 5/6 inch thick, though a more wood-like 5/8-inch thickness is available. Lengths are standard: 12 feet.

Shown: Clapboards also work in a range of climates, from the frigid environs of the North, to the sticky heat of South Carolina.


TOH-16-siding

16 - Photo: Andrew McCaul

Type: Shingles

Sold in: Strips and individual shingles

They come as individual shakes and as 4-, 8-, and 12-foot strips, with either wood-grain or hand-split textures and in straight and staggered courses.

Shown:

  • A. NichiFrontier,9 ¼ inches by 8 feet in Hazelnut, about $4.50 per square foot; Nichiha.
  • B. WeatherBoards half rounds, 16 inches by 4 feet in Coastal Blue, $ about $3.75 per square foot; CertainTeed.
  • C. WeatherBoards stain-finish, random-square straight edge, 16 inches by 4 feet in Emerald, about $7 per square foot; CertainTeed

TOH-17-siding

17 - Photo: Mark Atkinson, Otto Design

Shingles (Finish)

Choose a primed, factory-painted, or stained finish.

Shown: A warm brown finish gives fiber-cement shingles the look of wood, but without the maintenance. are foot; CertainTeed


TOH-18-siding

18 - Photo: Mark Atkinson, Otto Design

Shingles (Shapes)

Strips speed installation time.

Shown: Decorative fish-scale shingles beautifully highlight a gable end.


TOH-19-siding

19 - Photo: Andrew McCaul

Type: Stone, Brick, or Stucco

Sold in: Panels

Get the color and texture of masonry without the need for a mason or worries about cracking and delamination in the future.

Shown:

  • A. SandStone II in Sedona.
  • B. QuarryStone in Speckled Brown.
  • C. FieldStone in Bronze Mist. All 18 inches by 6 feet, about $4 per square foot; Nichiha end. 

TOH-20-siding

20 - Photo: Mark Atkinson, Otto Design

Stone, Brick, or Stucco (Joints)

Joints can be covered with trim or left exposed.

Shown: Smooth fiber-cement panels edged with trim are a low-cost alternative to stucco.


TOH-21-siding

21 - Photo: Mark Atkinson, Otto Design

Stone, Brick, or Stucco (Sizes)

Masonry-finish fiber cement comes in panels that are 5/6 or 5/8 inch thick and in varying sizes from 18 inches by 6 feet to 4 by 12 feet.

Shown: Panels molded to look like stacked stone interlock to keep out water and hide the seams.


TOH-22-siding

22

Customization: Shingles and Clapboards

Craftsman-style houses like this one often have clapboard on the first story and shingles on the second.

Shown: HardiShingle straight edge in Cobblestone and staggered edge in Monterey Taupe, about $4 per square foot; HardiPlank Select Cedarmill in Monterey Taupe, about $2.10 per square foot; James Hardie


TOH-23-siding

23 - Photo: Matt Thompson, Thompson Construction

Customization: Decorative Shingles

The octagonal pattern highlighting this gable was made by clipping the corners of individual shingles with a diamond-blade chop saw.

Similar to shown, before customizing: NichiShake, primed, about $2.50 per square foot; Nichiha


TOH-24-siding

24 - Photo: Courtesy of Lew Oliver, Whole Town Solutions

Customization: Board-and-Batten

To create this rustic-looking siding style, which dates back to the early 19th century, builders stand long fiber-cement panels on end and place narrow battens over the vertical seams and across the panels' field.

Similar to Shown: Smooth vertical panels and 5/4 trim, both in Woodland Cream, about $4.50 per square foot; James Hardie


TOH-25-siding

25 - Photo: Courtesy of Ray Habenicht, Habenicht Homes

Customization: Sunburst

A builder fashioned the rays of this sun by tapering 8¼-inch clapboards with a circular saw. He cut the semicircular centerpiece out of scrap boards using a jigsaw.

Similar to Shown: MaxiPlank with wood-grain texture, primed, 70 cents per square foot; MAXITILE


TOH-26-siding

26 - Photo: Mark Atkinson, Otto Designs

Customization: Stepped Shingles

A wide, 5-inch exposure above a narrow, 2-inch one creates a striking banded effect.

Similar to Shown: WeatherBoards stained-finish Perfection shingles in Maple, about about $6 per square foot; CertainTeed http://www.certainteed.com/


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FEEDBACK ON TOH WEBSITE

Michael-Leavitt-160MICHAEL LEAVITT'S THOUGHTS: I always like to read the feedback comments as they can raise valid questions and identify both issues and solutions. Some of the comments are way off the deep end and others are quite enlightening.  I like the comments about the woodpeckers as they can be problematic here in Northern utah. And since they are Federally protected, you have to do your best without acting upon the temptation to break the law and kill them.

Great stuff and looks good on my heritage house. ~james 2/10/12 01:15 pm

Our new house has some shakes that are made form this product. Can you hammer a nail into it and not damage it? ~Donald 2/10/12 06:03 pm

NO! I've used this stuff to match an old reno I was flipping and I can definetly say I could NOT hammer a nail into the board without cracking it. Luckily they come with pre-drilled holes you can nail though instead. Just be careful you don't hit the tile with the hammer or nail it on too hard or it will crack in half. ~Brian 2/11/12 12:49 pm

Brian: WRONG! I've found these to be entirely amenable to normal nailing...by anyone who's not a complete and utter clutz. They are NOT "tile", they are denser, more weather-resistant approximations of wood. ~Jeff S. 6/4/15 01:04 am

Used it often, love it, follow directions, a load of it's HEAVY! ~John May 2/11/12 05:15 am

They forgot to mention how brittle this stuff is. A kid can break a tile just by throwing a baseball at it. Replacing just one tile is a pain too. FYI, don't rest a ladder against these either or you'll end up replacing several more. ~Brian 2/11/12 12:44 pm

Brian, you are, respectfully, completely full of it. First, these aren't "tiles", but planks. Second, they do NOT break upon impact (hard or otherwise). You're obviously entirely ignorant of these materials, or you're dishonest; maybe you're just in the wood or vinyl siding business and fearing superior products. ~jeff s 6/4/15 01:01 am

Wow, what a rude response. Maybe Brian just made a mistake. Or maybe you're in the fiber cement siding business and fearing it won't catch on. ~Mariah 10/2/15 12:46 pm

Mariah, I really appreciate jeff s. experienced responses because his previous response to brian saved me $hundreds because Brian made me think I couldn't use a hammer at all. Secondly everything i've read about hardieplank says it's dent resistent when installed and brian is trying to make people feel like they wont be able to paint their house after using hardie which isn't true. Brian didn't make a mistake. He made two outlandish tales separately to scare us away. ~Helper 10/3/15 01:37 pm

Fiber cement is a great product on the wall and will last a long time. It is even better with Fullback Siding Insulation underneath. Stepped EPS foam that assist in the install, keep the walls warmer by breaking the thermal bridge, allows home to breathe with high perm ratings, fills and supports the gap behind the overlap, and provides consistant straighter walls and improves the curb appeal. ~Sal Vaccarino 4/9/12 03:52 am

I manage condominium communities. I have been using the product for at least 10 years. It looks as good as the day it was installed on a sun beaten gable end.The plan is to convert all the wood siding over to fiber board. It holds paint well but...you must have a high quality installer. Check the specs for what tupe of paint to apply or not apply. ~Stephen Margolis 4/10/12 02:21 pm

My house is covered with cement siding. I'd like to install house numbers at the front of the house, but am concerned about drilling into the cement siding to make pilot holes. The fellow who installed our cable (for internet access) left a lot of cracked and broken siding behind, which I did not notice til after he was long gone. Any suggestions on what kind of drill bit to use ? Any thoughts on how to repair the broken corners and cracks in the siding ? Many thanks for your help! ~paula 11/23/13 01:36 pm

I am wanting to replace the old masonite siding on my house with cement siding. I have found hardie, certainteed, nichiha, and cemplank in my area. What is the difference other than the warranties? Are some thicker, less brittle> Can they all take the same kind of paint, as long as it is exterior? Correct installation, wrap, on horizonal siding , anyone????? Home is located in Georgia. ~susan 5/14/12 07:09 am

Terry 3/13/13 04:16 am
Me too. I am waiting to see the replies to your questions. Right now I am comparing Hardie to Certainteed.There is a lot of Hardie installed in the Tampa Bay area but I havent seen any certainteed yet. Just started researching the difference

What's the reply? We have woodpecker damage on our clapboard house and want to replace / repair the siding. The side of our house looks like Swiss cheese! ~Carol 3/5/15 04:29 pm

Hi Carol, sometime lurker here. Up here in the woodsy Northeast, we have serious woodpecker damage too. We signed on with a "Hardie Preferred" installer. That's the way to go. Forget all the spiel; you want a crew who will install this stuff according to MANUFACTURER's SPECS or else the manufacturer's warranty is VOID. Then if there's a problem you have to go after your contractor. The biggest reason for failure in FC is moisture wicking. If the product gets wet prior to installation or the installer doesn't follow Hardie's clearances from the ground or other possible moisture sources, your siding will wick water, expand, and fail. Me? I wanted cedar but I have to look at the big picture. Also, after sniffing around here for windows, doors, a bay window and siding we found HUGE price variations. In our case, we found a contractor who will do all of that for the same price another wanted for everything except the siding! We haven't seen the breakdown but Good Grief what a difference. ~Uncle Meat 6/12/15 12:15 pm

What's the reply? We have woodpecker damage on our clapboard house and want to replace / repair the siding. The side of our house looks like Swiss cheese! ~Carol 3/5/15 04:29 pm

I didn't see the answer as to whether it's OK to put cement siding over wood siding. Thank you! ~Ginger Young 8/23/15 12:59 pm

Anybody have an idea on cost of fiber cement siding per sf? I am looking at James Hardie siding. Thanks ~Jim Quinn 5/22/12 06:44 pm

What are the comments on applying hardie siding over esisting wood siding? thanks ~george 6/19/12 01:11 pm

Me 2, George. Reno on an older house-can I install over old lap siding? ~Stan 7/14/15 04:52 pm

How does hardie board (fiber cement boards) compare with Nucedar (PVC board siding)? ~Beth WrightMon 7/23/12 04:32 am

George, did you ever get an answer? I'm wondering the same thing. ~Heidi 7/27/12 05:46 pm

Has anyone heard of Cerber fiber cement siding? It came up on the builddirect website - it has really nice natural wood looking colors, but I never heard of it before. Only available on-line, it seems. I'm wondering how it compares to James Hardi - and if it's good in the NE where the temperatures range from zero to over 100. Any experience out there? ~Elle Berns 8/7/12 04:26 am

I just had fiber cement siding placed and I have a question. Has anyone ever heard of cutting the shingles about an inch away from the trim board so the flashing is showing for better drainage?? I am not talking underneath the trim board but to the side of it. Thanks ~dave 8/13/12 10:57 am

One problem with fiber cement siding is the thickness-3/8" vs. typical 5/8", so it doesn't have as good a shadow line. However, I've used it to replace wood clapboards on my 110 year old house on the lowest 3-4 courses where the thickness isn't very noticeable. Since I don't have gutters for the most part, it avoids wood rot due to water splash during rains. ~Jay 8/22/12 12:43 pm

This may be good for the siding but I had very bad luck using it for roofing shingles. I nailed this with no problem but also used screws which was good if mistakes are made. A good concrete blade is need to cut with saw. ~Mervyn 10/4/12 06:48 pm

My Contractor is having difficulty in finding this product with 4" centers. Any suggestions of where to look here in Oklahoma City, OK? ~Les Ellason 11/7/12 07:16 am

EverLog Siding is a revolutionary product in the siding industry. Made of GFRC (Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete) it is very low maintenance yet gives you the look and feel of a real log home. http://everlogs.com ~JustinWed 3/6/13 01:39 pm

Unfortunatley this product is not offered in the style referred to as "Shiplap" siding (actually 2 different of this). San Francisco's Victorian houses are almost inevitably clad in this style. Come on Certainteed, get with it! ~John McGlynn - San Francisco 3/7/13 12:09 pm

James Hardie is the best. ~Jesus 3/7/13 07:10 pm

Cement board runs about 6.20 for 1 board 8.25x12ft 7inch exp. around 125 dollars a square to install 100x100=1sq ~K Fergy 3/9/13 11:17 am

I am a paintef this rooduct is great to paint and lasts a long time. But it looses the original look. Better for the enviroment. Some historical communitiea will not permit this product. ~Tommy B 3/12/13 01:31 pm

Done about half of my first floor with Hardie. Really enjoyed installing it. Would you like to know how to cut a circle in cement fiber board? trace your circle, place a screwdriver on your line, tap with a hammer, move the screwdriver a little further down the traced line, tap again. Just keep whacking on the traced line until you've cut through the board. Use your razor knife to clean up the cup. Easy. ~Tom 3/14/13 02:54 pm

We have Hardy siding on our house and have had no problems with it after 13 years. We used CertainTeed siding on our guest house and after the first winter almost 1/4 of the boards cracked. Both buildings are stained and they are on the same lot so see the same weather. We live in an area where we see snow and freezing winter weather. CertainTeed uses fly ash as the material instead of silica sand and it absorbs moisture. The CertainTeed also shrinks and we have a 3/16 to 1/4 inch gap where two planks meet. CertainTeed will not honor any labor warranty so their 50 year warranty has no value. Every one of our neighbors that used CertainTeed siding have seen the same problems both with the materials and with the Warranty. ~Bob 3/17/13 05:37 pm

I am considering replacing my wood siding with this. I have a 1/4 natural rock and 3/4 wood siding in my home built in 1972. I have had 2 issues with termites once 15 years ago and just found a new small area with infantile termites. I am planning on changing out the wood to this, getting a termite treatment, as well as putting in double pane windows (easier to do both at the same time) Any thoughts on the best quality siding? ~Debra 5/8/13 05:49 pm

Put MaxitTile on my house. It shrunk more that 1/4 inch per 12 foot. Cracked anything that was face nailed. I stored it correctly, nailed it correctly, and it appeared dry when I installed it, but it shrunk after I put it up. From what I understand Hardie has the same problem. If you have to face nail it for any reason, it will break, even if you pre-drill the holes. The stuff is a huge pain to put up. I am about 1/2 done with the project and totally confused about what to do. All the companies that manufacture the stuff have class action lawsuits against them, valid or not. Clearly all of them have quality issues and making sure they deliver a proper product to their customers. The manufacturer claims it's my fault for the cracking since they claim I "over drive the fail nails". On 100% of them? The nail stayed in place, the siding moved 1/4 inch, of course the stuff will break. This is just normal coefficient of expansion here (.0000067 per inch per degree), ~Hosed 4/25/14 10:13 pm

I am wondering whether TOH has done any research on Hardie Board siding? I have it on our house (in NH) built in 2004 and areas where it has snow build-up in winter or higher moisture have peeled every year. I cannot keep paint on it in these places. The internet has many places with complaints about the product and the company. What good is it to have a cement product if it is no better than wood? ~Bill Klemme 6/26/14 11:28 am

My fascia is about the same thickness as my hardie lap siding about 3/8 thick is trhis correct? I know hardie says you can not use siding for fascia. What is the minimum thickness of the fascia that Hardie or Simplex make in cement fiber board? Is Simplex fiber cement board made by Hardie? I hope you knolegable people can help. Thanks ~Chris 11/6/14 12:34 pm

Is fiber cement siding as good as This Old House claims? I need to put new siding on my house and I am on the fence with the type of siding to use. I am interested in fiber cement but my siding contractor has told me stories of clients that were disappointed with the product. Issues included - swelling, warping, and needing paint more often than what was initially described. Are the issue inherit of the product or the contractor? ~Jim 3/1/15 10:32 pm

I had a 10' x 10" plank left over from a previous project. I decided to bow to my wife's request and us it to make a flower box. Personally I don't expect it to last 2 years. Although I primed and finish coat painted it with a gloss white I expect it to act like any fiber board, "wick" water and deteriorate from within. No great $ loss but if it does deteriorate that quickly it certainly won't endear me to use as house siding. ~Phillip 6/14/15 01:46 pm

I used a cement board siding on my shed about 12 years ago. It looks like I painted it 2-3 years ago. The house is clapboard siding. The garage is T1-11 siding. The house and garage have been attacked by woodpeckers persistently. The shed siding does not have any woodpecker damage. I have been considering replacing the damaged house siding with cement board. ~Michael 6/27/15 11:20 pm

Our home is the soft, depression brick. My husband has had to paint every 4 to 5 years. We were looking at stucco, but this fiber cement siding sounds appealing. Any ideas which way to go? ~Terry Sweeney 6/28/15 07:47 am

I have been installing both Hardie and Certaineed for about 15 years hand nailing and using a flush nailer. I only have to drill holes if fastening close to edge or corner. Woodpeckers hate it, homeowners love it, and I get a smile when the woodpecker try their luck on it. My dilemma now is finding a wood like finish since superdeck has discontinued their product. Anybody else have an answer? ~Albie Cardew 7/16/15 11:07 am