Then as Now: The Enduring Appeal of Clapboards and Weatherboards

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close shot of white weatherboards

Clapboards and weatherboards—whether made of wood, metal, or vinyl—remain one of the most popular home cladding options in America. Clapboard and weatherboard coverings for exterior walls still present many advantages to this day, to say nothing of their continued aesthetic appeal.

Weatherboards and clapboards are a uniquely American architectural flourish, brought about by the need to waterproof timber-framed homes. A staple of the architecture of the East Coast along with brick facings, clapboard and weatherboard sidings are today a key element in many American homes. Even in Utah, weatherboard siding remains a popular choice for many home builders in part due to its timeless aesthetic and its functionality.

Heavily associated with buildings from the Colonial period, weatherboards and clapboards often see use beyond the colonial revivalist suburban homes seen in suburbs across America. Ranch homes and modern homes alike have used clapboard and weatherboard siding into their designs for aesthetic effect. Vinyl clapboards remain a popular cladding option today due to its ease of installation and low cost.

A Longstanding Tradition

Although originally from Britain, clapboards and weatherboards became popular in what was then the colonies. The settlers, who have hitherto been accustomed to a lack of timber, used clapboards extensively in domestic architecture, often giving them a whitewashed or painted treatment in the process. In due time, the image of the idealized American house—a timber-framed home with slate tiles and whitewashed weatherboards on its façade—came to be.

There’s more to siding than just appearances. Outer treatments have played an important role in domestic architecture for millennia. The outer coverings provided an added layer of insulation for many homes. Besides this, outer coverings—be they clapboards, weatherboards, or stucco—are essential in minimizing water penetration within the walls, ensuring that the occupants within are kept warm and dry regardless of the weather.

Traditionally, most sidings, including clapboards and weatherboards, were whitewashed, derived from the lime they used commonly as a form of waterproofing treatment on the outside of the home. Other colors are often derived from painting the siding itself. White sidings did double duty in keeping the heat of the sun out in the summer by reflecting it away from home.

Clapboard Advantages

attic made of clapboards

Clapboards—either out of treated wood, aluminum, or vinyl—provide the same waterproofing and insulating properties that they did to the homes of colonial times. More modern materials like aluminum and vinyl offer several unique advantages to stone and brick facing in that they require lower maintenance and do not need an additional layer to prevent water penetration. Even wood, traditionally the material of choice, needs extra treatment to remain waterproof.

Maintenance Requirements

Wood clapboard can last for a very long time but requires regular maintenance to keep it pristine. They are more expensive than their vinyl counterparts but, because of their authenticity, they often are better suited for older homes. Wood typically needs to be painted to resist decay and water damage. The paint jobs of wood and aluminum fade over time but can be repainted as needed, whereas vinyl comes in its colors and does not need to be repainted.

Meanwhile, aluminum and plastic clapboards need less maintenance because they do not rot; however, they are not immune to other forms of damage. Vinyl panels are often vulnerable to cracking in cold weather despite being otherwise resilient in the face of the elements. Meanwhile, aluminum can be dented, and the colors it comes usually fades with time.

Vinyl panels also need to be connected to the home in a way that allows it to move. They should be fastened to the wall in such a way that allows for movement without being too loose. The only maintenance vinyl siding needs, meanwhile, is periodic washing. Cracked siding should be replaced or repaired as encountered.

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