August 30, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 35

Cement plank siding: Is is hardy enough?

A fiber cement siding advertised as lasting 50 years may not hold up that long in Haines.

Stain is fading or peeling off siding at the public library, Sheldon Museum and the Department of Fish and Game office in Haines, as well as at businesses and homes around town.

Complaints about the product – which is the target of a class-action lawsuit – include that deterioration of the coating may be the beginning of moisture seepage and damage to structure below.

Brian Lemcke, the Haines Borough’s public facilities director, recently supervised painting of a bare section of pre-stained “Hardie plank” near the entrance to the library, where water from a sub-roof ran down a wall.

The planks were pre-stained a burnt orange, but affected sections along the wall had worn or faded to the white surface below. “It’s an experiment,” Lemcke said. “We’re going to see how it holds up.”

Hardie plank showed up here in the late 1990s, and the new library helped make it popular, said lumberyard owner Chip Lende.

“The library is the culprit. (Hardie plank) looked absolutely beautiful when it went up on there and everybody wanted it. People started requesting it,” Lende said.

Touted as a product that didn’t rot or burn, the siding was ideal for locations in the West, where wildfires are a concern, Lende said. “Everybody thought it was ideal for Southeast -- until it got wet.”

Areas exposed to prolonged moisture and where snow accumulates seem to suffer the worst, Lende said. Recently, homeowners around Haines have re-painted their siding and at least one replaced it with traditional cedar.

The borough’s Lemcke said that some five-year-old sections of cement siding on the Haines School that were not stained, but painted, aren’t showing signs of wear. If the test section holds up, he’s considering repainting buildings, including the museum, next summer, weather depending.

“The pre-stained stuff is what’s not holding up around the world and it’s not holding up in Haines,” Lemcke said.

Comments on Internet blogs about the problem seem to support the local experience. One writer from eastern Canada said his siding was installed by a professional. “My prefinished plank is peeling everywhere… It’s especially bad where moisture and snow accumulates… You can see the peeling areas from 50 feet away.”

The class action lawsuit says flaking, discoloration, cracking, warping and product shrinkage are “signs which may indicate that the exterior fiber cement siding is deteriorating.”

Lemcke said it appears the borough will have to address the issue with its own resources, as others with complaints about the siding have made no progress with its manufacturer. “We don’t have any recourse. Nobody has had any luck going back to the manufacturer on that… The fine print kind of lets them off the hook on this.”

“In warmer, drier climates, it’s holding up pretty well, but I don’t think it should have been used up here,” Lemcke said. “It was one of those things that maybe was too good to be true.”

Hardie plank officials in some cases have attributed the fading to mishandling of pre-stained siding, Lemcke said. “They say you can’t bend it. That’s one of the stories.”

Lumberyard owner Lende said that Hardie no longer sells the pre-stained product in Alaska. “I think there’s been issues all through the state.”

Building supply owner Glenda Gilbert said the company no longer provides a warranty on the product in Alaska.

Calls by the Chilkat Valley News to the company’s California headquarters about warranty information were referred to attorney Will Franken. Franken did not return a message left by the newspaper. Franken’s phone number is 312-777-1411.