Aluminum Siding Vs. Steel

Written by patrick gleeson, ph. d., registered investment adv
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Aluminum Siding Vs. Steel
Aluminium siding (siding image by Psycience from Fotolia.com)

Aluminium siding and steel siding are both popular products for residential construction. Each comes in a variety of finishes with different degrees of durability. Steel is slightly more expensive, but both steel and aluminium cost less than proprietary composite board siding. You can put up aluminium siding with a little less effort--it's lighter and cuts easier--but it's also a little more susceptible to damage during shipment and construction.

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Steel Siding Types

Most steel siding today comes with a topcoat that eliminates the need for painting, a significant benefit. You can select from a wide variety of topcoat colours and textures, some pre-painted and others that use a vinyl, polyvinyl or a proprietary coating product of similar durability. Galvanised steel siding is also available. You can order steel siding (with some limitations) pre-cut or cut to order on-site. The steel can be flat or corrugated. The corrugations come in a variety of profiles and scales. You can order traditional corrugated steel--the kind you see on barn roofs--with a larger-scale profile, often 7/8 inches, that provides more dramatic light and shadow. Other corrugation profiles include the standard "B" profile often used for decking, and square, rectangular and triangular profiles in different scales.

Corten Steel and Similar Steel Siding

Architects often use a special kind of corrugated steel siding commonly called "Corten," although that is a proprietary name of US Steel, and most residential steel with Corten characteristics is a similar generic product. Corten steel is a fine-grained steel product that rusts, as all unpainted steel will, but the fine molecules of rust merge with the steel, limiting the depth of rust and effectively forming a protective coat. Most suppliers of this general type (other than US Steel, which has always disclaimed its use as siding) will guarantee it for 40 years, so the durability is similar to other steel finishes. It will, however, stain cement driveways and foundation walls; some homeowners don't mind this rustic effect; others dislike it.

Faux-Corten That Doesn't Stain

If you like the look of Corten and similar steels but don't like the staining problem, steel and aluminium panels are available finished with a polyvinyl fluoride powdered product (Kynar is the dominant brand) that more or less replicates the look of Corten without the mess. US Steel also makes a coated lookalike that will substitute for Corten. Increasingly, manufacturers are offering similar faux-natural finishes that replicate the look of other unpainted metals, some permanently new and shiny, others weathered or antiqued.

Aluminium Siding Types

Aluminium siding comes with topcoat products similar to those available for steel siding, with similar choices of colour and texture. Like steel it is a low-maintenance product with even higher resistance to corrosion. Like steel it comes in both flat panels and corrugated panels, and many different corrugation styles are available. Several aluminium manufacturers offer a corrugated aluminium product with a faux-Corten polyvinyl finish, as well as similar products imitating the look of copper (new or antiqued) and zinc.

Overall Advantages and Disadvantages of Each

While steel and aluminium siding are available with similar looks and finishes and in a wide range of price-points, high-quality aluminium products will cost a little less than similar steel products. There is also a range of inexpensive aluminium siding products with lower price points than any steel products. Aluminium, because it is lighter and cuts easier, is also a little easier to install; contractors will usually charge 10 to 20 per cent more for putting up steel. Steel, on the other hand, has a certain look, subtle but detectable, that architects and high-end designers tend to prefer, and it is physically a more durable product--it doesn't dent as easily. While earlier steel sidings rusted and aluminium did not, with the advent of vinyl, polyvinyl and other composite finishes this is no longer an advantage; both are highly rust resistant. Since there are no clear-cut advantages to either, it finally comes down to aesthetics and the slight cost advantage of aluminium.

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