Ins and outs of various exterior sidings

Vinyl siding is the foremost cladding applied to houses in Canada and the United States because it’s a relatively cheap alternative to wood and composite sidings. 
Personally, I find polyvinyl chloride (PVC) repugnant to look at, a danger to the environment (it’s banned in European countries because of the VOCs it emits) and, if installed incorrectly, an immediate headache to homeowners. PVC has a high expansion/contraction ratio, so it cannot be nailed tightly to a substrate because the vinyl will buckle or crack. The panels and trims must be hung loosely with roofing nails or screws driven only part way into the substrate. 
During hot summer days, you can hear the vinyl cladding squeak as it expands in the heat and then contracts in the coolness of the evening. On very cold winter days, PVC becomes brittle and can be shattered by a blow from a errant hockey puck. Moreover, the “never paint your house again” claim that often entices people to cover their homes in this polymer junk is not true. The life expectancy of the best quality PVC is about 15 years. After this point, dark colours, such as brick red, will have faded to an anemic pink while lighter tones will look like blanched turnips. Furthermore, the surface will be chalky and lustreless due to exposure to the elements. 
A homeowner has the choice of replacing the PVC or painting it with a product such as Weather One Cover Coat available from Cloverdale Paint in Winnipeg. Before the paint is applied, the vinyl siding should be prepped by washing it with a mixture of TSP and water and then rinsed. Pressure washers are not recommended because they can force water behind the PVC creating an environment for mould, mildew and other fungi to procreate.  
What happened to the “never paint again slogan?”  Properly prepared T&G (tongue-and-groove) pine siding covered with a primer and two coats of latex paint will withstand Winnipeg’s harsh weather for at least a dozen years. The old paint can be removed with a power washer and TSP without worry about water penetrating between the grooved boards.  
Another option is to use solid stain manufactured by Flood that comes with a 15-year warranty and is available from Park City Paints in Winnipeg. Owner Warren Mark suggests applying two coats, the first while the siding in on the ground and the second after it is applied to the house. 
“This ensures the tongues will be coated with stain if the wood shrinks in hot, dry weather,” Mark said.  
My favourite siding is bevel or channel western red cedar. Though cedar tends to be pricey, the rich red, tan and brown tones that comprise this naturally weather and insect resistant wood are spectacular. Tight-knot, select cedar with a rough side is gorgeous to behold and requires very little maintenance in service.  If left unfinished, it will turn grey after a few years, a look that many people admire, including the ritzy crowd who own spectacular houses and cottages in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In fact, there is a Behr stain called Cape Cod gray that replicates the aged look. It sells for about $40 gallon at Home Depot. 
Personally, I would never stain cedar gray, preferring instead to let it mature naturally or retain its colour with Sikken’s Log & Siding, a fairly new product the retails for about $100 gallon at Windsor Plywood on Main Street. A spokeswoman for the outlet said Log & Siding is an “oil-based replacement product for Sikken’s Cetol 1 and Cetol 23 staining system that requires one coat of Cetol 1 at $70 gallon and two coats of Cetol 23 at $75 gallon. Although Log & Siding may seem expensive, it is cheaper because it only requires two coats compared to three for the Cetol stains.” 
When I covered the gables on my house with bevel cedar, I used a translucent hybrid oil/water-based product called Para TimberCare. After four years, the cedar is close to its original colour, however, there are blotchy areas where the stain didn’t completely penetrate the rough wood. Because the stain dries quickly, we were warned by the salesperson to brush it on as quickly as possible to prevent overlapping or dry spots. 
My beef is that it is impossible to apply this product fast enough with a brush to ensure uniform coverage. When the time comes, I’ll re-stain with one of the newer oil-based stains that are available, because restrictions on some alkyd products have recently been lifted by the government, according to paint dealers. 
There are composite sidings on the market that vary in price, durability and longevity. One of these is Hardie board, a fibre cement-based cladding that can be bought either primed or pre-painted with a baked-on finish. On the positive side, this product is fire-resistant and manufactured in shapes and profiles resembling lap-board to cedar shingle siding. 
Unlike vinyl siding, it is difficult to differentiate the composite from real wood. Moreover, it has a 50-year transferable warranty if installed to Hardie’s specifications, including properly sealed joints, a Tyvek-covered substrate and 16-inch to 24-inch on-centre strapping if foam board is installed behind the siding.  On the negative side, the material is heavy and inflexible, making it difficult to heft into place on a wall without snapping a board in the process. Also, the product that does not have a factory baked-on finish and must be re-painted every 15 years. Installation cost, including material, is $7 to $10 per square foot, which is pricey when compared to some wood siding.    
Nature-tech KWP is a composite cladding made by Kaycan composed of wood fibre or strands, exterior-grade resins and zinc borate to discourage insects and prevent rot. It is easier to work with than Hardie board, because it is more flexible and pre-painted pieces do not exhibit blotching and other paint defects associated with cement-board. 
KWP comes in 16 colours and has the same profiles as Hardie board. Its manufacturer says it will last as long as cement-based material and the installation price is competitive at $8 per square foot, material included. 
For homeowners with large budgets, there are real stone sidings available at a cost of $25 to $30 per square foot. The only maintenance required is a hosing down to remove spider webs, insects and other detritus that collects on the stones after a few years. There are also faux-rock products made of pre-painted, high-density moulded foam that a manufactured in 18-inch and 36-inch panels that are cheaper and easier to install than real stone. However, the panels are prone to chipping and the stones look phoney even from a distance. Like vinyl siding, faux-rock is a cheesy, high VOC product that is a visual plague and a environmental pollutant.