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The Hard Facts About Hardboard

For many years, wood was one of the preferred siding options for homes and buildings. But, as demand for wood increased and supply decreased, alternatives to real wood were developed. Today’s property owners can choose from an array of siding products for their homes and buildings, including many products that look, paint and nail like wood, and that can last for thirty years or more. One of the most prevalent is composite hardboard siding.

Hardboard is a generic term for panels manufactured from wood chips which have been converted to fibers that are bonded together under heat and pressure. It includes products manufactured by Masonite Corporation, Louisiana Pacific (“L-P”) and Georgia Pacific, among many others. Waferboard is a type of hardboard composed of layers of hardwood strands laid at right angles for strength, and bonded together under high pressure.

Hardboard siding comes in a variety of configurations and specifications, colors and textures. For instance, there are eighty different Masonite products alone. And, hardboard products come with a variety of warranties against design and manufacturing defects, including some that have no warranty at all!

In recent years, consumers have filed claims asserting that certain types of hardboard are unable to withstand normal weather conditions. They alleged that the material in the hardboard is poorly bonded, allowing moisture intrusion that leads to cracking, warping and delamination. In fact, there have been several class action lawsuits filed concerning certain types of hardboard, alleging that the siding led to structural damage. However, the results of these suits have been mixed.

It does appear that a factor influencing the durability of hardboard is the method of its installation. When carefully and correctly installed, most hardboard provides ample protection from the elements.

However, installation is not as simple as putting hammer to nail, and improperly installed hardboard can lead to water intrusion, rot and structural damage. Problems resulting from improper installation are typically not covered by the manufacturer’s standard warranty, which protects only against manufacturing defects.

Unfortunately, most consumers are ill-equipped to determine whether the exterior finish on their home or building was installed properly to prevent moisture intrusion: problems are often uncovered after the damage has been done.

So what’s a conscientious real estate professional to do to protect his or her client when faced with a home or building clad with a hardboard product? Act with care, and be careful what you say. The Real Estate Commission does not require its licensees to distinguish between the different types of hardboard products on the market or to know exactly which ones have been or now are the subject of a lawsuit. There are many similar hardboard products on the market, and the services of a professional may be necessary to determine exactly which one clads a particular house or building. (In fact, the National Organization of Exterior Finishing System Inspectors offers specialized training and certification in the identification and inspection of these products.)

However, if you, as a licensee, make a claim or assertion in your listing, advertisement or elsewhere that a property has a particular type of siding on it, you should be right. You are responsible for the accuracy of the representations you make about a property. If you’re not sure, don’t guess. Instead, if working with a buyer, encourage the buyer to get an inspection that covers the siding. If working with a seller, simply note that the siding is “hardboard” without going into any detail, unless you’re sure. And, be especially careful not to confuse hardboard siding with some other type of siding, such as a cement-based product. Cement-based products have a heavier feel than hardboard, and typically come with a longer warranty.

One important caveat must be made regarding Exterior Insulation Finishing Systems (“EIFS”), also called synthetic stucco. These products are applied differently than hardboard, and have had a high failure rate in the Southeastern United States. Remember that a property is or has been clad with synthetic stucco is a material fact and must be disclosed to potential purchasers.

Other Hardboard Choices

Here’s an idea of some of the other products found on the market today which serve as an alternative to wood:
• Fiber cement siding is a combination of cement, ground sand, cellulose fiber, additives and water formed into panels. One commonly known brand is Hardiplank, named for its developer, James Hardie. Manufacturers of this product claim that it will not rot and will withstand termites.
• Vinyl siding is a plastic-based product which is colored and pressed into sheets.
• Aluminum siding is a pressed aluminum product.

This article came from the May 2003-Vol34-1 edition of the bulletin.