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This Video Shows What Houses Are Made Of in the Last 40 Years

Written by Cristina Miguelez

Published on September 6, 2018


This Video Shows What Houses Are Made Of in the Last 40 Years

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When choosing the siding material for your home, you not only need to think about cost, but also practical and aesthetic elements. The appearance of your house says a lot about you and your architectural style, and unlike other fashionable choices, it is not something you are likely to change once decided. You should consider your priorities like should it be eco-friendly, or cutting edge? low maintenance or adjustable? etc. We look at how surfaces have changed over the years, and what properties each surface has, to help you decide on the right finish for your home.

A Timeline of Changing Fashion in Single Home Siding Choices

The video above was created using the results from the census on exterior finishes of single-family homes. It looks at the historical use of wood, brick, stucco, vinyl, fiber and 'other' options starting in 1977 and ending in 2017. The census accounts for up to 1.6 million houses each year and includes homes across the U.S.A., so provides a broad look at how finishes have risen and fallen in popularity over the full period. These changes in popularity not only account for aesthetic fashionability but also availability, cost and practicality. From a trend perspective, each finish dominated a specific decade, in terms of houses completed in that finish. Brick dominated the 70s, wood dominated the 80s, vinyl, which only became available in the 90s, dominated that decade, and stucco and fiber cement dominated the 2000s. 'Other' materials also saw their highest use during the late 80s and 90s.

Wood had the highest percentage of market share overall, from 1981-82, with 44%. Vinyl was the only other material to gain a similarly high total market share in 2002 with a 40% share. At the height of its popularity, brick managed a high market share of 35% in 1973, though wood still dominated the market overall that year. Stucco and fiber cement have not managed to dominate the siding material market yet; the top percentage share of stucco, of 24% in 2015, was beaten by Vinyl's market share of 27% and fiber cement's highest share of 20% in 2016, was also beaten by Vinyl with 27%, Stucco with 24% and brick with 22%.

It stands to reason that as more products enter the market, the percentage of houses finished in a specific material will decrease, as the total market share is divided among more options. This doesn't necessarily indicate the inferiority of a product, but more options provide more opportunities for choice. That said, despite not dominating the market since the 70s, brick seems to have maintained a fairly consistent popularity holding on to 22% of the market in 2017.

How the Options Have Changed for the New Home Builder

While all of the options mentioned in the census are available to today's homebuilder, each has its own list of pros and cons so it is important to consider all of them and choose one that aligns with your needs.


Goes back as far as 7000 BC which makes it one of the oldest known building materials.

  • Pros:
  • Low maintenance requiring very little care once built
  • Lasts as much as 100 years
  • Clay brick considered one of most eco-friendly options
  • Fire resistant and will not come under attack from insects or damp.
  • Provides the structure for the house
  • Cons:
  • Needs skilled workmen; not a DIY project
  • Costly to install due to weight as it requires special equipment and transportation
  • One of the more expensive finishes, with an average cost of $11-$15 per square foot


Is also one of the oldest materials on the list and is widely accessible for building. Cypress, cedar, pine, spruce and redwood are the most used, with a range of styles including battens, shingles, logs, sheet siding and shaker panels the most common looks used.

  • Cons
  • Susceptible to mildew in humid areas
  • Can be attacked by pests
  • Needs regular maintenance to avoid damage
  • Fire risk; in dry areas prone to wildfires especially


Is a relatively new, man-made material, and became popular due to its versatility and cost-effectiveness

  • Pros:
  • Cost-effective at $5.01 per square foot
  • Almost any color or texture is possible
  • Easy to install; can be considered a DIY project
  • Comes with a 40-year warranty (top of range)
  • Energy efficient and provides excellent insulation, cutting down energy costs
  • Cons:
  • Cannot paint over, so you need to be sure of your choice
  • Not considered eco-friendly as it will not biodegrade after use
  • Not waterproof; careful installation is necessary


Is commonly associated with Mexican architecture and is usually made from a combination of cement, lime and sand.

  • Pros:
  • Can be moulded or textured so provides versatility
  • Can be repainted at a later date if you grow bored with your initial color
  • Provides great insulation if installed correctly Fire retardant; good in hotter dry areas
  • Cons:
  • Doesn't do well in humid conditions
  • High initial installation cost of about $6-$9 per square foot
  • Requires specialized skills for installation to ensure it is long lasting and resilient

Fiber cement

Is also a man-made material made from a combination of timber fiber, sand and cement.

  • Pros:
  • Can be molded to mimic many other materials
  • Versatile in terms of texture and color
  • Cheaper and more resilient than wood, costing from $4 per square foot
  • Fire resistant
  • Resilient in damp conditions
  • Resistant to pests
  • Cons:
  • Not as durable as the alternatives; only a 15-year average warranty
  • Costly to install due to weight as it requires special equipment and transportation

Make a choice that will last

Despite cost and availability being important factors, history shows that trends play a large part in what makes a finish popular, as discussed above. Once you've narrowed down your options, take a drive around town and look at the most popular finishes, it's probable that they've been chosen as they are the best option for the local climate conditions. As always get at least three quotes from local suppliers and don't forget, the exterior of your home will give a hint of what lies inside, so try to maintain its architectural language. Once you've narrowed down your choice, choose the one that makes you feel happiest to behold and you won't go wrong.