How to fight bugs, salt air, and moisture from the inside out.

James Hardie Idea House Porches
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn

Bugs, humidity, salt spray if you're lucky, heat. Southern homes, like Southerners themselves, have to be tough as nails under their gracious exteriors. Situated on a marsh in a maritime preserve, the 2019 Southern Living Idea House is a case study in the evolution of building materials.

Stucco and brick, along with high-maintenance wood, have long been architectural stalwarts in the area, but builder and Director of Custom Operations at Riverside Custom Homes Matt Birdwell notes a huge shift away from those materials to a more durable material. "About 90 percent of our builds now have some fiber cement siding," he says.

This home shows the full flexibility of fiber cement boards, replicating a southern vernacular without the meticulous maintenance and repainting normally required.

Like Wood, But Better

Clay Rokicki, architect and Senior Associate for Historical Concepts, opts for fiber cement almost every time he's designing a home that typically is built with wood. "When [fiber cement] is painted, it looks identical to wood," he says. "So when we're emulating historic structures that are wooden homes, we really like it." He points to the obvious threats (salt air, moisture, bug damage, rotting) facing the Idea House as a reason for using Artisan Lap siding and HardiePanel and batten strips for a board & batten look.

James Hardie Building Materials Roof line
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn

Strengthens Good Design

Mundane details like flashing and ground clearance are important to keep out moisture, Rokicki says, but using HardieTrim boards for even the more extravagant moments is extra insurance against seepage. He points to the window cornices, constructed with a small HardieTrim board and flashing to shed water, as an example where the design married with the material to effectively eliminate a maintenance issue without sacrificing aesthetic.

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Creates New Possibilities

Wood or other synthetic trim expands and contracts as the temperature changes, so long, elegant trim pieces with a lot of joints eventually get unsightly gaps. Rokicki says the fiber cement reacts far less to those shifts in climate, so he's able to design long, flat runs with confidence. "If we weren't able to achieve the aesthetic we wanted, we wouldn't use it at all," he says. "But couple that aesthetic with the quality and longevity of it and it's a win-win."