Question: We had our new home faced with imitation stone siding. It did an attractive job. Early one morning, about a week ago, we heard tapping on the outside of the house. I stepped outside and saw a woodpecker fly off. I observed a number of holes in a panel consistent with a woodpecker digging for grubs. I plugged the damage with textured caulking, as recommended on a website, to deter them. The next day we were in the city and when we got back we found several large patches of the foam siding had been ripped off as well as additional holes in the original area.
Had we known this could happen we would have chosen a different material for the exterior. The cost we were charged was nearly as much as for a real stone exterior. Let you readers know to avoid the same pitfall we are now in.
— Erich Mantler, St. Francois Xavier
Answer: Newer building materials often seem like wonderful long-lasting products, with little to no maintenance, but that may not always be the case. Products like your siding often require several years of testing before knowing the durability in our area and climate. Caution should always be exercised with new material, especially for an exterior application.
I commend you and appreciate your submission to warn homeowners with potential siding upgrades of the pitfalls you have experienced. Unfortunately, you may have installed a siding material that was poorly manufactured or simply not well suited to your area, where woodpeckers may be quite prevalent. I am somewhat familiar with this product, which I believe comes in small sheets that makes installation with fasteners quite simple. This would definitely save money on installation time, relative to real or cultured stone, which should make the product much more economical. I am surprised by your admission that it cost almost as much as real stone veneer, as labour costs should certainly be lower.
In Manitoba we have rather conservative builders that are often reluctant to jump on any new building product bandwagons, which is a good thing for homebuyers. While newer materials may be tested in smaller areas or with limited scope, they may not be widely adopted until in use for several years. This allows periodic examination of the performance of these materials, especially if used in an exterior application. For this reason, homes that are under a decade or so old often have few issues like yours. If the problems turn up, they are often repaired and the poor quality products are not used again. Unfortunately, with retro-fit situations like your home, there are numerous new systems developed that may have their durability or performance exaggerated by the sellers. This can lead to a situation like yours, but you may still have some recourse.
Most building materials or products should come with some form of warranty. While I am not a fan of most of these, you should contact the manufacturer to see if there is anything that does apply to your siding product. Also, asking whether this situation has happened to other consumers may yield a possible solution. Otherwise, if the product is known to be defective, they may offer a partial or total replacement of the materials. Of course, they may simply say woodpeckers are a natural phenomenon they have no control over, and that any warranty does not include damage from animals. If that is the case, you may have limited options other than to replace the foam panels with proper siding material at your own expense.
I would also contact the installer, as they should at least be aware the product they are putting on homes is poor quality and not able to withstand a common issue, which real masonry siding materials would. If they are a good contractor and value their reputation, they may offer partial or complete labour costs to remove and replace this siding with a better quality product, if you pay for the material. That may be the best case scenario as it not only fixes your problem but fulfils your wish to prevent this lousy product from being put on other homes.
The lesson that should be gained from your experience, for other homeowners, is to do more research before choosing a product like your imitation stone siding. There are numerous websites and blogs that discuss issues like yours. Also, ask the contractors for references, or even homes where they have installed the same material that you can view. If these jobs were done more than a couple of years prior, and the product has held up well, then you should be more comfortable with that choice. Also, ask the building centre staff, or supplier, for their experience with the product. While they benefit from selling the product, most suppliers will stop ordering or selling products if they have a bad reputation or have bad reviews from their customers.
The moral of your story should be to be cautious when installing building materials, products, or systems in our homes that have not been tested long-term in our area. If a product has been in wide use for a decade or so, and is still popular, that should be a good indicator that its performance will meet your expectations.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.