Imitative Wood Siding

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September 5th’s Board meeting had a presentation from Andrew Wright, the Association’s consulting architect, on behalf of the CDRC. The previous Board had passed a resolution in March specifically prohibiting Hardie Board as a construction material for board and batten exterior wall surfaces, only allowing real wood. 

Hardie Board, a trademarked high quality type of fiber cement board, was introduced into the construction market in 1990. From a distance, up close, and even by feel, it is very similar to wood (both wood and Hardie Board can be smooth, rough cut, have different grain patterns, etc.). The differences are:

  • Fire safety: Wood burns, Hardie Board does not.
  • Performance: Wood cups, cracks, rots, accepts mildew, is eaten by termites etc. Hardie Board does not.
  • Maintenance: Wood needs a lot of maintenance to continue looking good. Hardie Board needs far less maintenance lasting 40-50 years.

These five samples were shown at the meeting. Two are wood, two are Hardie Board, one is a composite plywood and stamped steel board with Hardie Board batten (often used on barns):

Spot the difference. See the presentation document linked above to find out which is which.

To pass Fire Department muster, the only way to use real wood siding is to attach gypsum wallboard to the exterior studs to act as a fire break behind the wood siding. However, this only delays your house being engulfed with fire, it doesn’t prevent it from burning since the exterior wood is still flammable. 

Given all the above advantages of Hardie Board, it was no wonder that Andrew Wright, consulting architect, other architects in the audience, and the entire CDRC are pushing for the Board to reconsider their resolution prohibiting Hardie Board. 

Why This Is Important: Remodels & Barns

Most new homes in the Ranch are, by aesthetic necessity (to be approvable by the CDRC), built using stucco and stone. As the CDRC stated in the follow on discussion, if a house was 100% board and batten, they would deny the application. It isn’t the preferred architectural style or material. Occasionally though a new California Ranch house will have a section, like a garage with big blank walls, or a triangular gable where wood is used to add to the aesthetics of the otherwise stucco or stone house.

In addition, it is estimated that over 30% of existing Rancho homes are California Ranch style, and many of them are built with board and batten or shiplap. Homeowners looking to do a remodel, maintenance or add an addition are currently told that they can’t use a building material superior in every way than flammable wood.

Finally we have horse barns. Given that Rancho is an equestrian community, we have new barns being built all the time. Board and batten is a very common exterior wood style used on barns. Building a stucco and stone barn does happen and these barns are beautiful, but this isn’t the norm. Horses are expensive enough to keep without building them a palace to sleep in.

Discussion

During the meeting, the Board engaged consulting architect Andrew Wright and CDRC President, Shaunna Salzetti-Kahn in discussion. There was no push back on aesthetics or material quality of Hardie Board. The Board’s objections boiled down to legal interpretations of the Covenant and concern that more board and batten construction would be approved if Hardie Board was an allowed material. The chain of thinking is that if only wood is allowed then less buildings with board and batten siding will be built.

The Covenant requires that materials be used “honestly” (see par. 155), generally disallowing use of imitative materials such as metal or wood imitating stone. When the Covenant was written in 1929, imitation materials tended to be less expensive and of poor quality. Today, some materials are indistinguishable from the real natural material and have other advantages such as fire safety, performance, and maintenance. Note that the Covenant’s prohibition on faux materials isn’t absolute – it specifically allows artificial stone (see par. 159), probably because high quality artificial stone was available in 1929.

There is precedent for allowing imitative materials: Shake shingles. Wood shake shingles were banned many years ago in California due to fire risk. The Association Board passed a resolution to allow artificial shingles that look like wood shake shingles, yet are made of concrete or a composite plastic, as long as they meet Rancho Santa Fe aesthetics. This previous Board didn’t have to pass the resolution allowing imitative shake shingles, they could have ignored this problem and forced homeowners to use tile or stone roofing material. But they likely thought that common sense and the lack of legal harm would trump over ruling the Covenant. 

A similar argument could be made regarding Hardie Board. Indeed, the legal exposure to the Association appears to favor allowing Hardie Board rather than disallowing it. By forcing homeowners to use wood rather than Hardie Board, the Association leaves itself open to a lawsuit should member’s structure burn down in the next wild fire by forcing the homeowner to use a known hazardous material rather than an aesthetically identical but fire safe material. Meanwhile no one is actually harmed by allowing Hardie Board thus making the likelihood of a legal challenge to allowing it close to nil.

From an aesthetic perspective, do we even want board and batten construction? As mentioned before, not on an entire house, no. But there are places where it makes sense to break up big flat stucco areas with either board and batten (vertical shadows) or shiplap (horizontal shadows), especially in California Ranch architecture. Barns are another example. By functional necessity, they have small windows resulting in big blank walls. Breaking up such massing with board and batten makes it look better. 

Your Input Please

Rick Sapp, new Board President, specifically wanted to have a far ranging discussion about this issue at the Board meeting. He told me that he wanted to get information about this out to the members and get their feedback. The Board made a quick decision back in March to disallow Hardie Board which provided no time for either member or CDRC input. This time he wants the reconsideration of this to proceed with input from Members.

So! Please provide input. Even if it’s to say something like “I don’t care”, it is valuable input. You can provide input by any one or more of these methods:

Footnotes:

Excerpts from the Protective Covenant:

Par. 155. (c) Materials, color and forms must be used honestly, actually expressing what they are, and not imitating other materials (such as tin, tile, wood and sheet metal, shamming stone, etc.), as for instance, wood being treated frankly as wood and not in imitation of stone, wherever it is used. 

Par. 159. Materials: Plaster, adobe or stucco exterior wall surfaces of a durable construction or concrete, stone or an approved artificial stone are to be preferred. Texture and finish of plaster or exterior to be approved by the Art Jury for each individual case.