The Stupidity of the Hardie Board Prohibition

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Fiber cement board looks exactly like wood.

At the May 13th board meeting, Sharon Ruhnau made clear that the Association’s prohibition against fiber cement board (Hardie Board is one tradename for it) as a replacement for wood is a legal one. She pointed to this paragraph in 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.

So the theory (and I intentionally call it a theory since all legal arguments are just theories until tested and adjudicated in a court of law) is that since fiber cement board isn’t being used honestly, meaning it isn’t being used as cement fiber board, and is being used to mimic wood, that it is to be prohibited.

That begs the question, what should cement fiber board look like? A concrete block? Board formed concrete? In fact, one of the first applications of fiber cement board was Hardie Board, which happens to look like wood siding. But in what way is that dishonest? Because at the time of manufacture, there weren’t any other uses of fiber cement board. Hardie board is being used honestly since it isn’t changing the look of fiber cement board. Fiber cement board was always intended to look like wood siding.

In addition to this argument, there are many other reasons to think that the board’s position against fiber cement board is hypocritical and untenable.

Inconsistency #1: Marble Columns

This business of getting tied up in knots about faux materials is hypocritical in the extreme since it happens all the time with other materials. Rancho has many houses that have architectural columns. Many of these columns are made to look like stone, but a lot of them aren’t made of stone at all. They are made of lightweight concrete and/or plaster and painted or treated to look like stone or marble. 

Many architectural columns, while made to look like stone, are actually made of concrete or plaster.

Where’s the outrage at this very common construction technique?

Inconsistency #2: Veneers

Many buildings use stone as an exterior material. But using full stone blocks is expensive and results in very thick walls. So instead people use stone veneer. This is stone that has been cut to be an inch or two thick and glued/cemented to a backer board. If installed right (you have to buy/use special corners to not give the game away), it gives the illusion of being made of full stone blocks. 

Are stone veneers being used honestly? Do they express what they are? NO! They pretend to be thick stone blocks but aren’t. 

One of these is veneer ledge stone, while the other is constructed of whole pieces of stone.

But again, no one cares that this is actually against the protective covenant.

Inconsistency #3: Roof Shingles

When the fire department outlawed wooden roof shingles, the Association simply allowed imitation wooden shingles to be used. Was a covenant amendment done to allow this? No. It was simply ignored. Using the fig leaf that county/state law trumps the Covenant, it was allowed.

But wait a second, is there any law that mandates the use of plastic tiles that look like wood? Nope. The law just prohibits wood shingles. There is no law that actually contradicts the Covenant. It was the Association board using some mental jiujitsu that uses a county/state prohibition against wood shingles as a justification for ignoring the Covenant and allowing plastic imitation, faux shingles that look like wood. 

We are actually ignoring a provision in the Covenant with regard to faux wood shingles and there is no county/state law requiring us to do so since there are plenty of other roofing materials that are authentic like slate and clay tile.

Inconsistency #4: Fiber cement board was allowed!

This excuse that the Covenant disallows fiber cement board ignores the fact that it was allowed for decades. Before the board passed the prohibition resolution in 2019, Art Juries sensibly allowed its use and it has been installed on many, many Rancho houses. There was no controversy regarding its use when it was allowed. 

So Why The Special Case Against Fiber Cement Board?

So given all these exceptions and blatant hypocrisy, what’s the real reason the board is against fiber cement board? I can’t read minds any better than you, but my guess is that they simply don’t like architectural styles that use wood exteriors. You can see this in the angst the board has gone through desperately trying to outlaw wood as an exterior material even though there is no such prohibition in the Covenant. In the debate against wood exteriors, they hung their hat on the Covenant saying that wood is not a preferred material, but that isn’t a prohibition. And why isn’t it preferred? Because it doesn’t last and weather as long as stucco. But fiber cement board does last and weather like stucco. Yes, we have achieved truly astounding levels of idiocy here.

Given all the above, the much, much stronger legal argument is that the board way overstepped its bounds by outlawing fiber cement board. Hopefully with two new board members coming up, smarter heads can prevail and reverse one of the board’s worst resolutions and once again allow fiber cement board to be used.