When we think of the “curb appeal” of a home in a general sense, we tend to think of the first things someone sees when driving up: the front porch, the yard, the lawn, the white picket fence, etc. However, your home’s exterior is not only part of the “pretty face” of your property, but also serves a much higher calling: to be the “shell” that offers protection for the house itself and comfort for its occupants.
That being said, when building a new home, there are endless exterior materials to choose from, with a broad palette of colors and textures (and price ranges). When I’m building someone a custom home, an interesting relationship is formed: the client plays the part of the creative, dreaming, free-spirit while I play my cold, dispassionate, number-crunching self. It’s a love story; we’ll call it “Passion and Practicality” (hardly Tolstoy, but a much shorter read).
Through the home design process, I’ll meet multiple times with the client, and we’ll discuss the delicate balance of needs vs. wants; and we’ll hash out square footage, design features, architectural styles, and more. I’m a form-follows-function kind of builder, so no matter how much my client wants to focus on appearance first, I run every notion through my “practical filter.” This process creates a healthy marriage: we work together, and somehow in the end, we’re able to find middle ground—thus a conceptual design is born.
To that end, when creating a decision path for the selection of a home’s exterior materials I ask the following questions early on:
1) What are the greatest practical needs for the home’s shell?
2) What combination of materials would achieve the desired design?
When considering any building product, the first criterion that must be satisfied is quality, and on multiple levels. During this process, I take on the perspective of vacuum inventor James Dyson, who said, “I just think things should work properly.”
Only after a product survives my magnifying glass of scrutiny regarding structural integrity, longevity, and ease of maintenance can it become a viable option for a home’s exterior. Over the past 16 years, clients I’ve built homes for have chosen many different types of exterior materials, including stucco, brick, stone, fiber cement siding, corrugated metal, shingles, logs, and even copper siding.
Generally in my experience and opinion, the best kinds of building products are those that age well, and those are often either natural materials or products that mimic natural materials. No matter what building product you end up using, it’s imperative to keep in mind that it will age and become weathered. Unlike the wood floor in your kitchen or the paint on your bedroom wall, what you put on the exterior of your house has no protection against the elements. We should not be surprised when time takes its toll by asking “Who knew that my beautiful siding would fade?!”
In the mountains of Colorado—where I live and build— the direct sunlight is so intense that over time, it can destroy many things no matter how many UV inhibitors a product has. Other regions have similar challenges; in humid areas, mold and mildew take their toll; in coastal cities, the salty air causes rust; up north, long winter freezes can stress a variety of building products. The more natural you go in your material selection, however, the less it matters as it fades or ages—it’s something we’re used to seeing on a daily basis in the environment around us.
Actually, to the extent that aging and fading are a certainty, we should expect and even embrace it. Your home’s “pretty face” might look young and fresh when first built, but if you pick your materials and finishes well, an aged exterior might not look so bad. Consider Sean Connery, a weathered, enduring soul approaching 85-years-old; some would argue his face has only gotten better with age.
A new home may not have much curb appeal when first built: the saplings in the yard need time to grow and provide shade, the grass seed needs time to sprout, etc. The last thing you want is to look back 20 years later and see a dilapidated house exterior just as the rest of your property is coming into its prime. A good builder should try to look into the future, and aim to give the home beauty that lasts not just today, but hopefully for future generations. In this way, homes should be like a good read of the classics—timeless, enduring, and inspiring.
Andy Stauffer is the President and owner of Stauffer and Sons Construction. He may be reached at www.staufferandsons.com.