There are a variety of barn siding options available. Many older barns have wood siding, but newer barns have metal, vinyl or plywood siding. These products are applied vertically or horizontally. When you consider barn siding options, factor in the cost, durability and appearance of the material, according to Monte Burch (see Reference 1).
Traditionally, the most common type of barn siding was board siding. The boards consisted of cedar, pine, hemlock, spruce or oak. Builders found it easier and cheaper to cover structures vertically, according to Nick Engler (see Reference 2). As millwork companies found new ways to cut boards, vertical siding styles evolved to include board-on-board, board-and-batten, tongue-and-rabbet and shiplap. Before long, builders began to apply horizontal siding in weatherboard and clapboard styles. Today, board siding is reserved for small barns and restoration projects. Lumber costs make genuine board siding one of the more expensive barn siding options, yet it remains the standard for many simulated wood siding products.
The most popular siding for modern barns is metal. This form of siding has been on the market for years. The problem with early metal siding was that it tended to rust if left unpainted. Now metal manufacturers make siding with a baked-on color coating to protect against rust. The corrugated sheets of aluminum or steel range from 34 to 38 inches wide and 6 to 12 feet long, with vertical folds every 2 ½ inches. The sheets are easy to cut and install. Metal siding can provide the look of a traditional barn without the maintenance. The downside is that metal siding creases easily.
Plywood sheathing also ranks high among popular barn siding options, especially for smaller structures. Builders like plywood because it is cheaper than board siding in many parts of the country. It is easy to install because it comes in 4 by 8 foot sheets that attach to the frame. The most common grade of plywood used for barn siding is T-1 11. It is milled to mimic wood board siding on one side. Although plywood is bonded with waterproof glue, it must be painted to prevent moisture from getting into the wood. Moisture causes plywood to swell, shrink and warp. The expansion and contraction leads to cracks even in a painted surface, which makes the plywood vulnerable to rot.
Vinyl siding is a decorative type of barn siding. It is molded in strips to look like clapboard siding. Vinyl is less expensive than wood siding and a little easier to install. It requires trim and special hardware to attach the strips to a structure. Like metal, vinyl has a baked-on paint coating that comes in a variety of colors. However, vinyl does not provide structural support. Consider this deficit when factoring the cost of materials; you will need to reinforce the barn or add the vinyl to existing siding.
Another type of traditional barn siding is called wooden shingle. Manufacturers mill various grades from western red cedar, northern white cedar or redwood. Most barns take 24-inch shingles, but 16- and 18-inch sizes are available (see Resource 1). The shingle's quality depends on its width, depth and grain direction. For example, wider shingles with thick ends warp less than narrow shingles with thin ends. Quality shingle siding can last for generations, but it's costly and labor intensive to install. Builders must sheath the walls, then attach the shingles individually. Many builders use shingle paneling as a cheaper and easier alternative. The 8-foot plywood-backed panels come pre-stained and go on much more quickly.