The Search for Smart House Siding

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

For our house project, we are constantly looking for materials and products that we call “smart”. Today, smart often means something electronic, like a doorbell or light switch. In this case, smart means something different to us. We want our house to be made from sustainable materials that last multiple decades, are resistant to rot, and require very low maintenance. The dream is to identify beautiful products that last. To us, that’s smart.

From the beginning, we liked the idea of the house having a dark exterior, maybe even black. The idea of a dark, modern home, set in the pacific northwest woods seemed perfect. It’s easy enough to paint a house black, but we started to look into other options.

If you picture a Japanese village in your mind, you’re likely to imagine buildings with a dark brown or black appearance, with a lot of character. This appearance, comes, in part, from an ancient Japanese method of charring wood to make it more resilient. The final product is called “yakisugi” or “shou sugi ban”. The Japanese found that charring the wood gave a unique character that made it last longer. Today, people all over the world are using the same method for their homes.

Charring the wood does a few things.

  • It dries the wood and removes the carbohydrates that attract bugs, making it more bug resistant
  • It creates a fire-resistant barrier
  • It strengthens the boards
  • It reduces maintenance because it never needs to be painted. Over time, the wood remains strong even as appearance ages and takes on a patina as the underlying wood shows through.
  • It creates a look that’s both rustic and contemporary

We looked at composite siding like Hardie but felt it looked conventional and required painting. We started to ask around and found a company in Oregon called Nakamoto Forestry that specializes in yakisugi siding for a price comparable to Hardie. In talking to them, it became clear we’d found the product and source we needed.

A couple of weeks ago, the siding arrived on site. It was packaged in what could be described as a Japanese level of care, with each set of boards wrapped in wax paper, all stacked perfectly. The delivery person said it was the best packing they had ever seen.

One of Two Pallets

The process we chose was “gendai”, which means that after the wood is charred, it is brushed once. The wood itself is Japanese cypress or “sugi”, which Nakamoto claims is the only species that should be used. We chose the shiplap style board. Once the siding arrived we got our first look and it matched our expectations. It was black, with the character of charred wood.

For now, the siding is patiently waiting in the garage as the exterior is being prepared. In a matter of weeks, it will be applied and we’ll get to see it in action. I think the sugiyaki is going to be beautiful and smart for a long time into the future.

Here’s my amateur 3d model of how we expect it to look:

To see more posts about the house project, check out the house category.

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