Hardie Board is almost synonymous with fiber cement siding, but when it comes to designing a large panelized system, Nichiha seems like the best choice. James Hardie does make a panel system that can be used in conjunction with Fry Reglet aluminum trim, but installation requires a level of craftsmanship that is often lacking on the jobsite.
The standard fiber cement panels offered by Hardie, Certainteed and others are about 5/16” thick and nailed directly through the wall sheathing and into the studs. This is derived from the standard lap siding detail, where each horizontal plank is nailed along its top edge and then covered by the plank above. This overlap hides the fasteners and helps shed water, but in a panelized system, there is a reveal between panels without overlap, revealing all fasteners and exposing them to water. Panels are typically cut in the field to the appropriate size, usually resulting in less than ideal edges at the reveals. This condition can be hidden with trim, but aesthetically this looks like something out of the Elizabethan era; not the refined appearance I am looking for.
Until recently, there weren’t very many ways one could create a panelized façade: use metal panels a la Richard Meier, laminate panels such as Trespa or Prodema, or the less than stellar fiber cement option. Nichiha now makes a system that improves on the standard fiber cement system without breaking the budget. I guess it has been available for almost 2 years now, but I had my first look at the Illumination Series and was very impressed. Panels are 18” tall and up to six feet in length. They interlock at the top and bottom, providing a nice clean joint. The surface is very smooth and will take a gloss paint finish. The panels are twice as thick as Hardie Panel and installed with clip fasteners hidden from view. Very nice.
If the cost is too high for the Nichiha panels, I would forego the panelized look altogether and stick with the standard lap seam siding.