Although bark-covered structures date back millenniums in some societies, the first appearance of a neatly squared bark building shingle – from American chestnut trees – dates back to 1895 in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Architect Henry Bacon, who also designed the Lincoln Memorial, invented the style at the resort community of Linville, N.C., where he used hand-trimmed slabs of two-inch-thick chestnut bark to cover homes. Some of those summer homes are still in use today, the exteriors untreated in any way.
When chestnut blight wiped out the main source of bark in the early 20th century, bark houses were no longer built. But in the past two decades, bark shingles have made a comeback, now almost exclusively in poplar.
“It’s fantastic, it’s local, it’s durable, it’s cool,” says Matt Siegel, green building director at the Western North Carolina Green Building Council in Asheville. But he cites the price of the shingles as a possible deterrent to increased use and says that installation takes more time.
Bark shingles can cost twice as much as conventional cedar siding, but the upfront costs even out over time, experts say.
“Twice the cost upfront sounds like a lot,” says Brent Simmons of Banner Elk, N.C., manager of green programs and sustainable product sales at Mountain Lumber Company. And that can cause homeowners concern. “But if you spread it over many years, the increase is less than 1 percent for the whole cost of the house. It’s a minimal up-charge for something maintenance-free.”