What Is a Clapboard House?

A clapboard house is covered in wooden horizontal siding, called clapboards. The wood siding is thick on one edge and narrow on the other. Clapboard was the predominant type of siding used in 17th- and 18th-century America.

The word “clapboard” is derived from the Dutch word “klappen,” meaning “to split.” Clapboard siding is also called bevel siding or lap siding because one board overlaps the board below it. Lapping protects the interior of the house and its occupants from weather conditions, so clapboards are also called “weatherboards.”

Clapboards were originally nailed to standard two-by-four exterior framing, and mud was added to keep insects and moisture out. Now a moisture barrier is installed between the frame and the clapboard. Many early colonial houses used clapboards, and in New England, these houses are still called “Saltbox Colonials” because of their distinctive weathered look.

Beginning in the 1900s, aluminum, vinyl and other more weather-resistant materials replaced clapboard siding. Clapboards require regular painting and are more expensive to apply than other materials. Although clapboard homes are initially beautiful and charming, insects, rot, warping and splitting eventually detract from the overall appearance of the home. The once-beautiful wood loses its detail, and the homes appear less charming and more weathered.