Fiber-cement siding has been dramatically increasing in popularity. It DOES require painting, and it's not totally "maintenance-free," like vinyl siding. But, a paint job lasts longer than it generally would on wood siding. Also, the material is very durable and resists moisture and insect damage.
If you've ever installed wood lap siding, many of the same techniques are used to install fiber-cement lap siding. To push the bottom of the first course out to the proper angle you need some sort of starter strip. 1/4-inch wood lathe is usually used for this.
The top of each piece of siding is lined up to a chalk line to keep the spacing even and consistent around the house. Drive galvanized siding nails through the top of the piece into every stud. The head of the nail should sit on the surface of the siding. If the nail gets countersunk below the surface it won't hold as well. Pneumatic nailers can be adapted to drive the nails to the proper depth.
Each row overlaps the row below it, as with wood lap siding. For fiber-cement siding, you need to choose an exposure (the amount of each row that shows) that creates at least a 1-½" overlap. This covers up the nails in each row. (This is known as blind nailing.)
The material can be cut with a special scoring tool, or with a carbide-tipped blade in a circular saw. But the coolest way to cut it is with a special electric shearing tool.
Corners, windows, and doors can be dressed with 1" thick fiber-cement trim boards. (Some siding lines come with 7/16" trim. This should be furred out for thicker trim pieces.)
You should caulk any gaps between the siding and the trim pieces. We also like to caulk the butt joints where two pieces of siding meet. To get the best paint job, use a high-quality, paintable latex caulk.
Installing Fiber-Cement Shingles
Lap siding can be installed over foam or cellulose wall sheathing (since you always nail into the wall studs). When you're putting up fiber-cement shingles nailing into the studs isn't always possible, so the wall sheathing needs to be at least 7/16" OSB or plywood.
The shingles are 18" long, which allows a maximum exposure of 8 inches. They're blind nailed, and the nails should be positioned so that the row above will come down at least 1" below the nail heads. As with lap siding, the nails have to be driven snug, but not countersunk.
The shingles come in different widths (6", 8" and 12" are typical) which should be mixed together randomly. However, it's important that the joints between shingles on each row are at least 1½" away from the joints on the row below it.
The look of individual shingles can also be created with shingle panels which are typically 48" wide.
Installing Fiber-Cement Soffits and Roof Trim
Fiber-Cement material, which you can get in 4x8 sheets of ¼", can be ripped into pieces for the underside of the soffits. You can even work in continuous soffit vents --there's a special type of vent that's designed to work with fiber-cement soffit material.
You can use the same trim pieces that you used for corner boards and window trim for fascia and frieze boards. At the tops of walls, we like to use the frieze boards to cover the nails and the top edges of the shingles or siding.