Should you get vinyl siding?
Vinyl siding is an increasingly popular option for both new construction and renovation — and for good reason. If you haven’t at least considered vinyl siding for your home, you might want to start now.
Once upon a time, vinyl — which is technically polyvinyl chloride, or PVC — was looked down on for a number of reasons: It was prone to yellowing or fading when exposed to the elements for long periods of time. It could warp or buckle, particularly in hotter climates, and it could exacerbate problems with moisture trapped in the walls.
But these days, the quality of most vinyl is significantly higher than in the days of yore. Any vinyl siding that you purchase today is much less likely to experience problems with fading, yellowing, buckling, or moisture-trapping.
Even aesthetic concerns have been addressed by modern vinyl manufacturers. Some homeowners hesitate to cover up the architectural details of their house with what amounts to plastic wrapping, so makers of vinyl created low-gloss finishes and even realistic wood-grain textures to simulate the appearance of painted wood.
In fact, you might be looking at a vinyl-sided house and not even know it. Take a closer look at your neighbors’ houses: Vinyl siding is identifiable by the corners. While shingles and clapboard typically have either a trim piece that’s flush with the siding itself or mitered corners, vinyl will have cap pieces on the outer and inner corners that cover the panel edges.
You might find that you like the look of vinyl more than you thought.
Important considerations for vinyl siding
Economics of vinyl
One of the reasons vinyl has become so popular is that it just makes good economic sense.
The average price of vinyl siding is somewhere between $3 and $6 per square foot. Compare that to other common siding options:
- Pine, spruce, and fir siding has an average cost of $5 to $6 per square foot
- Cedar siding has an average cost of $6 to $7 per square foot
- Redwood siding has an average cost of $6 to $9 per square foot
Besides being cheaper than most types of clapboard, vinyl can also save money in maintenance costs. With wood siding, you can expect to repaint your home once every five years or so. If you’re hiring professional painters each time your siding needs a fresh coat of paint, those costs can add up significantly over time. Vinyl has pigment all the way through (not just on the top layer), so you’ll never have to worry about the color flaking off.
Effect on the value of your house
Particularly if you’re remodeling your home with plans to sell it in the near future, you’ll want to consider how vinyl siding will affect the house’s value.
In most cases, re-siding your home with vinyl will increase the value. But there are a few exceptions. One such exception is if you live in a historic home, especially one with a lot of architectural detail that will be covered up by vinyl.
If your neighborhood is primarily made up of older homes, vinyl might not be the best option. Being the only house on the street with vinyl siding will almost certainly diminish how much you can get for the property.
When in doubt, check with a local realtor. They’ll be able to advise you about how the addition of vinyl siding impacts value in your specific location.
Potential to hide damage
Although there are a lot of benefits to this type of siding, one important drawback to keep in mind is vinyl’s potential to hide damage lurking beneath.
When you have painted wood siding, peeling or chipping can serve as important indicators that something is wrong under the surface. With vinyl siding, however, you won’t get any of those visible signs of trouble.
Because this type of siding will hide clues about the state of your home, it’s critical that any problems — such as structural defects, moisture retention issues, or leaks in the piping — are addressed before you go through with vinyl installation.
Ultimately, whether you decide to get vinyl siding comes down to personal preference. If you’re remodeling your own home, you can expect to be looking at that siding for a long time, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re really ready to commit to vinyl before you invest.
How do you get the best vinyl installation?
If you’re ready to start shopping for vinyl siding, there are a few decisions you’ll need to make:
- Width: Vinyl siding comes in single panels with an 8-inch width, as well as panels divided into two side-by-side widths of 5 inches, or three widths of 3 inches each.
- Configuration: You can choose between horizontal and vertical configurations. Vertical panels often complement modern designs. For more traditional designs, horizontal panels are probably the way to go.
- Texture: Standard vinyl is smooth and untextured. If you prefer a more natural look, go for textured panels that simulate the grain of rough-sawn wood.
- Color: Don’t worry about limitations here — vinyl is available in dozens of color options. You’ll be spoiled for choice.
- Accessories: In addition to siding, you’ll want to consider vinyl soffits, window trim, and other elements to complete the new look.
Looking at the specs
First and foremost: Before you purchase any vinyl, be sure that it meets the American Society of Testing and Materials’ Standard 3679. Check the packaging or product fact sheet for indications that the product adheres to this minimum standard.
Once you’ve verified that the product is ASTM-approved, you’ll want to make sure it meets a few other specifications:
- Warranty: Warranties are a good indicator of how much confidence a manufacturer has in their product. For vinyl siding, expect a warranty of at least 50 years. Some warranties can even be transferred to the next homeowner. (Keep in mind there are a number of possible caveats: For instance, warranties typically only cover the vinyl itself, not the installation labor. Some warranties are prorated, meaning that the company will pay less as you get farther from the date of purchase.)
- Thickness: ASTM Standard 3679 requires a minimum thickness of 0.035 inches, but you’re better off avoiding any siding with a thickness of less than 0.040 inches. A thickness of 0.045 inches is ideal. For soffits, you’ll want a bit more thickness to avoid sagging. Look for at least 0.05 inches.
- Anti-weathering treatment: Each manufacturer will have a unique method of treating their vinyl to protect against wear from the elements. Don’t be afraid to get in contact with the manufacturer or dealer — they might not list exactly what they use to treat their vinyl, but they should be able to explain how their products will stand up to weather damage if you ask.
Why installation is so important
Finding a dependable contractor for the installation of your vinyl siding is a critical step in the process. You don’t want to entrust this task to just anyone: The best vinyl in the world can easily turn into a disaster if it’s improperly installed.
Vinyl expands and contracts depending on temperature. If it’s installed by inexperienced contractors who don’t account for this variation, the siding is almost guaranteed to warp over time.
There are a number of ways to deal with this property of vinyl. One is to leave a small amount of clearance where the panel reaches a corner of the house or meets a door or window. This clearance should be at least 0.25 inches in most cases. If the vinyl is being installed during the winter months when the temperature is below freezing, the clearance should be at least 0.375 inches.
Good contractors can take other steps to account for vinyl’s variable nature. For example, the top of each panel will have a thin row of slots. Experienced siding installers will place the nail in the center of the slot with a small clearance — roughly 0.03 inches — between the panel and the nail head, allowing room for the vinyl to move and expand in higher temperatures.
Hiring the right contractor
Before you hire a contractor, you’ll definitely want to read up on their reviews from previous customers. And if you want to do some field research, check out one or two houses in your local area that the contractor worked on in the past. That’ll give you a clear idea of the quality of their work.
There are a couple of key things to keep an eye out for. One is carefully aligned panels. If the contractor has done their job well, the panels will line up precisely around corners and across doors and windows.
You’ll also want to check for the use of high-quality nails. This is a good indicator of the contractor’s commitment to the longevity of their work. To avoid corrosion, nails should be hot-dipped galvanized or aluminum.
Finally, pay attention to the finishing details. Neat application of caulk and precise placement of J-channels for panel ends prove that the contractor is careful down to the last detail.
If you get the chance to visit a house that the contractor is currently working on, you’ll be able to check for tape over the joints between rigid insulation panels. This is an important step for improving insulation and maximizing savings on your energy bill.
Be sure to look at how they left the job site, too: A clean, safe work space, with no debris or tools left lying around, says a lot about the contractor’s professionalism.