Exterior Cladding: Vinyl Siding

There are many different types of cladding or covering for the exterior of homes that give them their particular style and appeal.  Different cladding types have their own particular pros and cons, as well as maintenance issues.  Here are some facts and tips for homeowners whose homes have vinyl siding.

Homeowners, remodeling contractors and builders often choose vinyl siding as an alternative to wood and aluminum because it’s attractive, durable, easy to maintain, and cost-effective.  Vinyl siding is made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and is often textured to resemble wood or stone in a variety of colors.  Vinyl siding came into use as an exterior cladding in the late 1950s.  Today, it’s the most common choice for exterior cladding.

Advantages:

  • Vinyl siding is very durable.
  • It will last for decades when properly installed and maintained.
  • It will not fade.
  • It will not rust.
  • The outer layer contains pigment that adds color to the siding and resists breakdown from UV radiation from sunlight.  If scratched, the siding will reveal the same color as the unscratched exterior, so minor imperfections are not too noticeable.
  • As long as the siding has been properly installed, maintenance is very simple, limited mostly to spray-washing once a year or whenever necessary.

Disadvantages:

  • In extreme weather conditions, vinyl siding is susceptible to damage, as is any other type of siding.
  • In severe cold, vinyl siding can become brittle and more susceptible to cracking.
  • Extreme heat can also cause vinyl to melt or distort.  There are reported cases of sunlight reflected from nearby windows that has caused vinyl siding to warp and melt.
  • Vinyl siding is not a form of insulation—it is simply an exterior cladding.  However, some salespeople misrepresent this fact with claims that new siding will aid energy efficiency.  This is only true for siding that includes special insulating inserts or backings—not to the vinyl siding itself.
  • Vinyl siding is not a watertight covering, so check the inside occasionally for water intrusion if you’ve experienced heavy weather.
  • If a fire occurs, vinyl siding will melt or burn and may release toxic chemicals, making the situation more dangerous for the home’s occupants.  Some green advocates believe that PVC itself can have a negative impact on health, and there is much debate about these claims.

Tips for Homeowners:

  • Properly installed panels and accessories should move freely from side to side.
  • Drainage holes or slots in horizontal vinyl siding allow water behind the siding to drain and should not be covered or caulked.
  • Ripples in the siding can result from stapling or nailing through the face of the siding, which is an incorrect installation.  Distortion and buckling of panels may be caused by fasteners that were not driven straight and level.  If this happens, the homeowner should consult their builder’s warranty.
  • Exterior lights and other features should not be attached directly to the vinyl siding.  They should be secured to mounting blocks instead, since fasteners penetrating the siding will restrict the siding’s natural expansion and contraction.  Always use corrosion-resistant fasteners for any exterior installation.
  • Power-wash the exterior as often as necessary.
  • Check the condition of vinyl gutters and downspouts at least once a year.  While vinyl siding can last for 60 years, gutters and downspouts last around half as long, when properly installed and maintained.