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Vinyl Siding

Vinyl siding is relatively new. It was introduced in the late 1950s as a substitute for aluminum siding. Ongoing changes in the product's chemistry and installation techniques have improved its performance tremendously and furthered its acceptance by builders and homeowners.

A mid-grade vinyl costs approximately $1.60 per square foot to install (not including the trim). The installed price of mid-grade cedar clapboard, without the trim and paint is about 2.5 times higher. Some premium vinyl sidings can cost about the same as the best grade of cedar, but the cost is still lower for vinyl because it goes up faster and doesn't need painting.

Some are attracted to plastic siding because of reduced maintenance. Some people just simply do not like to or have time to paint.

New, so-called virgin vinyl siding has more of the key additives that make it more flexible and resistant to UV degradation. Most siding is made with a core of re-melted vinyl then top-coated with virgin material.

A thin panel, or one without any support, is likely to sag over time. The thicker sidings tend to be stiffer, and are more resistant to sagging, but stiffness depends on other characteristics as well. Panels that have a folded-over, doubled nailing hem and a deep profile tend to be stiffer than others, as do ones with narrow “clapboards”. Some claim that thicker siding is more impact resistant. Test results however suggest that impact resistance has more to do with chemical makeup rather than thickness. Unfortunately, this information is not available to consumers wanting to compare products. Thinner, less-stiff sidings can also be blown off a house in high winds.

Vinyl siding hangs from nails which are driven through horizontal slots at the top of a nailing hem. The reason for the loose nailing is due to the vinyl's need to expand or contract when the temperature changes. If nailed tight to a wall, it will buckle on hot days. The nail heads should be left 1/32 of an inch shy of touching the plastic. However, if the vinyl is left to loose it will shift in the wind. Vinyl should not be butted tight to trim either to allow for movement. Installers usually leave about 1/4 inch (3/8 inch in temperatures below 40°F) at the end of panel courses at corners, doors and windows then a trim piece called J-channel covers the resulting gap. Other trim pieces, made by manufacturers, include soffits, rake boards, and crown moldings. These help improve the appearance of an installation.

Vinyl panels must be overlapped by about 1 inch wherever they meet, this results in vertical lines. The thicker the vinyl is, the more obvious the overlap. Compounding the problem, most vinyl siding panels are molded to represent double or triple widths of clapboards. This orientation slashes installation time, but it also makes panel overlaps more visible. A good installer will orient overlaps so the seams are not seen well from the dominant views.

Vinyl siding is less likely than wood to trap moisture due to tiny weep holes in the butts of the panels and because it is hung loosely allowing air to move behind it. Make sure however that your siding contractor installs flashing and house wrap or builder's felt, just as he would under wood siding.

Getting a qualified installer is important. Ask installers for their certifications. Most large manufacturers certify installers in proper installation techniques. Also ask for names of satisfied customers. In addition, check complaint lists established with local and state business associations and state contractor licensing boards.
Vinyl should be washed periodically to remove mold, mildew, dirt, and chalky oxidation. The Vinyl Siding Institute suggests mixing 1/3 cup laundry detergent, 2/3 cup powdered household cleaner, 1 quart liquid laundry bleach, and 1 gallon water. Brush it on, working from the bottom up, and gently hose it off. Don’t use a power washer on vinyl siding, the high-pressure equipment can drive water behind the panels.

Repairing damaged panels is simple. Unhook the damaged piece from the ones above and below, pull out the nails. Snap in a new panel, nail, and re-hook it. A problem is matching the replacement to the surrounding pieces, which are faded. One solution is to use a panel from a less noticeable spot on the house, replace the broken piece then use a new one in the less noticeable spot.
Vinyl siding will fade. After 10 or 15 years, the change can be significant. When that happens, it is possible to paint over the vinyl. (Check with the manufacturer first; many companies void the warranty if siding is painted.) Wash the siding first, and use latex paint, it will flex with the vinyl's movement. Because dark colors absorb more heat than lighter ones they cause panels to expand and buckle you can’t use darker colors. Your best option might be to get close to the original color of the siding.

If you are thinking about having your old architecturally ornate house re-sided you should find a contractor who specializes in old-houses, not just in vinyl siding. Insist that all the architectural details remain in place. They should Run J-channel around the ornate details and butt the siding into it. It takes more time and money to do it this way so a proper paint job may make more sense.

Sometimes, vinyl siding jobs are sold to “tighten up” the house and reduce energy bills. The installers normally nail up a layer of foil-faced foam before the vinyl goes up. The foam panels are only 3/8 inch thick and don't add much R-value. You are probably better off packing the walls with blow-in cellulose. Some vinyl siding is being made now that are foam backed and add more R value. This, in combination with the foil faced foam, may insulate enough to make a difference but it will also cost more.
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