Vinyl Siding: It Is What It Is

You’ve probably seen a bunch of alternatives, including the many different brands of vinyl siding.

Like everything, siding evolves. And 35 years ago, if you asked someone about siding, chances are they would’ve mentioned aluminum siding. Right now it’s a cultural cliché, thanks in small part to the movie Tin Men, which featured characters, self-described Tin Men, who sell aluminum siding for a living. So driven are they to sell a siding job, they’ll say or do anything. No lie is too extravagant.

Today aluminum siding’s about 1% of the siding market. What replaced it? Vinyl. Like aluminum, vinyl is the low-cost alternative to pulling everything off the wall and re-placing it with new and better cladding. Instead you just nail plastic panels on top of what’s there. So down came aluminum and up went vinyl. I know, I used to sell it.

If you’re really hard up for money, that has obvious appeal. But it’s not the whole story. If you want the whole story, find the documentary film Blue Vinyl on YouTube, where you’ll learn that this polyvinyl chloride has been found to cause rare forms of liver cancer in workers at plants where it was produced. On top of that it looks like what it is, a petroleum product mimicking wood. Of course vinyl’s proponents counter that there is this thing called “high-end vinyl.” Vinyl engineered to a thickness that it actually mimics wood. It’s still polychloride.

If I still haven’t convinced you, here’s the other thing. Siding is your first line of defense against the elements (well, the second, after your roof). And it’s hit with rain, snow, sleet, hail, every form of precipitation. It’s also subject to temperature. It expands when warm, contracts when cold. With most siding materials—say wood or fiber cement—the expansion/contraction is minimal. Not so with vinyl. Vinyl moves. It expands and contracts like nobody’s business. It has the highest expansion/contraction rate of any exterior material. Four years ago I took a course from the Vinyl Siding Institute and became certified as a vinyl siding installer. Most of what we learned was how to install to compensate for product movement. Where you cut the J-channl, where to cut panels, and temperatures to cut at.

And vinyl siding fades. Since the color is dyed into the product. It never looks authentic. So it’s uniform throughout. Until the sun hits it.

When people tell me they’re thinking about putting on vinyl, I ask how long they plan to be in the house. The lifespan of vinyl siding is about 15 years. If you’re going to be there for 25 years, you’re probably going to end up replacing it.

About Mike Damora

Mike Damora is vice president of sales and marketing at K&B Home Remodelers, in Randolph, N.J. You can follow him on Twitter @madamoracatch him on Drift.