Vinyl House Siding: Pros and Cons

Contemporary home showing siding, roof, and gutters
Gregory Horne / Getty Images

Vinyl siding is inexpensive, easy to obtain, popular, quick to install, and simple to maintain. All of these strong features point toward vinyl siding as the ideal cladding solution for your home. Or is it? On the flip side, vinyl siding is prone to breakage, cannot be painted, and often will lower your home's resale value. Before you make the choice to install vinyl house siding, learn all about its strong points and its drawbacks.

Pros

Vinyl Siding Does Not Need Painting

Nearly every siding material other than vinyl is coated with a color layer. Vinyl siding is unique in that its color is baked-in. Vinyl siding's color is 100 percent homogeneous: the color on top runs all the way through. This means that the color cannot be mechanically abraded, scratched off, or stripped. If you abhor the idea of exterior house painting, this is vinyl siding's strongest point. Vinyl siding never needs painting.

Vinyl Siding Is Inexpensive

Few siding materials are less expensive than vinyl siding. On a materials-only basis, fiber-cement siding can cost two to four times more than vinyl siding. As an example, 24 pieces of 4 1/2-inch by 145-inch ship lap horizontal vinyl siding, grey, will cost in the $150 to $200 range. Comparably-sized shiplap fiber-cement siding will cost at least twice as much. Vinyl siding will nearly always be your cheapest home siding option.

Vinyl Siding Is Low Maintenance

Vinyl siding's slick surface means that dust, cobwebs, and other debris slide off relatively easily when sprayed down with a garden hose. Because there is no paint to peel, you will never have to scrape, patch, prime, and paint your house's exterior surface.

Cons

Installation Is Simple but Not Fool-Proof

Once you have purchased vinyl siding, you can install it yourself, but most people rely on a contractor. Since vinyl siding's effectiveness depends on proper installation, a shoddy job means even worse troubles in the long-term. If your siding is nailed too tightly, it will expand, crack, bulge, or warp. Construction warranties often last only one year, and the product warranty may be voided by faulty installation. Not every contractor has invested in proper training and certification, which is loosely regulated and expensive.

Vinyl Siding Can Result in Other Maintenance Issues

Manufacturers often advertise that high-quality siding lasts about 20 to 30 years. However, depending on your climate, the siding might actually begin to show its age after only 10 to 15 years. Vinyl siding, especially dark siding, begins to fade in sunny climates. Painting is a poor option for reviving the color since the paint will likely peel and crack after a short time. Pressure washing can be disastrous if water enters your house through cracks and crevices around the siding.

Siding planks often split or break due to the expansion and contraction caused by temperature changes. If a lawnmower sends a rock flying at your house, it may pierce the siding. Vinyl siding cannot be patched; the entire plank must be replaced.

Vinyl Siding May Lower Your Home's Value

On the front end, it does make financial sense to cover your old, peeling wood siding with fresh inexpensive vinyl siding. However, this addition can lower its value. If your home is historically significant, vinyl siding can devastate your home's value.

Architecturally, vinyl siding tends to flatten the exterior of a home. Special molding and trim are obscured, resulting in a two-dimensional look. Since many home buyers regard vinyl siding as inferior, it may result in lower offers for your home if you should decide to sell.

Vinyl Siding May Permit Moisture Below the Surface

The main purpose of cladding, like roofing, is to keep water out of your house. Wood siding and other traditional cladding materials allow the wall to breathe; water vapor may move through the wall construction, but it can escape during colder weather. However, vinyl siding is typically installed over a layer of styrene insulation board, which may trap the water vapor within the cavity of the wall.

Water also enters the wall cavity through gaps at the edge of siding if it is not caulked. Vinyl siding must be able to move independently of the wall surface. While a water-resistant house wrap is typically installed under the siding, it is punctured by nails during the installation process, contributing to leaks. The moisture can rot the wood structure of your home, not to mention that decaying wood invites termites and mold.

Vinyl Siding Manufacturing Is Bad for the Environment

While vinyl siding can help builders earn LEED points, the US Green Building Council has declined to support a credit specific to vinyl use. Vinyl siding is primarily composed of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and the manufacturing process produces greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxide and carcinogens including dioxin. Another by-product of vinyl siding manufacture is sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain and smog. In addition, this process requires vast amounts of electricity.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains strict workplace exposure limits for employees in vinyl siding plants. As vinyl siding ages, it continues to release low levels of the same harmful chemicals that were produced during the manufacturing process. Studies are inconclusive as to whether applying vinyl siding to homes causes health problems for residents. However, if your house catches fire, the siding will release high levels of lethal chemical vapors. Many people die from these fumes in house fires before succumbing to smoke inhalation.

Recycling post-consumer PVC is both difficult and expensive. Recycling plastic typically means polyethylene terephthalate (PETE), the type used to make soda bottles and other household products. Most recycling centers will not accept items containing PVC. Once siding arrives at the landfill, it is usually burned. According to the EPA, PVC incineration is the largest known source of dioxin emissions in the United States.