Pros and Cons of Vinyl Siding

Installing Vinyl Siding

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Careful homeowners who do their homework before choosing exterior siding for their new or renovated house will already be aware of vinyl siding. Installing vinyl siding is enticing—especially the prospect of never having to paint your home. Low maintenance is a tempting argument for the busy parent or hard-working family and can sound like a dream. Unlike pine board or cedar, this durable material will not rot or flake. Vinyl is available in several dozen colors and can mimic architectural details that were once made from wood. With these advantages, it is no wonder that vinyl has become one of the most popular siding materials in the United States and is quickly gaining momentum around the world.

Yet, like any other building material, vinyl siding does have its share of disadvantages. Before you install vinyl siding over wood clapboard, cedar shingles, stucco, or brick, consider the entire spectrum of pros and cons.

Pros
  • Through-body color never needs repainting

  • Inorganic material is highly durable, does not rot

  • Economical choice, typically costing less than fiber-cement siding

Cons
  • Can be viewed as a lower-quality material by potential home buyers

  • Can cover up desirable architectural features

  • Health concerns associated with PVC production

Durability

Pros

It is often said that vinyl siding is permanent. It is true that vinyl will last a very long time. Titanium dioxide is often added to the chemical mixture to block UV rays, which deteriorated older vinyl siding. Consumers can purchase different grades of vinyl, both recycled and what is called "virgin," and different thicknesses are available. Like any plastic product, a good quality vinyl siding can be everlasting to the point of indestructible, but only as long as it is well-maintained.

Cons

Vinyl siding's hanging also affects its durability—because it expands, it must be hung loosely. But if it's too loose, wind can get underneath the thin sheets of vinyl siding and lift a panel from the wall. Windblown debris and strong hail can puncture vinyl. New developments have made vinyl stronger and less brittle, but the plastic sheets will still crack or break if struck or pulled at by a lawnmower or snowblower. While vinyl siding overall tends to be cheaper than other types of siding, the multitude of options and choices offered today can make vinyl siding more expensive. So it's not always the lowest-cost alternative to exterior siding.

Life Cycle of Construction Materials

More homeowners are making globally-conscious decisions about the products they use in and on their homes. It is dangerously myopic to look at any type of construction material and focus only on a single aspect of its impact on the earth. Instead, it is necessary to look at several areas: manufacturing, transportation to the worksite, toxicity when in use, and disposal after use.

Pros

PVC can be recycled fairly easily. Exterior materials such as wood clapboard, fiber-cement siding, and asbestos-cement tiles can be difficult and hazardous to recycle. But PVC is a thermoplastic; it takes on new shapes when it is heated. Because of this, PVC can be re-shaped into countless other forms with the mere application of heat.

Cons

Vinyl siding's life cycle is one of many contradictions. The manufacturing process is highly toxic, yet it is very efficient, with little waste in the operation. Vinyl siding requires long haul transportation for delivery to a store or building site. In some cases, vinyl siding makes the longest haul of all: traveling thousands of miles on container ships from one country to another. Even though vinyl siding can be recycled, it is still not a widespread practice. Unless legislation is passed to require recycling, plastic products forever remain in the environment, contaminating the soil or the air if burned.

Tips

  • Vinyl siding should be periodically washed and examined. Its low-maintenance nature often breeds homeowner complacency, leading to neglect.
  • No exterior siding product is the end-all answer to home energy conservation.
  • When pressure-washing vinyl siding, be careful not to inject water under the siding.

Maintenance

Pros

Wood must be painted or stained—vinyl requires no paint, but most can be painted. Vinyl siding's through-body color never needs repainting. It is not exactly true to say that vinyl is maintenance-free, however. To maintain its fresh appearance, vinyl siding should be washed every year. Any non-vinyl elements, such as window sashes and trim, will still require routine painting, and ladders leaning against the house can scuff or crack the vinyl siding.

Cons

Unlike wood and masonry, vinyl siding presents its own breed of maintenance worries. While proper installation should guard against moisture becoming trapped beneath the vinyl siding, if this does happen it will accelerate rot, promote mold and mildew, and invite insect infestations.

Home Energy Conservation

Along with other types of siding, vinyl siding provides little in the way of insulation. Vinyl siding can help, especially the more expensive grades of insulated vinyl, but vinyl siding is, by definition, a superficial treatment—it basically just hangs on the outside of your house. Regardless of the type of siding you choose, you may want to install additional insulation inside the walls.

Color

Pros

Vinyl is available in more colors than ever before, and new vinyl siding does not fade as quickly as older vinyl. Also, the pigmentation is baked-in rather than applied to the surface, so vinyl won't show scratches. Before purchasing the siding, look at both sides of the siding, especially recycled products, to ensure that the color is not simply on one surface.

Cons

Depending on the quality of vinyl you buy, expect some fading after five years or so. Time and weather will also alter the gloss of your vinyl siding. If a panel is damaged, the new replacement panel might not be an exact match.

After you have lived in your home for a number of years, you may grow weary of its color, especially if the vinyl has grown dim and faded. Vinyl siding can be painted but this is not a common practice. In general, the color of your vinyl house is the color it will always be until you install new siding.

Property Values

Pros

As the quality and variety of vinyl improve, acceptance is growing. More and more new homes in the United States are finished with a vinyl veneer. Vinyl can give a ramshackle eyesore a new, clean look, hiding whatever is underneath it.

Vinyl siding consistently holds decent resale value. According to the Remodeling 2020 Cost vs. Value Report, to date, vinyl siding returns 74.7-percent of its cost upon sale—only 3-percent less than fiber-cement siding.

So, for some types of homes or for neglected or derelict homes, vinyl siding is a clear positive. The cost of the vinyl siding will be lower than the cost of properly rehabilitating the existing siding, leading to an overall increase in property value.

Cons

Removing the vinyl siding from a historically significant home such as a Victorian-era home or a Craftsman bungalow from the early 20th century often may increase the home's value. Restoration of historic American dwellings to their original workmanship will certainly increase a home's aesthetic value. On the other hand, vinyl is not the siding of choice for upscale, architect-designed homes. Some home shoppers may perceive vinyl as a cover-up for possible problems, or at the very least, a low-budget solution.

Health Concerns

Pros

Despite the hazardous nature of plastics production, actions from U.S. government agencies have helped account for an overall decline in dioxin emissions. According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), human-based emissions of dioxin have declined by more than 90-percent. At the same time, production of vinyl in general, and vinyl siding in particular, has risen. No data have yet been produced to show that vinyl siding production or disposal has resulted in an increase in aggregate dioxin releases.

Cons

Although polyvinyl chloride or PVC has been around since the 19th century, today's manufacturing of plastics can be a cause of concern for many people who work in and live near the industrial areas.

Vinyl is made from a PVC, a plastic resin that contains the hazardous chemical chlorine and stabilizers. Dioxin, which is released when many materials are burned, was thought to be associated with a wide range of diseases from heart disease to cancer in the past, though dioxin is heavily controlled by the EPA.

Historic Preservation

Pros

Rarely is vinyl siding used for historic preservation. In some instances, vinyl siding might be employed to cover up a deteriorating building until the owner is able to rehabilitate the existing siding. With a careful installation of a better-quality vinyl, the siding will truly fool the eye.

Cons

No matter how closely vinyl resembles wood, any artificial siding will diminish the historic authenticity of an older home. In many cases, the original trim and ornamental details are covered or removed. Entire stairways can be covered over. In some installations, the original clapboard is completely removed or seriously damaged. Vinyl siding will always alter the overall texture and proportions of the house, changing the depth of moldings and replacing natural wood grain with factory-made embossed patterns. The result is a home with less appeal and a diminished value compared with the original architectural design.

A good example of vinyl siding on a historic residence is the Arthur L. Richards Duplex Apartments on West Burnham Boulevard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Frank Lloyd Wright designed a row of what he called American System-Built Homes back in 1916. One owner eventually re-sided the historical home with vinyl, losing the original Wright details found on similar Richards Apartments, including an exterior center staircase. Historic preservation professionals usually recommend that aluminum and vinyl siding on historic buildings should be avoided. In recent years, a nonprofit organization called Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block has been working to correct the vinyl sided home and restore it to its original condition.