The Evolution of Vinyl Siding - Choosing Vinyl Siding for Your Home

by Brett Freeman

When vinyl siding was first introduced roughly 50 years ago, home builders reacted by ignoring it for the better part of two decades. Even as vinyl began to catch on in the 1970s, it suffered from a lack of respect and was generally regarded as a poor substitute for wood. Undeterred, vinyl siding manufacturers continued improving their products, leading to increased acceptance by both builders and consumers and eventually domination of the siding market.

The Economics of Vinyl

Vinyl is the undisputed leader in the siding market. One out of every three new homes in the U.S. have a vinyl exterior and vinyl siding is used in more than half of all exterior renovation projects. Vinyl's main appeal has always been related to cost, both directly and indirectly. The siding itself costs less than wood or fiber cement siding. It's also easier to install than any other type of siding and doesn't need to be painted, which translates into lower labor costs for builders.

Homeowners continue to save money with vinyl siding year after year.  It requires very little maintenance--an annual washing is all--and never needs repainting. Finally, vinyl lasts. Exactly how long depends on the product and the climate where it was installed, but most vinyl siding products come with a lifetime guarantee.

Vinyl's Appeal

Early vinyl siding products were unpopular because they looked like plastic--which they were. Subsequent products were better: they looked like plastic trying to look like wood. The latest generation of vinyl siding represents a major step forward. In addition to clapboard siding that convincingly imitates wood, it as also available in shakes, shingles and with faux stone or brick finishes.

Even with top quality vinyl products, inspection reveals them to be what they are, but close inspection is required. The best vinyl products are convincing enough that in recent years, vinyl siding has been used in the restoration of historic buildings.

Addressing Old Concerns

Common complaints about vinyl siding are that its color fades or yellows over time and that it is flimsy and rattles in windy conditions. Vinyl siding manufacturers concede that earlier vinyl products did indeed lose their color, but claim to have solved the problem over the past decade. A benefit of this has been the introduction of many new colors, in particular darker colors.

Many vinyl siding products remain prone to rattling because they are thin and flexible and because vinyl siding must be fairly loosely attached to accommodate the natural expansion and contraction it undergoes at different temperatures. However, the good news is that newer foam-backed or solid core vinyl siding products are more substantial, won't rattle in the wind and they provide added insulation to boot!

Installing Vinyl Siding on Your Home

Installing new siding is a huge project, although some do-it-yourselfers might find it manageable. The standard clapboard vinyl siding is relatively easy to install: the main challenges are keeping it straight and not installing it too tightly. Other types of vinyl siding are trickier and in most cases should be done by a qualified siding installation contractor.

About the Author: Brett Freeman is a freelance journalist. He also owns a landscaping and irrigation company in North Carolina. Previously he has worked as a beat reporter, a teacher and for a home improvement company and he used to own a bar/live music venue.