“Vinyl is final,” the saying goes. But is that a good thing – or a bad thing?
When fans of vinyl use this adage, they mean to say that polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used in a home’s exterior calls for little to no maintenance. The truth is it’s not that simple. Whereas it doesn’t need to be painted, it does need to be cleaned – more frequently, actually, than you would be sanding and re-painting wood siding. This is just one factor to consider if you’re thinking of going with vinyl instead of painting your house.
Installation is crucial, too. If vinyl siding is installed poorly, or if it ends up cracking, moisture can collect under it (whereas wood can “breathe”) and rot the wood and framing behind it while you are oblivious to the hidden damage. Mold is also a very really danger here. And don’t think that house-wrap will help prevent moisture damage: this layer gets nailed through, inviting water in.
One thing that surely is final about vinyl siding is the color. You’d better like the hue you choose, because you’ll be looking at it for a long time, until the day comes that you have to tear it all off and start over again during a costly replacement project. With a painted wood-sided house, though, you can change your exterior house colors as you see fit, and the cost will be considerably less than tearing down and replacing vinyl siding. There are far more options for outside house paint colors than there are for vinyl siding colors – in fact, the choices with paint are limitless since custom colors can be mixed. This reminds us of another saying: If it’s not moving, you can paint it. For sure, some people do paint their vinyl siding, but the results never last long.
Let’s Talk About the Disadvantages of Vinyl Siding
Vinyl is not just used for siding and exterior trim. It’s also become a very popular material choice for fences and accessories (planters, window boxes, posts, etc.). No matter how it’s used, exterior vinyl has quite a few disadvantages, including the following:
It fades. We’ve all seen a vinyl-sided house that’s long past its prime. While some vinyl siding can look vibrant when it’s new, years of strong sun beating on it can really take its toll, resulting in unsightly outer wall discoloration. The same goes for those vinyl fences that start out looking unnaturally bright but turn gray within a few years.
It gets brittle. Vinyl is more prone to expand and contract in extreme temperatures, and over time this leaves it brittle. New England painting professionals can tell you that wood with exterior paint, on the other hand, can last virtually forever in our climate if it gets simple regular maintenance.
It stains. Most vinyl will permanently stain from the build-up of dirt, mildew, or algae. Unlike paint, it is hard to get clean once this staining sets in. You can try pressure-washing it, but if there are cracks or other openings, such as ill-fitting seams, you’re just going to force water behind the siding and cause a whole lot of havoc.
It looks unnatural. Remember that unnaturally bright-white PVC fence? Well, there’s nothing like the beauty of natural wood. Whether it’s painted a fresh, beautiful color or it’s stained or left to weather with the grain showing through, it provides warmth and appeal that no manmade product ever could.
There’s a wide range of quality. That applies to the material itself and the installation – and once it’s on your house, it’s too late. Whereas Azek is a name-brand, high-quality type of blown cellular PVC that is warranted and backed by a manufacturer with a sound reputation, common vinyl siding comes in a wide range of pricing – and, of course, quality.
It’s bad for the environment. Vinyl is made from petroleum, and its production creates greenhouse gases and carcinogenic by-products. Then, when the time comes to scrap it, it sits in landfills and doesn’t decompose (only about 1% of vinyl siding gets recycled); in fact, it’s very likely that it will be burned, sending toxic chemicals into the air. And, we don’t like to think about house fires, but if a sided building burns, the chemical vapors that are produced are noxious – or even deadly. Remember: vinyl siding started out as crude oil, and that stuff is quite combustible.
It could hurt your home’s resale value. Not everyone wants “low maintenance,” especially when there’s an aesthetic tradeoff. Quite frankly, vinyl looks cheap compared to real wood, and more home buyers than not will see that as a negative, especially in areas with historic or upscale homes. Imagine a lovely Victorian with its intricate gingerbread trim hidden under a plain sheath of white vinyl. It’s enough to make a historic home painter cry.
It’s inferior to wood as an insulator. The R-value of natural wood is higher than that of vinyl siding, meaning that it’ll do a better job helping you maintain your home’s interior temperature in both cold and hot weather.