The Case for Vinyl Siding
Beauty, Durability and Performance
Today’s vinyl and polypropylene siding is not the flimsy, low-quality cladding on your grandmother’s home exterior. In fact, for more than 20 years in a row, vinyl siding has been the number one choice for single family homes, according to the Vinyl Siding Institute1(VSI). And commercial builders, architects and retrofit contractors have taken notice, as the affordable cladding can also be specified for commercial applications. Standard grade vinyl is mainly used for light commercial and multi-family projects. Premium and super premium polymeric panels are used on smaller to moderate-sized commercial projects, for example banks, schools, medical, structures three stories or less. Property owners, architects and contractors see the value and ability to marry high-end architectural aesthetics and increased weatherability demands with stringent budgets and short construction timelines.
The latest proprietary technologies resulting from innovative research and development also means meeting strict local zoning regulations for aesthetics, building codes or other stipulations where wood or fiber cement might otherwise be the specifier’s go-to product on new construction such as multi-family developments, office and retail buildings, and even historic district and landmark commercial retrofit projects. According to the 2018 IBC, vinyl siding shall be permitted on exterior walls of buildings located in areas where wind speed does not exceed 100 mph and the building height is less than 40 ft. in Exposure C. When any of these criteria are exceeded, the IBC requires that tests or calculations indicating compliance with Chapter 16 of IBC shall be submitted. Quality vinyl and polymer siding products are confirmed to perform to the ASTM standard for windload: ASTM D5206; as well as tested by an approved third party testing lab to exceed this standard.
The negative stigma of vinyl is going away, as the laundry list of attributes is long for the growing popularity in specifying vinyl. It includes lower installed cost, third-party certifications, durability and immunity to moisture damage, fast installation, low maintenance, color retention, energy efficiency and sustainability—with many products’ green attributes independently documented by environmental product declarations (EPDs) and life cycle assessments (LCAs).
Vinyl siding offers the desired architectural versatility and exceptional durability to achieve any design vision, with a virtually unlimited selection of classic clapboard, shiplap, beaded, shake or shingle profiles in many styles, fade-resistant colors, widths and textures.
For example, one polymer product line includes eight shake and shingle styles, six sizes and over 45 colors. Since being launched nationally in 1992, it has gone through three generations of innovation. The latest incarnation includes a proprietary set of stained cedar-look color blends to the product line, which capture the appearance of Eastern White Cedar and Western Red Cedar at different stages of life, from new to weathered. New, patented color technology creates in-mold variegated colors that are solid throughout the panel. This is a not a coated product where a property owner has to worry about peeling or flaking over time. It installs easier than real wood, but still provides that genuine look of real cedar shingles. It’s been so popular that many wood purists—some would call them “wood snobs,” who were resistant to polymer cladding in the past—have converted. The panels and single shingles look so realistic—even up close—that many end up touching and tapping it to prove that it was not wood. Even wood shadow lines are more apparent with tapered gaps very close to the panel face that dig deeper as they go down.
Painted wood and fiber cement colors require regular upkeep. Premium vinyl siding won’t chip or peel like paint, and it is available in more than 400 VSI-certified colors for trusted protection against fading. High-quality siding manufacturers also back products with lifetime warranties for further peace of mind.
Many vinyl and polymer siding products are designed to complement each other, which means less time worrying about what goes with what. Specifiers are free to mix and match lap and shake or shingle siding for a custom look, which makes it easy to create stylish accents to get that wow factor. Additionally, accent colors are often used to make unique architectural features stand out from the primary wall color. Vinyl siding can also be easily coordinated with other materials, such as stone veneer and brick.
Using combinations of materials together makes a bold statement, and adding vinyl soffit and vinyl or cellular PVC trim delivers complementary, easy-care coordinating style.
It’s no secret that different regions of the U.S. face unique environmental issues. From high winds to snowstorms to intense heat, premium vinyl and polymer siding offer superior product performance in any climate and withstand the damaging effects of extreme weather while maintaining exceptional aesthetics and requiring very little maintenance. This means any initial cost for a premium product is made up in as little as five years, when wood or fiber cement may require restaining or painting. It is a compelling argument to never have to paint or stain a building ever again.
Premium vinyl siding is also an excellent choice for lake and seaside properties, due to its resistance to water spray and high winds. Unlike wood or fiber cement siding, vinyl siding is immune to water damage, meaning it does not need paint or caulk to seal out water. Fiber cement siding has a porous core that can absorb water, swell and degrade when moisture penetrates through gaps or cracks in the paint and primer. This can also lead to mold growth. Mold and moisture can significantly degrade the material, ultimately leading to product failure. Vinyl siding can’t absorb water, and in fact actually helps walls breathe and dry out. It is engineered to provide maximum water drainage, so moisture cannot get trapped between the wall and the siding panel (unlike many other claddings). The back is hollow, creating a very open drainage system. The little bit of moisture that collects is filtered out with engineered weep holes. Any vapor that travels from the inside of the structure outward would evaporate between the exterior wall and the siding shell.
It is also easy and inexpensive to clean by washing with mild soap and water. Plus, vinyl will not rot and is impervious to termite infestation.
In addition, all premium siding certified by the Vinyl Siding Institute2 complies with the ASTM D3679 standard for weatherability, wind load and impact resistance; expansion and shrinkage; surface distortion, length, width and thickness; and color retention (where applicable).
Many premium vinyl products come with a limited lifetime warranty, are Class 1(A) fire rated, self-extinguishing and tested to exceed ASTM E84 and ASTM E119 to meet tough building codes, especially in areas where buildings are very close together.
Case Study: Sedgeley Club Boathouse
In many areas of the U.S., historical landmark restorations can be an expensive undertaking for property owners, architects and contractors alike – especially for those properties adjacent to waterways and coastal areas. Many older buildings have original cedar wood shingles that are weathered beyond repair and extremely costly to replace. Even if the budget allows for new shingles, sourcing lumber can be difficult, with suppliers unable to provide top-quality wood of yesteryear, and recent Canadian softwood lumber tariffs resulting in projects costs jumping 20 percent3. Even the relatively few cedar-shingle makers based in the U.S. often rely on Canadian producers for kiln drying and pressure treatment, according to the Shake and Shingle Alliance filing with the U.S. Department of Commerce this past September4.
Instead of dealing with those issues, it is becoming more accepted to pursue restoring the exterior of a historic cedar wood shingle building, for example, with polymer individual 5-inch sawmill shingles. In August 2017, the Philadelphia Historical Commission unanimously approved this type of siding for the exterior renovation of one of Philadelphia’s most recognizable buildings. Built in 1903, Sedgeley Club Boathouse and Turtle Rock Lighthouse sits on the east bank of scenic Schuylkill River Boathouse Row. The Philadelphia Historical Commission’s approval made this the first time that the polymer shingles were specified for a designated National Historic Landmark.
The striking resemblance of the polymer sawmill shingles to real cedar shingles was the key reason why they were chosen over traditional wood shingles. The product’s molded textures and patterns replicate the effect of saw blades on real cedar, and proprietary color blends with color-through technology assured the highest fade protection. Also taken into account was the considerable savings in maintenance costs. The polymer shingles do not require frequent patches and staining, a particularly serious issue for a building abutting a river, where it is subjected to extreme weather including bright sun due to reflection from the water, as well as high winds.
The siding was applied over an underlayment of premium weather-resistant barrier, installed by Malvern, Pennsylvania-based Hancock Building Associates, a CertainTeed 5-Star Siding Contractor. Led by R. Keith McLean, the team also completed the boathouse’s roof installation in 2016, using a complete system including underlayments, accessory products, ventilation and architectural laminate asphalt roofing shingles that feature a dual-layered design emulating the dimensionality of true wood shake in the color Weathered Wood.
Facilitating polymer shingle approval by the historical commission required extensive teamwork and due diligence by the manufacturer, CertainTeed, Sedgeley Club and Friends of Historic Sedgeley (FHS), including Lois Krombolz, FHS president, and Kiki Bolender, architect and FHS board member.
“It's been more than a year since we installed the shingles and I'm still overjoyed by the look. With cedar shingles, after a year we would expect to see changes—some fading, some cracks or curling and some mold. But that hasn't happened with these shingles,” said Karen Earley, vice president and secretary of Friends of Historic Sedgeley and former president of Sedgeley Club.
“Our members and the guests that we’ve hosted are also charmed by the building. The remark I've heard most is ‘Oh, look at that, it’s so beautiful on the outside, I can’t wait to go inside!’” added Earley. “Speaking for our club members, we are no longer embarrassed about our building’s exterior, which, despite constant maintenance, looked old, run down and always in need of work. We wanted it to be inviting and captivating to the public. Now it has a beautiful, calm, even graceful presence. The entire landmark has been historically renewed.”
The new siding featured two of the darkest shades of the color Rustic Blend to have a weathered appearance, for a look that mimics real wood shingles that have aged approximately five years.
“Not only are we thrilled with the appearance, but we have the peace of mind knowing we will not be facing the ongoing maintenance problem that natural cedar demands,” said Lois Krombolz, president, Friends of Historic Sedgeley and former president of Sedgeley Club. “The new facelift has also instilled in Sedgeley Club members a new pride in our historic building and interest in new memberships, and outside rentals are up.”
Sedgeley Club members have a history of being trailblazers, from creating one of the first all-women’s athletic clubs in 1897, to overcoming hurdles in constructing the boathouse in 1903. The 120-year-old organization started the non-profit Friends of Historic Sedgeley (FHS) in 2012 to attend to restoration efforts and future repairs, including educating visitors about the city’s only operating lighthouse, staying true to the FHS mission to maintain and preserve the site.
“The Sedgeley Club is the first building you see approaching Center City along the east side of the Schuylkill River. Every time I see it now, it looks as its architect would have hoped it would look, many decades later. And the club chose these shingles so it would stay that way for many more decades,” said Kiki Bolender, FAIA, LEED AP and principal at Bolender Architects in Philadelphia and FHS board member.
“I would advise my colleagues (architects and specifiers) to be bold when proposing new facade materials in a historic setting, as long as the products allow for careful detailing and can integrate respectfully with historic windows and doors. That was the case with our new shingles,” Bolender added.
Hundreds of Choices
In addition to polymer shakes and shingles in individual, rough or perfection panels, traditional longer-length clapboard dutchlap panels are available for fewer seams, EPS Foam (expanded polystyrene) insulated for a more rigid wall assembly and additional R-value (varies by profile, with a range of R-2.0 to R-2.7; and vertical board and batten for Early American styles and more. Insulated siding, made with recycled material and with its energy efficiency qualities, is also on the checklist of building products or methodologies that can help meet sustainability requirements.
Independent sources such as Architectural Testing, Inc. help ensure building materials like vinyl siding meets or exceeds ASTM standards. Between specifying a solid, quality-assured siding and constructing with proper installation practices, low-maintenance vinyl and polymer siding should look good for many years with minimal upkeep.
Case Study: Southern Maine Health Care
One new construction example of a successful use of vinyl and polymer cladding can be found in the harsh climate of northern New England. The Southern Maine Health Care (SMHC) Edward J. McGeachey Medical Office Building in Biddeford, Maine was finished in 2014.
SMRT, Inc., a multidiscipline architecture, engineering and planning firm in Portland, Maine, designed the 3809-square-meter (41,000-square-foot) medical office building in Biddeford’s Robert G. Dodge Business Park. SMHC wanted the exterior cladding to balance cost and long-term low maintenance. It also had to meet business park guidelines, which required the structure to have a soft, residential look, even though it would be the park’s largest building.
Vinyl and polymer cladding was specified for the majority of the facade for its affordability and variety of profile, texture and broad color options available. SMRT chose a mix of modified polypropylene copolymer staggered rough-split shakes and perfection straight-edge shingles and vinyl lap siding with a realistic wood grain finish texture.
Cellular PVC trim provided a smooth transition between the shakes and vinyl clapboard siding. Brick and a curtain wall were also used. Overall, the building design created handsome curb appeal that checked all of the boxes for SMHC, as well as the requirements of the office park.
The project began in late fall of 2013. Ouellet Construction, the general contractor located in Brunswick, Maine, recommended panelized walls for the job. The panels were framed, insulated, sheathed and fit with a vapor barrier and windows offsite, then transported to the jobsite and raised in about three weeks. The siding installation then took place in May, once the winter weather had subsided.
Vinyl and polymer siding’s highly engineered design allowed for precise installation without the need to hire expensive, specialty, hard-to-find trade subcontractors.
And since vinyl siding requires roughly half the installation time compared to other cladding options, it took a crew of eight men only a little over two months to complete the flashing, trim and siding on the expansive project. This is mainly due to a single person being able to handle each panel, and it being self-supporting (just lock in place and nail). Most other claddings require at least two people to support the panel while installing. As a result, the combination of weight reduction and greater man power results in a much faster install. Time studies have shown an installation5 that is two times (or more) faster than other comparable claddings, such as fiber cement and wood.
The large exterior surface area was covered in extra-long lengths of siding. The crew ensured the joints and seams on the siding were consistent, while anticipating the natural expansion and contraction of the vinyl and polymer material.
During installation, the workers minimized the panels’ exposure to sun, and relying on the temperature gauges located on each shake-style panel to help determine gaps between panels. This gave the siding room for warm weather expansion and contraction in cold, while maintaining a uniform look on the wall.
Each panel had either fastener indicators or integral installation guides that helped align nail slots perfectly. Polymer shake panels also came with reinforced nail slots, and ribs on the backside of its panels provided additional structural stability to help protect against warping, cupping and distortion over time. In addition, a locking mechanism on the perimeter of each panel helped create a seamless look, holding panels together securely.
The architectural design of the exterior envelope assured the trim boards hid the vinyl accessories, and the number of seams was limited by placing trim boards at intervals that coincided with the maximum length of the vinyl siding.
The vinyl and polymer siding and cellular PVC trim fit the client’s aesthetic, maintenance and budget requirements. It went up quickly, helping to meet construction deadlines and the building was move-in ready in less than a year. In the end, both the architect and general contractor were pleased with just how well the building’s exterior aesthetics came together.
According to David Lawrence, vice president and director of Construction Management for Ouellet Construction, almost four years later, the building is still one of the best looking in the office park.
“We do a great deal of work with this client and see this building often. The building still looks like the day it was completed, for color, fit and finish. The installation of the material was held off the ground by masonry which helps to protect the product from what I feel is typical wear and tear you see with vinyl sidings installed closed to finish grade,” said Lawrence.
Since constructing the SMHC offices in Biddeford, Ouellet has used the vinyl and polymer siding on three more buildings in Maine.
“The positive experience we had led us to recommend the same shingle product and lap siding for three other projects—a single-story 557.4-square-meter (6,000-square-foot) dental office, a single-story 232.3-square-meter (2,500-square-foot) florist and a 1,114.8-square-meter (12,000-square-foot) two-story healthcare building,” added Lawrence.
The vinyl siding manufacturing process consumes less energy and generates fewer emissions than most other exterior cladding products. Since vinyl siding does not require painting, staining, or caulking, no harmful solvents are released into the environment to maintain it. It’s energy-efficient and recyclable.
A recent Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) study found that vinyl and insulated vinyl siding have a better Environmental Impact Score (EIS) than other claddings, including wood cedar board, fiber cement and brick and mortar. Eleven impact categories, including ozone depletion, smog and global warming, were used to compare the exteriors in the study.
As noted by the Vinyl Siding Institute, one highlight of the report is that vinyl and insulated vinyl siding both have “significantly lower impacts than fiber cement in every environmental impact category.”
Some manufacturers also use Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) with BEES third party verification and publication to show quantifiable data about the sustainability of a product. Analysis includes an evaluation of raw material acquisition, manufacturing, transportation and distribution, installation, maintenance and end-of-life disposal.
An online program designed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)6, BEES offers transparency and credibility into a product’s performance, since data is reviewed and verified by NIST. The BEES7 system aligns with ISO 14040, of the International Organization for Standardization.
LCAs also help with the specification process by setting a baseline for continuous improvement by the manufacturer, showing product environmental impact from cradle to grave. Case in point, to ensure proper recycling and disposal of end-of-life siding, some manufacturers partner with hundreds of vinyl recycling centers, which are available nationwide.
Most products are certified and independently verified to meet or exceed unique quality standards and performance characteristics, and their “green” attributes are fully documented by the industry’s first environmental product declarations (EPDs).
Finally, according to VSI8, vinyl siding contributes to achieving points for certification in the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED for New Construction and LEED for Homes Rating Systems as well as the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard.
Today’s vinyl siding is engineered to provide the building envelope a lifetime of protection without the worries of painting, swelling, cracking, warping or insect damage. Vinyl siding, insulated vinyl and polypropylene siding offer third party product certification validated by an independent, accredited quality control agency, Intertek9. Vinyl siding has a lower total installed cost than other exterior cladding materials, providing lasting curb appeal and value from day one. It also is easier to specify due to its easy regional availability. As for sustainability, the most recent BEES report10 confirms vinyl siding has a better overall Environmental Impact Score (EIS) than other exterior products, including brick and mortar, fiber cement and cedar board.
Visit www.vinylsiding.org to learn more about the nearly 950 certified products and almost 350 certified vinyl siding colors listed in VSI’s Official List of Certified Products.
3From more information, visit www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-28/tariffs-take-toll-on-a-mainstay-of-cape-cod-culture-the-shingle