Vinyl Siding Comes of Age

Renewing aging buildings

A homeowner finds a faded photograph of her Victorian house and wants to restore its original look. Unfortunately, the original materials—if available at all—would be far too expensive and hard to maintain. Across town, an old church operating on a limited budget cannot afford the extensive paint job it needs every few years.

In both cases, the solution can be vinyl siding. Thanks to advances and innovations in look and feel, design, and durability, vinyl siding is being used more and more in historic restoration.

“Products are looking much more like real wood,” says architect Tom Manion of the Bethesda, Maryland, firm, Manion and Coratola.

However, there are a few steps necessary for achieving the quality needed for an authentic-looking restoration. In other words, while it might be your grandfather’s house, it cannot be your grandfather’s vinyl siding. One past difficulty with the vinyl siding material was fading—a problem for all colors, but particularly the deep reds, blues, greens, and browns of the Victorian palette. However, thanks to additives offering increased ultraviolet (UV) ray protection, weather resistance, and durability, things are changing. Many vinyl siding manufacturers are confident enough in their product to offer extensive no-fade vinyl-siding protection, such as a lifetime guarantee to the original property owner.

Color palettes for horizontal vinyl siding have been widening gradually, with most manufacturers offering about 30 hues. Recently, one company announced a ramp-up to more than 700 vinyl siding colors, promising that new proprietary technology also allows the reproduction of virtually any custom color. Currently in regional testing, this new spectrum could be available nationwide later this year.

Another challenge to successful historic restoration is rigidity. Vinyl alone may not be rigid enough for some historic board sizes. However, by laminating expanded polystyrene foam (also known as EPS foam) to the back of the vinyl, the siding is strengthened enough to be made into 152- and 178-mm (6- and 7-in.) boards for the authentic look of old clapboard. This backing performs many other key functions not limited to restoration. Manufacturers are making constant improvements in backing to increase impact resistance, improve R-value, lower moisture absorption, and help prevent warping.

Warping of old boards is one authentic characteristic most homeowners do not want to replicate with their new vinyl siding. Thankfully, there are unique and innovative ways to fix the product to the wall, such as the flexible nail hem, which absorbs bows or dips in the old wall, allowing the vinyl siding to lie flat.

Changing perceptions
Vinyl-siding manufacturers strive for a genuine look by working to replicate the hand-sanded, sealed, and painted cedar boards that buildings used to be made of. They have increased the number and design of profiles, bearing in mind regional differences, such as the narrower shingle face common in New England.

The architect, Le Corbusier, said, “God is in the details.” For historical restorations, authenticity is in the details. Vinyl-siding manufacturers are offering more and more parts and pieces of historical detailing, including beaded and fluted corners and many sizes of fish-scale scallops that fit around turrets—vinyl carpentry for providing architects and specifiers with a full toolbox.

Greg Bednarski, whose firm, Siding Group Division of Professional Remodeling Ltd., has won numerous awards for historic renovations in the Chicago, Illinois, area, stressed the biggest challenge to using vinyl siding can be helping owners over their initial bias against the material.

“The most important thing to make the house look ‘right’ is to pay attention to details. No one manufacturer makes all [sizes and shapes]—you must choose the right ones to put together for the final look,” he explains. “A lot of people don’t like vinyl siding. The trick is to use the right siding for the right house.”

To date, use of vinyl siding in actual historic preservation work is limited to small districts that work under local ordinances. For example, the Greece, New York, Historical Society has used the material for its own building. While vinyl siding will not appear on buildings on the National Register of Historic Properties, it could be a candidate for new buildings constructed within historic districts, where they must fit in with the spirit of the area. However, the historical renovation market is still broad and growing, based on individual homeowners who want to restore their houses to their original, unique looks.

Popularity and accountability
The rise in use of vinyl siding for restoration reflects its overall popularity as a cladding material. The product occupies nearly double the market share of the closest competitive materials, brick and stucco. According to the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI), manufacturers reported record U.S. shipments of vinyl siding and soffit totaling more than 41.2 million squares in 2004.1

According to 2003 information from the U.S. Census Bureau, vinyl siding is by far the most popular choice for new single-family homes in the Northeast (80 percent of market share) and Midwest (nearly 70 percent). In the South, it is second only to brick. The census also suggests vinyl siding is the first choice for new homes with sales prices up to $300,000, and behind only stucco for homes priced above $300,000.

With so much visibility, the vinyl siding industry understands the need to certify the quality of its products. The Vinyl Siding Institute’s siding certification program is based on ASTM International D 3679, Standard Specification for Rigid Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Siding, a widely accepted quality standard. As many design professionals know, ASTM standards are not static, but dynamic, with products reviewed at least every five years.

Certification through the Vinyl Siding Institute program means the product has been tested for weatherability, wind load, heat shrinkage, linear expansion, surface distortion, camber, and impact resistance. The program also verifies products meet the specifications that manufacturers publicize in their product literature regarding length, thickness, color, and gloss.

Vinyl Siding Institute’s certification program has teeth—unannounced inspections, third-party verification, and constant technical clarification. A third-party administrator makes unannounced inspections twice a year at each plant producing the certified vinyl-siding products. The administrator can retrieve vinyl-siding product as it comes off the line, evaluate the plant quality control program, and conduct tests on the products in its laboratory. Vinyl Siding Institute has established specific guidelines for disqualifying products from the program.2

About the Author

Anita Blumenthal is a freelance writer based in Potomac, Maryland. She has written on topics ranging from public safety, housing, and healthcare to waste management, transportation, and energy.


1 One square equals 9.29 m2 (100 sf) of vinyl siding, or enough to cover a 3.1 x 3.1-m (10 x 10-ft) area. For more information, see

2 Certified products are listed at

[CAPTION] Confident technology would sooner or later come up with the materials he wanted, a homeowner in Grinnell, Iowa, waited 10 years until he was satisfied the right vinyl-siding products were available to restore his boyhood home to the way he remembered it growing up. Midwest Construction (based in Mason City and Des Moines, Iowa) restored the century-old house using vinyl siding by Owens Corning/Norandex/Reynolds. For a one-of-a-kind restoration, the contractor mixed and matched material, providing the dentelle and fascia of a paintable composite so the homeowner could hand-paint them before installation.

[FILES] WayneChicagoBefore AND WayneChicagoAfter

[CREDIT] Photo courtesy Custom Remodeling Ltd.

[CAPTION] To restore this turn-of-the-century house in Chicago, Illinois, Custom Remodeling Ltd. used vinyl siding of exactly the same size and proportion as the original wood. The project included adding a porch and, for the most authentic look, custom designing some of the decorative elements.