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I'm a contractor in southern New England. My business, the Storm Tite Company, installs replacement doors and windows, porch enclosures, and gutters, but our specialty is vinyl siding. There are a lot of older houses in our area, many of which feature extensive trim and ornamental woodwork. We have a reputation for knowing how to apply vinyl without changing the character of structures that were originally sided with wood, so we're often hired for those types of demanding jobs.

Why Installation Matters

Most builders and homeowners are already familiar with the benefits of vinyl. Vinyl siding is durable, installs easily, and resists fading, denting, and scratching. Once it's installed, it requires no maintenance other than an occasional wash with a garden hose — a major selling point for modern homeowners who don't have the time or patience to scrape and paint every few years.

When good siding goes bad. Like any building product, though, vinyl can be installed well or badly. Unfortunately, you don't have to look hard to find ugly siding jobs. But the siding itself is seldom to blame. A lot of siding jobs go bad because an inexperienced installer overdrives the nails, preventing the siding from expanding and contracting with changes in temperature. Even a few overdriven nails can cause siding to crack or buckle.

An even more widespread problem is that many siding installers care more about getting the job done quickly than about the appearance of the finished product. Far too many applicators make a habit of tearing off projecting trim and architectural detail and burying other important design elements under the new siding. That approach allows the contractor to do the job for a rock-bottom price, but the featureless, flat-looking exteriors that result are an embarrassment to the industry.

Siding Choices

In the mid-1960s, when vinyl siding began to compete with aluminum, few colors and patterns were available, and trim options were pretty much limited to J-channel and skinny inside- and outside-corner posts. But today, there's a wide range of siding and trim products on the market (see Figure 1). That range of choice is especially useful when a homeowner wants to re-side an existing house while keeping the look of the original exterior. So many types of siding are available that we can often come up with a close match for the original wood siding.

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Figure 1.Unlike the poorly detailed vinyl siding of the past, today's siding and trim are available in a wide variety of patterns and styles, including these products from CertainTeed (top three images) and Alside (bottom three images).

Going with the grain. The differences between sidings can be subtle, and we'll choose from one manufacturer or another depending on the effect we're after. For example, both Mastic and CertainTeed make cedar shingle siding from polypropylene. To my eye, the grain of the Mastic version, Cedar Discovery, looks like red cedar. CertainTeed's Cedar Impressions, on the other hand, looks more like white cedar to me.

The texture of lap siding also varies from one manufacturer and product line to the next. You can get perfectly smooth siding or siding with an exaggerated rough-sawn look. For many applications, I recommend a lightly textured "brush stroke" finish that gives a convincing representation of painted wood.