What’s New in Vinyl Siding and Alternative Home Siding

The beauty of vinyl siding is more than skin-deep. It can boost a home’s curb appeal, last 50 years or more with little maintenance, and protect a house from costly damage caused by moisture and insects.

Vinyl is also one of the most affordable siding choices, which may be why it’s the most popular. The average cost nationwide to install vinyl siding on a house is $14,359, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2020 Cost vs. Value study. Fiber cement siding, an alternative to vinyl that’s growing in popularity, costs $17,008, on average. Siding pros tell us that wood will set you back even more.

Adding to vinyl’s appeal is the fact that it practically pays for itself. Homeowners who install it will recoup about 75 percent of the cost when they sell their property, according to the Remodeling magazine study. In terms of maintenance, few materials can match the ease of vinyl. Upkeep is as simple as an occasional power wash or spritz with a garden hose.

Like the aluminum siding it has overtaken in popularity, vinyl will never be mistaken for wood upon close inspection. But manufacturers are increasingly creating new textured and overlapping styles to create a more woodlike appearance.

Siding Findings

Our recent tests of siding products is the first we’ve done in more than a decade. We evaluated 10 vinyl products made entirely of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and three alternative products made of a combination of PVC foam and other materials. Here are the highlights of our findings:

Colorfast siding generally costs more. We subjected light-colored siding samples to 1,000 hours of ultraviolet light about twice the strength of sunlight. The three alternative sidings held their color admirably. But they’re pricey, at $300 to $390 per 100 square feet (“per square” in siding-speak). Among the 10 all-vinyl products, only one—Georgia-Pacific Forest Ridge, at $120 per square and exclusive to Lowe’s—held its color well. All of the other products we tested showed a noticeable change in color when compared with new samples after our color change test.

Features make a difference. For fewer seams and a more uniform look on your house, choose panels longer than the typical 12 to 13 feet. Vinyl siding that’s folded over at the top in what’s called a “double hem” attaches more securely to exterior walls than siding without that feature. And the foam backing on some vinyl siding products could help to insulate your house, says Rich Handel, CR’s test project leader for siding.

Alternative siding holds up better in the cold. Temperature can affect the impact resistance of siding, so we tested the samples at 70° F and 0° F. In cold testing, the alternative sidings showed mediocre resistance to damage related to winter weather. All-vinyl siding fared worse. The results suggest that if your house routinely gets battered in the winter by wind-blown branches or other heavy objects, you might want to stick with wood or fiber cement siding. (Tests of fiber cement siding are underway in our labs; results will be posted when they’re available.)

Our top-rated vinyl siding holds up well in most climates. Alside Charter Oak offers a winning combination of performance and price. At $95 per square, it’s the only Best Buy in our siding ratings. It excels in our evaluations of rigidity—lying flatter and straighter on the surface—as well as in wind resistance and assaults by heavy objects at a moderate temperature. Its colorfastness is acceptable.

The only alternative siding we recommend, Celect Cellular Composite by Royal 7-inch Clapboard, is the top-performing siding in our ratings overall and has an appearance closer to real wood than the vinyl products. But at $390, it’s more than four times the price of Alside.

How to Choose an Installer

Siding can refresh a house’s appearance, but it can also create an eyesore by buckling or warping if it’s improperly installed. Even worse, shoddy installation can allow moisture to find its way to the bones of the home, where it could cause mold or rot, compromising the house’s structural integrity.

To increase the chances of finding a capable contractor who will do the job right—and be available to fix any problems that might arise—look for siding installers who have been working in your area for at least five years, and check their references.

Contractors certified by the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI) have been trained in the best installation practices and can be found through VSI’s website. The websites of some vinyl siding manufacturers also have search engines to help you find reputable local installers.

Ray McArdle, general manager of Norandex, a siding maker in Beloit, Wis., suggests going to local siding distributors to ask for installer recommendations. “These businesses sell to local contractors and know who does quality work,” McArdle says.

As with any contractor, check local and state licenses, Better Business Bureau ratings, and certificates of insurance. (Lowe’s says all of its third-party installers meet insurance and licensing guidelines. Home Depot no longer offers siding installation services.)

Where Not to Skimp

You might be tempted to save money by placing a new layer of siding over an old one, but removing old siding and starting from scratch is generally a better approach. “Removing the old layer will reveal any damaged sheathing that might need repair,” Handel says, adding that putting a new layer over an old one might make your house look weird. “Windows and doors could appear inset.”

If you expect to replace windows in the next few years, a good time to do so is when you’re re-siding, says Mark Mackmiller, a design-and-build contractor in Eden Prairie, Minn. “Unless you plan to use replacement windows—where you put a frame inside a frame—you’re going to have to remove siding anyway when you install new windows,” he says.

Five Ways to Save

Installers might encourage you to switch to a more expensive product than the one you’re considering or suggest unnecessary extras to bolster their bottom line. These five tips will help you keep costs down.

Compare apples to apples. Request all-inclusive price estimates for materials, labor for teardown and installation, and disposal. Ask the installer to explain the company’s workmanship warranty. Examples we found online ranged from one year to a “lifetime,” and didn’t always detail what they covered. Most warranties for the siding in our ratings protect against product defects for the first homeowner’s lifetime; for a second owner, the warranty is typically 50 years, prorated from the time of installation.

Keep it light. Siding in darker colors is a current trend, but you can save $12 to $15 per square by choosing lighter hues, McArdle says.

Keep it simple. Scalloped edges, cedarlike shake, and barnlike board and batten are usually more expensive than traditional straight-edged panels, McArdle says. Mixing patterns can cost more because of the extra labor involved, says Mark Parlee, a building consultant in Des Moines, Iowa. “It requires complicated detailing to properly transition the two or more styles together in a watertight manner,” he explains.

Negotiate. Even if the installation price is firm, you can ask the siding company to offer an upgrade or other enticements. (A siding rep who provided an estimate to a CR staffer threw in free gutters and leaders/downspouts.)

Shop for financing. You might find better financing terms from banks or credit unions than from a contractor or retailer. Lowe’s seven-year “fixed pay financing,” for example, has a fixed annual percentage rate (APR) of 7.99 percent. But in late winter we looked online and found PenFed Credit Union offering an APR of 6.49 percent on a seven-year personal loan with no origination fees. For a loan of $15,000, your savings with PenFed would be $928 over seven years. (To be eligible, you must join PenFed and maintain a $5 savings balance.) Tapping your home equity may be even less costly.

How to Make It Last

Siding is not waterproof. When properly installed, any water that gets under the siding should drain, and the underlying sheathing and framing should dry. But water driven behind siding from pressure washing may remain. “Surfaces that stay wet can become moldy or rot,” says Jim Nanni, CR’s associate director for testing. “To prevent that, don’t spray directly into gaps,” he advises. You can also clean siding with soapy water and a soft-bristle brush on a pole, then rinse the surface with a gentle spray.

Shopping for Home Siding?

See our siding ratings and check the Features & Specs tab for siding that has foam backing, which may increase its insulating value and help it resist crushing; longer lengths, which can allow for fewer seams; and a double hem, which reduces the siding’s chances of being blown off a wall by heavy winds.

Upgrading your home’s exterior? We also test paintreplacement windowsroofing, and wood stains.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the May 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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