The great debate: wood vs. vinyl siding

The great debate: wood vs. vinyl siding

Homeowners of old once clad their homes with whatever raw materials were at hand. Early American settlers, for example, made prodigious use of clapboard -- rough-hewn, unfinished hardwood -- or weatherboard that had to be whitewashed to protect it from the elements. Later, cedar shakes and shingles, well-known for their durability, were used to keep out inclement weather. They also added a bit of charm.

Today we are learning to adapt to a world of dwindling resources. We have created new materials inspired by the appearance and best qualities of the originals as well as by the need for sustainable manufacturing and building processes. If you are a traditionalist, you may want wood siding, but unless you have a home with historic value, consider why vinyl has become so much more popular in recent years.

Wood siding: tradition, longevity, and status

Homeowners like the look, feel, and status of real wood. Not many would argue that it's beautiful when cared for properly and frequently. It can also last indefinitely when maintained.

When wood has not been plentiful, its cost has gone up. Measures to grow it responsibly, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, help insure its availability now and in the future but also increase the cost.

If you can afford it -- and the long-term expenses like periodic staining and painting that go with its upkeep -- wood can reflect your exacting taste, as well as how much you value the use of natural products, especially in your home environment.

Wood siding advantages:

  • Durable/long-lasting
  • Sustainable, depending on how it's sourced

Wood siding disadvantages:

  • High-cost
  • High-maintenance
  • Prone to wood rot, insect infestation

Vinyl siding: cost, appearance, low-maintenance

Vinyl, once the underdog of siding options, has become the most popular choice for exterior cladding. Vinyl siding is stronger, more durable, and better insulated than ever before. It mimics every type of natural siding including all traditional wood siding styles, shakes and shingles, and even logs.

Made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), detractors long argued about its environmental effects, but the industry has worked hard to greatly improve manufacturing techniques, transportation methods, and insulation properties to the point where vinyl siding is considered eco-friendly enough to qualify for LEED-building certification. Best of all, it is still a budget-conscious option.

Vinyl siding advantages:

  • Budget-friendly
  • Durable/long lasting
  • Water-, rot- and insect-resistant
  • Low-maintenance when properly installed -- spray wash annually

Vinyl siding disadvantages:

  • Susceptible to damage from excessive heat and cold
  • May not be approved for use in historic homes

Proper vinyl siding installation is essential to prevent water intrusion behind the siding. The heavier gauges and insulated vinyl siding cost more but provide additional advantages such as increased damage resistance from wind and energy efficiency. Before making a decision to install vinyl siding, consult a professional siding contractor for more information and get at least three estimates.

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