Q&A / 

Vinyl Siding Installation

DEAR TIM: What can you tell me about vinyl-siding installation? I like the no-maintenance aspect of vinyl siding, and it looks easy enough to install. What important vinyl-siding installation instructions can you share with me? What tools will I need to get professional results on my one-story house? Patty S., Scranton, PA

DEAR PATTY: The installation of vinyl siding is not as hard as it may seem, but there are indeed plenty of tricks that one needs to know to get really professional results. This happens to be one task a determined homeowner can tackle if she/he really can follow directions, think ahead and pay attention to details. I would have probably advised you to hire a professional had you told me you have a two-story home.

The best way, in my opinion, to see if you're up to the challenge and if you're satisfied with the results, is to start the job on a side of your home that has the least amount of windows, doors, or other things that are attached to the existing siding. All of these things represent obstacles when you do vinyl-siding installation.

This vinyl siding job could be done better. When water gets behind the siding, it will leak into the house and cause wood rot. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

This vinyl siding job could be done better. When water gets behind the siding, it will leak into the house and cause wood rot. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

Before you purchase the vinyl siding, do some investigation at the manufacturers' websites to discover if they have online downloadable installation manuals. Some do, and they're excellent. You'll quickly discover that vinyl siding has some basic components with respect to how inside and outside corners are treated and how different trim pieces are used to terminate the vinyl siding around doors and windows.

You can get into trouble faster than an speeding bullet if you don't take into account how vinyl siding expands and contracts. Vinyl siding really grows as it's heated by the sun. If you cut pieces too tight, or you nail pieces of vinyl siding too tightly to a wall, the siding will buckle and look horrible. Vinyl siding needs to float on a wall. It's a concept that goes against anything you have ever done before. My guess is that every time in your life you have pounded a nail with a hammer, you have driven the nail tightly. Don't ever do that with vinyl siding.

You'd be surprised at the specialized tools you'll find in a professional siding installer's tool belt and truck. There are tools that punch slots and notches in siding. These are needed to interlock the siding in special trim pieces. You may discover a circular saw that has its blade on backwards. Some installers cut vinyl siding this way as it doesn't chew up the siding. Laser levels, ladders, stand-off scaffolding, etc. are all nice tools to have as well.

There are some issues that you may want to consider before you start the job. Some vinyl-siding jobs incorporate aluminum coil stock to cover parts of the house that are flat pieces of wood that you currently are painting. Examples of these might be fascia boards, gutter boards, and wood molding around windows and doors. If your house has these, you are adding a layer of complexity to the job. You need special skills and a metal-bending brake to work with the aluminum coil stock. You can see these special tools at businesses that sell vinyl siding and the aluminum coil stock.

You should also consider upgrading your exterior insulation, air infiltration and weather barriers at this time. To get the best bang for all this effort, you may discover it's best to remove your existing siding. This allows you to add the needed components and not ruin the look of your home by burying the windows and doors. You can frequently see houses where vinyl siding has been installed over existing siding. The doors and windows appear to be unnaturally deep in the walls.

One last suggestion would be to get some on-the-job training. There are any number of great organizations that build homes for those in need. Perhaps one of these is active in your community. These houses often have vinyl-siding exteriors. Perhaps you can volunteer to help build this house asking to be on the exterior crew that is doing the siding.

The actual process of installing vinyl siding is not that complicated. It's just a matter of knowing a few tricks with respect to the initial layout and installation of the starter strips. The first piece of siding installed determines how the job will look and how the siding goes up the walls. Keep in mind that the siding needs to be level and must overlap the foundation to keep the house weathertight.

There are always new inventions and accessories that can enhance the installation of vinyl siding. One of these happens to be metal strips that are installed on the walls of a house that help prevent buckling and spacing issues. When installed with care, these strips also can ensure the siding looks flat and not wavy. Check for these strips at businesses that specialize in the sale of vinyl siding, roofing and other exterior products.

You should also try to experiment on a small structure to hone your skills. If you have an outdoor storage shed, maybe it's time for it to get a new look. After all, you would want it to match your home, so now is a good time to install siding on it. Make your mistakes here, not on the front wall of your home!

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