Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vinyl's Final

Well, not really.  Vinyl really isn't final, no matter what the salesmen will have you think.  You might not have to paint it, but you'll have to replace it when it cracks or otherwise starts to look shabby.  If you have vinyl siding near the ground on your house and you have a penchant for weed whacking, it's likely you'll crack the siding yourself the first time your power tool throws a rock into it.  

So, no, vinyl isn't final.  In fact, as a preservationist, vinyl is the enemy.  It is a covering that removes the architectural character from trim, windows, and gables of historic homes.  It holds moisture on the siding it covers, causing the original siding to deteriorate.  It lasts 20 - 30 years before replacement if you're lucky, but the wood siding that was covered will last many, many more years than that if properly maintained.  From an environmental standpoint, the chemicals and amount of energy used to make vinyl siding are certainly not green.  Vinyl siding cannot be recycled when it is replaced and so it goes directly to the landfill where it probably doesn't break down or is incinerated, releasing it's toxic chemicals into the air.

So why am I talking about vinyl.  It's because I have a confession to make.  We used vinyl on our project house.  <Gasp!>  Here's our reasoning:  The house had badly curled cedar shingles cover the attic dormer and ends (you can see them here). The shingles needed to be replaced.  The house is a bit of a hodge podge of vernacular construction, from the simple, non-matching windows to the asbestos siding.  We're going to flip the house and, frankly, we live in a rather depressed area, so we're looking to keep costs low and the house comfortable while still maintaining the house's character.  We wanted to keep the feel of the shingles on the third floor.  We priced out cedar shingles and vinyl siding that looked like shingles.  The vinyl was much cheaper.  We figured that since the siding will be so far off the ground, it won't be obvious that it is vinyl, it won't be damaged by rocks thrown up by the mower, and it's not detracting from the house's character by covering any existing details.  

So we did it.  We used vinyl.  We'll turn in our preservationist membership card if need be, but we stand by our decision.

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