Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Vinyl repairs and function

The vinyl siding on my house looks dull and has some damage.   I can see some old shingles underneath. What can I do to make it look better? Can I fix it?   Can I take the vinyl siding off? What will I find underneath? Do I need to put vinyl back on?



Bristol, RI


I am not crazy about vinyl over siding. It is made to be like wood, yet vinyl over siding neither functions well nor does it look like it. It cannot be as easily repaired, it does not wear but just fails, it is toxic to manufacture, and when it dies it can technically be recycled or you throw it away and breaks down in a million years or so.

Yet vinyl has a large role in our history and modern construction on a new building or over existing siding. Starting sometime in the late 1950’s and perfected in the 1970’s, vinyl(PVC) was a magical product that did not dent, and prevented the pains of prepping, priming, and painting. Earlier formulations caused colors to fade and the product degraded quickly from the sun. Yet PVC production results in the release of hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment each year. Many European countries rarely use it or it has been phased out because of the negative environmental effects.

I was schooled in Historic Preservation learning conservative methods of preserving and maintaining old buildings. I was taught to respect them, do no harm, help extend their life by repairing or replacing only what needed to be, and maintain them by best practices and materials. A late nineteenth century Victorian era leading English author, John Ruskin, wrote a book called the “Seven Lamps of Architecture”, laying out his principles of architecture and historic preservation. One “Lamp” was Truth where an honest display of materials and construction was essential. This value is lost in vinyl and many other modern materials. But I have certainly become more of a pragmatist, using some new materials where they fit best.

Siding has a vital role in our building’s health. It keeps the interior dry and protects us from the elements. A vinyl siding system can function well and last for decades. When properly applied to the sheathing and not over siding, it can actually shed water well and allow any moisture underneath to dry out from air-flow behind it. Although when it is applied over existing siding, those methods and systems break down significantly.

Vinyl over siding typically fails at the joints against existing window trim. Many installers hate for things to be in the way like existing trim, decorative brackets, window sills and other things that made the building interesting. When you take off vinyl over siding you may find all of the siding in place and functional. I would say take off the vinyl in reverse from the top down, and do it very carefully in an inconspicuous or isolated spot. You may find the vinyl was put up over perfectly good siding. Also, the task of prep and paint from decades ago is nothing like what we can do today. We have sanders, dust collection systems, better paint formulations, and more general knowledge about painting that can make your siding look beautiful again.

You can also paint the vinyl with a special formulated paint, but then it looks like you painted vinyl. You replace pieces but it is hard not to break it, and the color will not match. And you can put it on again, but then someone will have to do it again in about 40 years.

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