Vinyl Siding Pros and Cons

Is vinyl siding the horrible thing that everyone makes it out to be?  I don’t believe so, and here is a balanced view at the vinyl siding pros and cons:

Vinyl Siding Pros

  • Vinyl siding is the cheapest type of house siding available.
  • Vinyl siding requires no painting.
  • Vinyl siding is very easy to clean–no power washer or special liquids.
  • Vinyl siding is a highly competitive industry, so homeowners can often negotiate good deals with siding companies and get extra perks like gutters and window casing.
  • Vinyl siding can be installed very quickly, usually in less than a week.

Vinyl Siding Cons

  • Vinyl siding, a petroleum product, is more flammable than other types of siding.
  • Vinyl siding can crack when hit by a rock from a lawnmower or something similar.
  • Vinyl siding will melt when subjected to even moderate heat: a barbeque grill placed nearby or even reflection from a neighboring window.
  • Vinyl siding is widely viewed as “cheap,” so potential home-buyers may look down on it.

Vinyl Siding Myths

Lots of misinformation is circulating about vinyl siding.  Let’s put a few of these vinyl siding myths to rest:

Vinyl Siding Myth #1: One Color…Beige…Blah

Myth: Vinyl siding is available in any color you want–as long as it’s beige.

Fact: Vinyl siding manufacturers in recent years have developed deeper, richer colors popular with homeowners–hunter green, barn-red, etc.

Vinyl Siding Myth #2: Zero Insulation Value?!

Myth: Vinyl siding has no insulation value.

Fact: Yes and no. By itself, it provides no insulation. However, in a normal installation, vinyl siding is backed with thin sheets of insulation which provide some R-value. Also, manufacturers are developing cellular siding which will provide greater insulation without the need for backing.

Vinyl Siding Myth #3: Looks Like Plastic

Myth: Vinyl siding looks like what it is: plastic.

Fact: Vinyl siding manufacturers have learned that homeowners are eager for siding that imitates historical clapboard styles and colors. The manufacturers have begun to produce vinyl siding that looks less and less like…vinyl siding.

Measure Your House for Siding

Want to measure your house for siding?  It’s a lot more difficult than simply plugging numbers into an online siding calculator.  Better to take the “measured approach,” to avoid getting ripped off by vinyl siding salespeople.

How One Hour of Work Saves You $500

The biggest mistake that homeowners make is to rely on the siding salesman to measure the house.  Think about this in another area of your life.  Would you let the auto salesman tell you how much your trade-in car is worth?  No, you would research this ahead of time.

Vinyl siding salesmen make their commissions based on the cost of the job.  So, if your siding job costs $10,000, they get a cut of that price.  It’s just plain dumb to let someone measure your house who has a vested interest in seeing your cost go up.  Got that now?

Truth be told, this will take about an hour to measure and calculate the figures.  But you might save $500 just by taking the time to do this.  Unless you make $500 per hour in your job, it’s well worth your time to do this.

Tools You Need:

  • Buy or borrow a 50-foot or greater tape measure.
  • Buy or borrow a “wide” 25-foot tape measure such as the Stanley FatMax.  The FatMax is a cool tape, so even though it’s expensive you might want to consider buying one.
  • Painter’s telescoping aluminum pole (optional).
  • Calculator
  • Pencil and paper.

Step 1:    Measure “The Square Parts”

Measure Your House for Siding - Height and Width

With the 50-foot measuring tape, measure the height and width of the square or rectangular parts of your exterior walls.  Multiply length by width to get area.

In the example shown here, the height is 10 feet and the width is 30 feet.  So, the area is 300 square feet.

This is the easy part.  But remember that most houses are not made of perfect squares and rectangles.  The siding people add in every single conceivable weird shape.  But they also subtract “cut-outs” for windows.

Step 2:    Measure “The Triangular Parts”

Measure Your House for Siding - Triangular Parts

With your “wide” tape measure (i.e. the FatMax), measure the triangular portions of the walls.  Since the triangular portions are ten feet high or greater, the “wide” tape measure provides the stability you need to push the tape measure up to the very top of the triangle.

Still can’t reach it?  Alternatives:

  • Affix the end of the tape measure to a telescoping aluminum painter’s pole with duct tape.  Push it up that way.

  • Stand on a ladder to gain a few extra feet.  Be careful:  looking up can cause you to lose your balance.

Multiply width by half of the height to get the area.  In the example, the width is 30 feet.  The height of the triangle is 10 feet.  30 x (1/2 x 10) = 30 x 3 = 90.  So the area of the triangular portion of this wall is 90 square feet.

Step 3:    Measure “The Weird Stuff”

Measure Your House for Siding - The Weird Stuff

This is where it gets tricky.  Little things can add up.  Most houses have all sorts of things jutting out that are hard to measure,  This is a laborious process, but this is the part that many siding salesmen neglect to measure–and where you can get the upper hand on them.

Measure the odd-sized parts of the exterior such as dormers.

Here, the area of the dormer is 6 square feet.

Step 4:    Measure the “Cut Outs”

Now that you’ve added, it’s time to measure the subtractions.  Yes, there are certain things, like windows and doors, which will not be covered in siding.  To be precise, and to save money, you need to measure them.

The easy part?  You only need to measure one door and one window.  Each door and window will stand in for the others.

But of course, if you have larger or smaller doors (such as French doors or sliding doors) or windows of different shapes, you will need to measure each one individually.

In our example, we have measured one window and found that it is 14 square feet.  The other two windows are the same size.  So, 3 x 14 = 42 square feet.

Step 5:    Arrive at Total Area of Wall

Add Steps 1-3, minus the cutouts in Step 4.

Step 1 – Add Square Parts 300
Step 2 – Add Triangle Parts 90
Step 3 – Add Weird Parts 6
Subtotal 396
Step 4 – Subtract Cut-Outs 42
Total 354

Step 6:    Measure Rest of House

Repeat these steps for the rest of the house.  Add all amounts to get a total square footage for your house.

Step 7:    Important:  Add in 10% Wastage

Wastage.  Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it.  Actually, wastage is a normal part of estimating siding.  Yes, sometimes the installers will make a bad cut, and that will become wastage.  But what wastage really means are the ends of the siding that are are cut off to make a perfect fit.  These waste ends can sometimes be reused in other places, sometimes not.

You will need to buy more siding than is actually used to allow for wastage.   Take the total square footage of the house, multiply by .10 on the calculator.  The amount shown on the calculator is your wastage amount.  Add the wastage amount to the total you have at this point.

Step 8:     Divide Everything by 100 to Find Number of “Squares”

Siding companies and manufacturers speak in terms of “squares.”  A square is 100 square feet of siding material.  They generally do not talk in terms of individual square feet because the measurements they are dealing with are so large.

So, for our example:  the total wall area for the house is 3200 square feet.  Divide 3200 by 100.  The siding installer will use 32 squares of siding material on the house.

Step 9:  Should You Put the Salesman on the Spot?

Don’t tell the salesman the square footage upfront.  Let them tell you their measurements first.

If your measurements match theirs–great.  Fine and dandy.

If your measurements are different, you can either:

  • Call them on it (“Why did you get 23 squares when I only got 7 squares?” Or,

  • Cross them off your list, because obviously they are trying to cheat you.

How to Clean Vinyl Siding

Even though it’s relatively easy to clean vinyl siding, you’ll want to observe a few rules so that you do not damage your expensive purchase:

Q: Do I have to use a power washer?

A: No. For mild cleaning, you can use a garden hose and long-handled, soft-bristle brush if you wish.

Q: But can I use a power washer if I want to?

A: Yes, but be careful. The danger of using a power washers is this: 1.) the powerful jet can damage the siding because vinyl siding can easily break; 2.) forcing water behind the siding.

Q: How can I avoid the danger of using a power washer?

A: Stand at a reasonable distance from the siding (5-6″) and make sure that the spray is always level to the siding. Do not aim the power washer upward at the siding.

Q: How can I clean mold and mildew?

A: No special vinyl-cleaning liquids are required! You have three options:

For small spots, use Fantastik or Windex.

For larger spots, a solution of 30% vinegar and 70% water will work just fine.

Or for very stubborn larger spots, use a solution of 1/3 cup powdered laundry detergent, 2/3 cup powdered household cleaner (like Spic and Span), 1 quart liquid laundry bleach, and 1 gallon of water.

Q: What about other kinds of stains?


  • Bubble Gum: Fantastik, Murphy Oil Soap, or a solution of vinegar (30%), water (70%) and Windex.
  • Crayon: Lestoil.
  • DAP (an oil-based caulk): Fantastik.
  • Felt-tip pen: Fantastik.
  • Grass: Fantastik, Lysol, Murphy Oil Soap, Windex.
  • Lithium (car grease): Fantastik, Lestoil, Murphy Oil Soap, Windex.
  • Motor Oil: Fantastik, Lysol, Murphy Oil Soap, Windex.
  • Paint: Brillo pad, Soft Scrub.
  • Pencil: Soft Scrub.
  • Rust: Fantastik, Murphy Oil Soap, Windex.
  • Tar: Soft Scrub.

–Information courtesy The Vinyl Siding Institute