The Vinyl Lie
by Gary Kleier

Every day unsuspecting owners of historic homes, believing they are actually making an investment in their home, succumb to the vicious lies of an unscrupulous industry. Unfortunately, most will never know it. Most will never see the immediate undermining of their property value or the long term destruction of the structure of their house. And what is this vicious lie? Vinyl siding. Vinyl siding installed over wood siding. And the most vicious lie is that it will improve the property value of an historic house.

Debunking the lies

Lie number one: Vinyl siding will increase the value of your home.

As an architect involved in numerous historic restorations, I am frequently asked to evaluate an historic house prior to purchase. In virtually every case where vinyl siding has been used to cover original wood, the buyer wants to know the cost of having the vinyl removed and the original siding restored. In every case the same question comes up; "Why would they desecrate an historic house in this manner?"

Increasingly people across America are understanding the value of our historic properties. Like antiques, the closer it is to original the higher is its value. Frequently, the buyer not only sees vinyl siding as decreasing the value of the house, but wants the seller to pay for its removal. This removal and repair of the original wood siding is normally as expensive as the original installation of the vinyl siding.

Lie number two: Vinyl siding will make your house maintenance free.

There is no such product! Every material, every installation requires maintenance!

Vinyl siding installations require significant caulking, around windows, at corners, around doors, anywhere a "J" channel is used to terminate a run of siding. I have never seen a vinyl siding installation where caulking is installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Even the very best caulking, when improperly installed, will fail within a few years. And when it does, water will enter. Time to do some maintenance.

Vinyl siding is secured to the house by a nail or staple driven through a tab. This tab is designed not only to hold the siding to the house, but to allow it to move as it expands and contracts with temperature. If the fastener is too tight, the siding may buckle in the heat or break in the cold. This will usually result in the siding coming off the house in a windstorm. This rarely happens immediately. Usually it occurs a year or two after the installation, and after the warranty has expired. In addition, since the higher areas of the house are subjected to more wind, that is where the damage is most likely to occur. More maintenance, and maintenance the average homeowner cannot do.

Vinyl siding commercials will show you how the siding can withstand a blow from an object like a hammer. What they do not tell you is that the longer siding is on the house the more brittle it will become. Ten years later, that same piece of siding, exposed to the elements, may crack or even shatter under the same blow. A blow from a tree limb or from a ball and you have more maintenance.

In short, vinyl siding is not maintenance free.

Lie number three: You will never have to paint again.

Maybe we shouldn’t call this a lie. The truth is, you never can paint again.

Even the best vinyl siding will fade. The deeper the color, the faster it will happen and the more noticeable it will be. In 10 to 15 years vinyl siding will show a significant change in color.

Vinyl siding will also become dingy through an accumulation of dirt. Contrary to what the commercials would have you believe, we are talking about dirt that spraying with a garden hose will not remove. In ten to fifteen years many home owners are dissatisfied with the dingy look of their siding and want to do something to restore it. (Sounds like maintenance, doesn’t it?)

Sorry folks, not a lot you can do. Scrubbing the siding with soap and water (not just spraying it) will help a little. While that is faster than painting, it is far less satisfactory. Painting, however, is totally out of the question. At this time there are no paint manufacturer’s I am aware of that will guarantee their paint over vinyl siding. Within a few years the paint will begin to peal.

By the way, if you do decide to wash your vinyl siding, never use a high pressure sprayer. The high water pressure may force water around the siding and through bad caulk joints into your house. Further, the high pressure may loosen the siding, or even remove whole sections that are already loose.

Lie number four: Vinyl siding will save you money.

In spite of what the manufacturers would have you believe, the life expectancy of a high-quality vinyl siding installation is approximately 20 to 30 years. The life expectancy of a high-quality, professional paint job is approximately 10 to 15 years. Since the vinyl siding installation will cost approximately twice that of painting, there is virtually no savings.

Should you choose to remove the old vinyl siding at the end of its life, you now incur the cost of removal as well as the cost of the new installation. At this point painting has become far less expensive.

Now that we’ve discussed what they do tell you, let’s talk about what they don’t tell you, and hope you will never discover.

Destruction of details

When you look at an historic frame house, you will notice a significant amount of detail. This may include moldings and brackets at the eaves, details in the siding such as fish scales or beaded edges, headers over windows and doors, and shadow lines at window and door trim. Virtually all of this is covered up when vinyl siding and vinyl eaves are added to a house. In addition, eave details such as brackets and moldings are frequently removed to facilitate the installation of the vinyl material. In short the installation of vinyl siding and eaves significantly reduces the character of the house.

To the individuals seeking to purchase an historic home, the installation of vinyl siding and eaves has not improved the value of the house but rather has destroyed the character for which he/she is looking. Therefore, the value of the house has been significantly reduced.

Destruction of Walls.

In a typical historic house of wood frame construction a wall would normally be composed of the following: plaster on wood lath, the wood studs, exterior sheathing, and wood siding. While these materials may seem solid to us, water vapor easily moves through these materials and escapes from the house during the winter months.

During the installation of vinyl siding a layer of styrene insulation board is applied over the wood siding, and the vinyl siding is applied to that. This insulation board forms an effective barrier to the passage of water vapor, thereby trapping it within the wall. During the winter months this water vapor will condense to liquid water and began rotting the wood materials. Over a period of years the structural integrity of the exterior walls can be completely destroyed. Further, the presence of deteriorating wood has been shown to attract termites and other wood attacking insects.


In summary, it is my opinion based on my experience as an architect that vinyl siding is not maintenance free, and it is not less expensive than painting. It is also my opinion that vinyl siding destroys the aesthetic quality of an historic house, and decreases its value, and can, over time, destroy the structural integrity of the house.

Like many products, vinyl siding has a place. It works adequately in inexpensive new construction where proper precautions are taken to prevent water damage. However, when the industry tries to sell this product as a maintenance free improvement to older homes, they are doing the public a great disservice. And when it comes to historic homes, they are costing you money.


2000-2002 Gary Kleier,

Webmaster's note:
Gary Kleier is our resident Old Louisville Architectural Conservator.  He lives on Floral Terrace and is one of those folks who was instrumental in the landscaping and beautification of that little jewel of a walking court between Sixth and Seventh Streets.  Gary specializes in restoration architecture and architectural forensic services and has a wide range of  talents which are described on his own web site at  You can reach Gary by email at

Other articles in this series:

Brick Structures - Oh What Damage We Do Inflict "The most deadly enemy is man and what he does in the name of maintenance and rehabilitation."

The Vinyl Lie  "Every day unsuspecting owners of historic homes, believing they are actually making an investment in their home, succumb to the vicious lies of an unscrupulous industry....."

A True Story  "The next time you are thinking about doing something to your "old" house, think about this true story."

Brick Sidewalk Repair  A quick primer on repairing your brick walkways.

Brick or Concrete?  An illustrated discussion on the advantages of both brick and concrete sidewalks.  You decide.


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