Vinyl Siding Basics
Vinyl is one of the most popular maintenance-free siding materials for new construction. It's also one of the most manageable siding materials for do-it-yourselfers to install. Large home centers
carry several styles and colors and most of the trim, accessories, and tools you'll need. Even more styles and colors are available at specialized building material suppliers.
It's not hard to learn the steps for installing vinyl siding. The biggest challenges for do-it-yourselfers are planning the layout and installing the proper trim for each area.
Choosing Vinyl Siding
The thickness, or gauge, of the vinyl is the key to its durability and cost. The thicker the vinyl is, the longer it lasts, the better it withstands damage, and the more stable it is. Of course, the thicker the vinyl is, the more it costs. The siding sold in most home centers is .040"-.045" thick. Premium brands are available up to .055" thick.
Since vinyl siding is intended to imitate wood lap siding, it is available in several profiles. Most common is a piece that imitates two courses of wood siding, with an exposure of four or five inches each. These are called D4 or D5 (the "D" stands for "double"). A variation is a "Dutch Lap" style (D5DL) which has the shape of a traditional dutch lap wood siding. A profile with three courses of 3-inch siding (T3) is also common.
Vinyl generally comes in a range of light to medium colors. Darker colors tend to fade and are generally not available.
Preparing the House for Siding
On new construction, siding is installed over the wall sheathing. On older homes, vinyl can sometimes be installed over the home's current siding. Keep in mind that vinyl needs to be nailed into solid wood, so if the home has aluminum siding or older vinyl siding, these will probably have to be removed. Going over existing wood siding or stucco is possible, although it's sometimes necessary to install vertical furring strips first.
If you tear off the old siding and apply new siding directly over the wall sheathing, you can improve an existing home's insulation and weatherization before you re-side. Fiberglass, cellulose, or foam insulation can be blown or injected into the wall cavities. House wrap or sheets of foam insulation can be applied over the sheathing.
House wrap is typically used on new construction. It seals a house against air infiltration but still allows the walls to breathe. It cuts down on drafts and air leaks, but it doesn't trap moisture inside the walls. House wrap comes in large rolls and is stapled to the sheathing prior to installing the windows or doors. The seams are sealed with a special tape.
For existing homes, a common technique for preparing the wall surface for siding is to apply a thin layer of fan-fold foam insulation. The foam used is typically from 1/4" to 3/8" thick and comes in sheets that are 4 feet high and 50 feet long. The foam adds a tiny amount of insulation (not much more than R-1). It's really there to help even out an irregular surface so that the siding will lie more flat. It also adds some degree of protection against air infiltration (but not as much as house wrap).