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The residential construction and remodeling industries are continuing to grow, and since attractive, durable, low-maintenance vinyl siding is the exterior cladding of choice.


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 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. Keeping 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 an 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).


Laying out a Vinyl Siding Project

There are certain guidelines for the layout of a siding job, whether it’s vinyl, wood or any other horizontal siding material.


The rows, or courses, should line up all the way around the house, around every corner. The courses of siding should be level. However, if the house has settled or there are parts of the house that that aren’t perfectly level (such as soffits), it might be better have the siding be parallel to the house (even if this means the siding won’t be perfectly level.)

Try to avoid having thin pieces of siding under windows, doors or soffits.

Houses that change levels—such as walk-outs or split-levels—pose particular layout challenges. If you start with a full course along the bottom in one area, as the level changes up or down you may end up with less than a full course along the bottom in other areas. In this case, you’ll want to pick the most prominent, visible area of the house and start with a full course there, and let the cuts fall where they may in other areas.



Cutting Vinyl Siding

One of the beauties of vinyl siding is that you can cut it with inexpensive hand tools. Large-bladed tin snips can be used to cut the pieces of siding to length. Smaller aviation snips are best for cutting trim pieces to precise lengths and shapes.

That’s not to say that there aren’t power tools for the job, too. A standard circular saw fitted with a fine-toothed plywood cutting blade will cut vinyl cleanly and quickly. (It works best to put the blade in the saw backwards.) Professional siding contractors usually have a power miter saw on a large stand to make cutting go faster. Amateurs can build something similar on top of a sheet of plywood or OSB with some scrap 1-by and 2-by (as seen in the image on the right).

Long, horizontal cuts in vinyl are made by scoring the cut with a utility knife and bending the piece back and forth until it breaks along the score mark.



Nailing Vinyl Siding

Vinyl expands and contracts with changes in temperature, so how the vinyl is secured to the house is important. It can’t be secured firmly—it has to be able to move. So you don’t really attach the vinyl to the house—essentially, you hang it.

You generally need galvanized roofing nails, at least 1 ¼” long (or long enough to penetrate ¾” into solid wood studs.

All vinyl siding and accessories come with slots to nail through. When you nail, you don’t drive the nail tight. Some manuals specify that there should be a 1/32″ between the head of the nail and the siding, but there’s no need to check each nail with a micrometer. If, after you’ve nailed it, the piece of vinyl will slide back and forth, then you’re OK. If not, you’ve pinned it too tight to the house.


Choosing and Installing Trim Pieces

Every place where vinyl siding joins something else—a window, a door, another wall—requires the appropriate trim piece. The trim pieces loosely hold the siding in place, cover any cuts, and provide a small space where the siding can expand and contract. All lines of vinyl siding come with several standard trim pieces, plus some extras.

  Most of the time the bottom of each piece of siding locks into the piece below it. But for the first row on a wall, the bottom locks into a special trim piece called a starter strip.An outside corner post is used for outside corners. There is a channel molded into each side of the post to receive the end of the siding.

There are several options for trimming out inside corners. The easiest is an inside corner post. It’s also possible to use two piece of J-channel installed back-to-back to create the same effect.

Many professional siding contractors bend a piece of vinyl or aluminum flashing for the inside corner and then use a single piece of J-channel. However, this requires a sophisticated tool called a brake.

J-channel is the most common piece of siding trim. Besides being used for inside corners, it’s used for trimming around windows and doors. It is also used where siding meets a soffit or roof at an angle.

At the top corners of windows and doors, the two pieces of J-channel should be mitered and overlapped carefully so that moisture is directed down and around the window and doesn’t get a chance to seep behind the siding or trim.

Where siding runs up into a horizontal surface (like under a window or at a soffit) you need a piece of undersill trim. In these situations the top edge of the siding will usually have to be cut to fit. The undersill trim is designed to grab this cut edge and hold it in place.

Installing Siding

Siding pieces generally come 12 feet long and between 10 and 12 inches high. The bottom of each piece hooks on to a lock molded into the top of the piece below it (except the first piece on the bottom, which locks into the starter strip). The top of each piece is loosely nailed into the studs, or into wood sheathing.

The ends of the pieces are hidden by corner posts or J-channel. There should be about a ¼” gap between the end of the piece and the inside of the channel, so that the piece can expand with changes in temperature.

Pieces should overlap by about an inch. Again, this is so that the material can expand and contract without exposing the sheathing underneath.

If nailing too tight it the MOST common do-it-yourselfer mistake, the SECOND most common do-it-yourselfer mistake is to not pull each row up properly as you nail it. You need to pull up each row firmly and consistently so that it locks solidly into the piece below it. That way, you’re getting the full height out of each piece of siding and the siding has a consistent vertical spacing all the way around the house.

Where you need to cut the siding horizontally to fit or under a window in the space left at the top of the wall, you need to create small tabs along the cut edge with a snap lock punch. These tabs will lock into the the undersill trim and hold the cut edge in place.

Installing Soffit and Fascia

Vinyl soffit material has a different profile than siding, but installs according to all the same principles. The first step is to install trim pieces. If there’s wood framing already in place for the soffit, use a piece of J-channel to hold the ends of the soffits along the house and along the short sides of the soffit. If there’s no framing, use a trim piece called F-channel along the house.

The soffit pieces slip into the trim and get nailed up into the wood subfascia with short, small-headed trim nails. The end along the house sits loosely in the F- or J-channel. If the soffit is wider than about 12 inches, it may be necessary to install additional wood support pieces down the middle and nail the soffit panels into those, too, so that they don’t sag.

Once the soffit is installed, you finish the job by installing fascia to cover the outside edge of the pieces and to protect the wood subfascia. We tend to use aluminum fascia material (although vinyl fascia IS available).

The top edge of the fascia can be held in place with a piece of undersill trim, or it can be hidden behind a piece of drip-edge or other roof-edge flashing. Often, you have to trim the top of the fascia so that it fits between the edge of the roof and the soffit.


How To Clean Siding

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