Saturday, January 14, 2012

Vinyl Siding

Vinyl Siding

By Bobby Neal Winters
Back in the summer of 2004, my house needed painting.  I’d done this a couple of times before and thought that I’d gained as much from the experience as I could. I didn’t want to spend the money to hire it done, so I reached out for another idea and found one: vinyl siding.
My idea was this: The amount of work required to do this would be about the same as required for painting if you took all the preparation into account.  It would cost a little more, but once I was done it would be done forever.  As I said, this was my thinking.
I planned this as a project that would be spread over three years or so.  The first year, I would do the north side of the house, which faces the street, and the west side of the house which, for various reasons, was easy to do.  The second year I would do the side toward the driveway.  The third year I would do the south side of the house which had various problems associated with it and I wanted to be more of an expert when I got there.  
I did learn a lot during those first two years and part of that was that I didn’t want to personally hang vinyl siding on the back side of my house.
There were other great truths that I learned, however.
Vinyl Siding is a system.
That’s right.  It is an intricately developed system.  It has been designed with the idea that a weekend handyman such as me can buy certain parts, follow certain directions, and get decent results. Let me explain.
The idea is to put vinyl siding over your old wooden siding.  The old wooden siding is somewhat rough and uneven.  This makes it difficult to cover.  This problem has been dealt with long before you, Mr. Weekend Handyman, have come on the scene by the invention of something called fan-fold.
You may have seen fan-fold and not known what it’s for.  For all the world, it looks like some sort of insulation.  It is a quarter-inch thick piece of Styrofoam-like material that folds much like an old-fashion paper fan.  You unfold it, press it flat against the wooden siding on your house, and nail it to your house with a special sort of nail.  
When you start nailing fan-fold to your siding, you read the directions looking for something specific on how you are suppose to do it. How are you supposed to line up your nails?  Exactly how far apart should they be?  You look, but--in stark contrast to later parts of the project--you get no tight specs.  You are just supposed to do it.
When you do get it up, you notice that the rough, uneven surface of the siding has disappeared and has been replaced by a flat surface.  Indeed, it is a flat surface that will let you start a nail quicker than anything else you’ve sunk a nail into.
After you get the fan-fold up, you have to frame it all in.  This is where it gets kind of persnickety.  You have to have your horizontal strip that frames the bottom level; you have to have your vertical strips that frame the side plumb; you have to nail your nails in just tight enough, but not too tight.
But if you take care with the level and the plumb-line, then the rest follows along pretty easy.
And when you get a few strips of your vinyl siding up, it becomes clear why you don’t have to be so careful with where you put your nails on the fan-fold: It’s all going to get covered up.
This was my great gestalt about vinyl siding.  It is all about appearances.  Let’s say it again. From the beginning to the end, it is about appearances.
You put paint on your house to make it look better.  Yes, it makes the wood last longer, but it’s really about looks.  You don’t want to live in a house that looks like its on poles down in the Mississippi Delta. Vinyl siding is just a means to achieve the same goal.
My real epiphany came when I got to the soffit. This is the underside of the part of the overhang of your roof. My soffit was ugly, nay even scary-looking.  The vinyl covered all of the ugliness, all of the terror. It was beautiful.
Now, I do understand, that vinyl siding doesn’t get a lot of respect out in the world.  It’s not exactly the way the Rockefeller's would do it.  Yes, a house of stone would be better.  Or a house of wood that was carefully scraped with the aid of a blowtorch and then painstakingly repainted on a regular schedule.
Here’s the deal.  You can’t tell the difference between such a nicely scraped and maintained house and vinyl siding from the street.  
What’s more, during my second year of hanging vinyl siding, I began to take pride and care with my work.  I would look up at places that weren’t perfect and they would jump right out at me.  But then, after I waited a few weeks and forgot about my boo-boos, I couldn’t tell.  They disappeared because I didn’t remember where they were.
I figured out that no one else could tell either.
This is a theme that permeates much modern construction: It is all about appearances.  Many solid-looking “concrete” buildings are a frame with a wire-mesh attached and concrete sprayed on the mesh.
If you’ve seen The Matrix there is a scene in a lobby where the walls appear to be solid marble.  When the machine guns get going, we see that it’s just marble veneer.
My final epiphany was that this doesn’t stop with siding or construction:  It’s true about people; it’s true about businesses; it’s true about institutions.
Now, there are some solid buildings out there that are rock from foundation to roof, but there are so many that just look that way, it’s hard to tell.  Knowing that you have to look, might put you a little ahead.


Ronald Miller said...

I agree with the phrase, "It is all about appearances". I mean, if we could take a closer look on the houses today, it focuses more on the materials that could give aesthetics to their house, while the houses before focus more on the durability of the materials even though it's not that appealing for the people. Well, that's what I've noticed from the houses of the 1940's and 50's. said...

I agree with what Ronald said. There's a big difference on how houses were built before and now. Houses that were built before can withstand can last a long time, but now, houses have already a certain lifespan. Back then, houses are built with materials that are durable. Unlike now, houses are built by design and aesthetics, then durability comes in next.