Vinyl siding has become the single most popular choice for exterior cladding on homes in the United States. Compared to wood, stone, brick or any other type of exterior finish, it is cheaper to purchase and install, easier to maintain and longer lasting. And visually, it mimics the many traditional styles of wood siding with astonishing accuracy.
Traditional Lap Siding
Also called clapboard siding, this style of vinyl siding mimics overlapping wooden boards designed to shed water as it rolls down the outside of a home. Lap vinyl siding generally is available with a wood grain texture and comes in a variety of colors that mimic either natural wood or painted wood.
When it comes to lap siding, creating different aesthetics is a question of the width of the siding. Three to four inches is standard, but sizes up to eight inches are also available. The wider siding gives a sense of bulk, useful on larger homes, and diminishes the busy feeling of narrower siding.
Practically speaking, most lap siding comes in panels that may incorporate from two or three laps in each piece for a total panel width up to 24 inches. This is simply a technique to facilitate faster installation and does not change the outward appearance.
Lap vinyl siding fits well with ranch homes, bungalows, farmhouses and cottages. It is often used on other styles, as well, and serves as the default 'style-less' style in the home building industry.
There are a several subtle variations on the lap style, the most common of which is called Dutch lap. The simply means the top half of each piece of siding is beveled, creating an angular look that lends itself to the more formal architectural styles, such as Victorian, colonial revival, or American foursquare.
This approach contrasts the angularity of Dutch lap with a curved surface. The entire surface of each piece of siding is curved slightly inward and at the bottom there is a very thin outward curving 'bead' (like a bead of water). The overall effect is to give a high degree of architectural definition to the exterior of the home - perfect for a cottage or a bungalow, but a poor fit for more formal styles or modernist architecture.
On this type of lap siding, each piece curves slightly outward, mimicking the appearance of a log cabin. This is primarily used in woodsy settings where a cabin look is in order, but is also incorporated into ranch homes and farmhouses - if colors other than brown are used, it doesn't look so cabin-like.
- Mobile Home Parts Store sells a basic lap panel in bundles of 20 pieces (200 square feet of coverage) for under $200.
- BuildDirect offers a premium version of Dutch lap siding starting at $1.59/square foot.
- Lowe's has a simple style of beaded panels in bundles of 15 pieces (100 square foot coverage) for around $115.
- Log cabin style vinyl siding is available at FauxWoodBeams.com, starting at $4.59 per square foot.
Shakes and Shingles
Vinyl siding can be made to look just like traditional wooden shingles, though rather than spending the time to nail each individual shingle, the material is installed in long horizontal pieces just like the lap styles.
These fit well with various rustic, informal, and historic styles such as country cabins, farmhouses, bungalows, cottages, and Tudor homes. Often vinyl shakes and shingles are used on only a portion of the home in combination with other types of cladding, such as stone veneer.
Shingles vs. Shakes
The term shingles implies that each piece has a uniform appearance. When it comes to wood, this means that the shingles were made with a mechanized process that ensures uniformity. Vinyl siding panels simply imitate this look by stamping a wood grain pattern in a uniform layout across each panel.
Wooden shakes were traditionally split by hand, meaning the exact shape and size of each piece varies slightly, and it's possible to find vinyl siding in this style as well. Each panel will be uniform, but the patterns stamped into it creates a variegated look inspired by wooden shakes.
One popular variation on the shingle theme involves rounding the bottom corners of each shingle, known as a scalloped or fish scale pattern. This is a popular choice for Cape Cod style homes, the New England salt box and other coastal, cool climate building traditions.
- Exterior Solutions has 7-inch wide faux wood shingle siding in 100 square foot bundles for about $275 each.
- Modern Builders Supply is a source for fish scale vinyl siding, offering 50 square foot bundles for about $140 each.
- HomeOver.com has 50 square foot bundles of shake-style vinyl siding for under $150.
Vinyl siding typically has a horizontal orientation, but there are notable exceptions to the rule. The most basic type of vertical siding looks loosely like four-inch lap siding rotated 90 degrees, except the pieces don't actually overlap, but are joined in the center by a shallow groove. This is also referred to as beadboard siding. It isn't typically used over an entire house, but as an accent for the soffit or under the eaves of a steep pitched roof.
Board and Batten
The one type of vertically-oriented siding that is commonly used over most or all of a home's exterior is a style that mimics board and batten, a traditional approach to wood siding where 10 to 12 inch wide boards are nailed into place side-by-side with a thin two-inch strip of wood nailed over the seams.
Board and batten vinyl siding comes in panels with the alternating layout of wide and narrow strips molded into a single unit. The look is perfect for a French countryside home, farmhouse, or cottage.
Vinyl siding installation is typically not a DIY project. Each manufacturer uses a specific process to install their product, meaning that contractors typically receive training for each type of siding they install. It's not that there are highly specialized tools involved, but there is a step-by-step process for custom fitting the siding together with trim around each window, corner and wall that takes a lot of practice to become proficient at. If you do want to install your own, it's best to stick with a basic lap style as it is the simplest and most common.
Cost, Quality, and Warranties
In terms of cost, the more specialized styles like the shakes and shingles tend to be more expensive, just because they're less common. Otherwise, cost is less a factor of style and more related to the quality of the product. Thicker siding costs more and lasts longer, for example. Some siding also comes with built-in insulation, which is more expensive up front but helps to reduce the cost of heating and cooling your home over the long term.
The quality issue comes up when considering other pros and cons with vinyl siding. Whether the siding leaks, buckles, or is damaged by the wind has nothing to do with the style and everything to do with quality of a particular manufacturer's product line, as well as the skill of the contractor who installs it. Look for a warranty of at least 25 years in vinyl siding products and try to seek out contractors with experience installing the particular style of siding you would like to use.
More Views of Vinyl Siding Options
An Easy Exterior
Vinyl siding has revolutionized the home building and renovation industry with its affordability and durability. At the same time, it can look just as good or better than the traditional materials it emulates and can be used to achieve any architectural style desired.