by Albert Fontenot
April 21, 2015
Last week, we discussed the pros and cons of painting versus installing siding on the exterior of your Charleston rental property. Independent landlords who have no immediate plans to resell the property and who instead have their eye on long-term cost-effectiveness typically choose siding because of the one-time investment.
From a do-it-yourself standpoint, installing siding on your Charleston rental does not require any special technical skills, but it does require extreme attention to detail, because poorly installed siding can actually damage the home and cost you thousands of dollars in repairs.
Today, we are going to discuss some of the most common errors made by both do-it-yourselfers and sloppy contractors when installing siding. When tackling this project, avoid these mistakes at all costs, or you risk possibly disastrous consequences.
For this project, we are going to focus on jobs using vinyl siding, the most commonly-used exterior siding material. Approximately one out of every three homes that have siding use vinyl.
As the name implies, a J-Channel is a plastic or metal channel – shaped like a "J" – that is used to support trim materials on the vertical walls.
The improper cut or trim of the horizontal J-Channel used around doors and windows or where corners meet is one of the most common vinyl siding installation mistakes.
Even such a simple error as under-trimming the J-Channel or improperly directing water via bends in the trim can result in costly damage when rainwater is actually sent behind the siding, where it gets trapped between the moisture-impervious siding and the moisture-susceptible walls of the building.
Trapped moisture can result in wood rot, water damage, and mold. Because the siding remains unaffected in this situation, the problem can often remain undetected for years, until the damage is quite significant.
In the worst cases, windowsills can be rotted beyond repair or the mold has spread to the interior sheet rock. In an earlier blog, we talked about the difficulties involved in mold cleanup.
When the J-Channel is installed properly on your Charleston rental home, water is channeled outside, not inside the trim.
Poor Nailing Practices
You may choose to install vinyl siding on the exterior of your Charleston rental because it has the appearance of wood. What you may not know, however, is that because it is a different material, it has installation requirements that vary significantly from wood.
Wooden boards must be tightly nailed to exterior walls, but vinyl siding is attached to fasteners that enable the panels to expand and contract with changes in temperature.
If the siding is nailed too tightly to the house, the pieces will be prevented from moving, and the result will be buckling and warping of the panels. According to Tom Silva of This Old House, a 12-foot length of vinyl siding can expand or contract as much as 5/8 of an inch as the temperature changes season to season.
For a proper installation, it is recommended that you leave approximately 1/32 of an inch between the siding's nail flanges and the nail head.
Consequently, Silva says, "The worst thing you can do is nail vinyl tight."
Here is how you can easily judge for yourself if you are installing siding too tightly on your Charleston rental – Simply grab a panel and see if you can move it back and forth with your hands. If you have installed it correctly, you should be able to move it about a half-inch in each direction. If you can't, it's too tight.
On the other hand, siding that has been poorly-secured can fall off or even blow off of your Charleston rental during high winds. The chief cause of this is leaving too much space between fasteners, because the farther apart the fasteners on, the more wind that can blow in through the gaps.
Not only does this make for an unsightly appearance and completely defeat the purpose of installing siding in the first place, out-of-place panels can also be a means of ingress for rainwater – meaning the type of water damage, wood rot, and potentiality for mold that was discussed above.
Starting at the Top
Many do-it-yourselfers who are installing siding for the first time ever erroneously start at the top and work their way down, figuring that any mistakes they might make it will be less visible by the time they reach ground level. The opposite is true.
Vinyl siding should be installed from the bottom up, and each piece has an interlocking edge that attaches to the panel above it. It is important to make sure each piece is pulled tight length-wise before beginning to nail, and panels should not overlap more than one-and-a-quarter inches.
One mistake that rookie installers make is using window and door edges as leveling aids. Unfortunately, most windows and doors are square and plumb to the opening, but the opening might not be entirely level with the wall itself.
Relying on the opening to help gauge the levelness of the siding only means that you will be several degrees off, and over the length of the wall, those degrees will result in a very noticeable discrepancy.
Settling for Inferior Product
Far and away, this is the biggest mistake you can make when installing vinyl siding on your Charleston rental property. You are not expected to become an expert in all things vinyl siding just because it is the covering that you choose for the exterior, but you should educate yourself enough to know the differences, because all vinyl siding is not created equal.
In the interest of saving money, too many do-it-yourselfers install the cheapest vinyl siding that they can find. As with all things, you get what you pay for, and the worst thing you can do when you're trying to improve the exterior of your Charleston rental property is to settle for the lowest grade, cheapest vinyl product available.
What you want to look for is "virgin vinyl" siding. This means that the only thing that your siding has ever been is siding. The cheapest grades of siding will be "reground" vinyl, which means that it has been made from recycled plastic products such as soda bottles, milk jugs, etc.
This is important because virgin vinyl siding has more protectants included at manufacture than reground vinyl. Without these protectants, the shelf life of the appearance of the siding is greatly reduced.
Inferior reground vinyl is subject to chalking, fading, UV degradation, and uneven weathering that can result in an odd “checkerboard” appearance on the surface of larger walls.
Finally, the least expensive vinyl siding can be as thin as .032 inches, while a premium product will be considerably thicker, up to .050 inches. This makes the panels more rigid, more durable, and less prone to warping or buckling.
An inferior, thinner siding panel can also easily blow off of your Charleston rental, while a thicker panel will typically have a reinforced nail flange and, when properly installed, can handle winds up to 180 mph.
Any home improvement project is only as good as the materials used and the skill and attention to detail of the person doing the work. If you have any doubts in your own do-it-yourself ability, then it is imperative that you hire a professional to install siding on your Charleston rental property.
As is the case with any outside contractor, the quality of work (and the price charged) can vary extremely widely, and you need to do the necessary homework and legwork to make sure that you gather all the information necessary to make an informed decision.