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Vinyl Siding Advice For the Homeowner

Vinyl Siding Advice For the Homeowner

Vinyl siding is being installed today on homes, commercial buildings, outbuildings and any structure that has areas that are exposed to weather. Siding is available in both aluminum and vinyl materials but vinyl is far more popular today. Siding comes in a range of colors along with accessories to match or contrast in color to the siding. Before purchasing your siding, take the time to look around at other homes or business’s to see how they did their color matches and trims. It may give you some ideas you may not have thought of doing with your project.

Different manufacturers make different colors so look around and make sure the color you chose is readily available and in stock if you need extra pieces. Siding comes in different sizes and patterns as well. Cottage siding, 4 over 4, 5 over 5, 8″ as well as other styles are available. Some companies offer siding that look like shake shingles or rounded shake shingles that can add a dramatic effect to a plain gable end of a home. 4 over 4 siding means that when you view the siding, it appears to be 2 pieces of 4″ high boards, one over the other. 5 over 5 is 2 5 ” boards and so on. Smaller sizes makes larger houses look shorter and larger sizes make a smaller house look taller. I have seen siding installed on a slant but this is really tricky and should not be tried on you’re your project. Leave that for later.

TOOLS REQUIRED-Measuring tape, pad, pencil, ladders, scaffolds, pair of sawhorses, a 14′ long planks for sawhorses, saw, Quick Square, 4′ level, razor knife and blades, siding punch, pair of Snips, hammer, tripod and level (rent at local rental outlet). Scaffolding with hand rails may be necessary as well.

MATERIALS- Siding, starter strip, J-bead, Vinyl corners, F-bead, insulation backer board, aluminum nails.

Installation-You must take careful measurements of all the areas that you are going to cover with siding. Measure the length and width (or height) of each area and record the measurements. Unless there is an over abundance of windows, ignore them for now. Do all the math by multiplying the lengths by the widths to get the square feet of siding you require. Use even footage, not inches. If all your measurements come to 1600 square feet, each box of siding contains 2 square, so you need a total of 8 boxes. There are no ½ boxes. 1700 square feet you need 9 boxes. You will need extra siding in any case for cuts and repairs later on. Starter strip is measured one time around the base of the walls. 30′ x 30′ building uses 120 lineal feet of starter strip. Soffit J and other trims are a little harder to figure. Depending on how your soffit panels are to be installed, you need at least enough F-bead to go all the way around the building once if you use it only on the wall. If you use it twice, once on the fascia and once on the wall, the amount doubles. I use F-channel only once on the wall above my siding. I terminate the siding against the soffit F-channel, use a J-channel at the top of the siding with a termination strip and siding punch and then bend my metal fascia on an L-angle to cover both the fascia board and the end of the soffit panels. Neat, clean and cheaper.

Each window and door opening will require pieces of j-channel as well. Measure each of these on all 4 sides and add that length to your order of j-channel. J-channel comes in 10′ lengths. Ok Lets get started. Using your tripod, level and a helper, you must establish a level line all the way around the building to follow. This is where your starter strip is going to be nailed. Do not try and measure it with a tape. If the line is not level all the way around, when you turn a corner the siding lines will not match. Buildings are not perfectly level, ever. You create a false appearance of level, by setting the line and starting your siding on that mark. You may find you have to hold the line down below the plywood a little so as not to have the line come out above the bottom of the plywood somewhere else. The starter strip may hang down below the plywood. Once you have a level line where no part of the siding will start above the plywood bottom, you may nail your starter strip to the building. Starter strip is metal so use your snips to cut them. Nail 16″ on center with a nail always on each end. Use as long lengths as possible to avoid joints. The starter strip when installed correctly will lay flat on the building with the bottom pointing away from the building, not towards it. Now install your corners. Corners are pre-made, color coded and come in 10′ lengths. Hold the corner slightly below the start strip when nailing. This will assure the bottom of the siding is fully within the corner piece and looks nice and neat. Nail the corners 16′ OC. Your siding will end in these corners.

The first piece of siding locks onto the starter strip and getting it over a bunch of joints can be a bear to do. If your installing nail-on insulation this is the time to do so. Cover 4-5-6 feet up the wall to start. Keep the joints as tight as possible. First piece of siding. Siding comes in 12′-‘6″ lengths so you want to figure out the least waste. When one piece of siding laps over the other, an open joint is created. Face the open end of the joint away from the road or prevailing winds. Install the first piece by first placing it below the starter strip and pulling upwards until the bottom groove on the siding locks onto the starter strip. Do not pull the siding upwards to such a point you actually put pressure on the starter strip. The siding should sit loosely against the starter strip. Nail the siding 16″ OC, placing your nails in the middle of the slots in the top edge of the siding. NO NOT DRIVE THEM HOME! You want the siding to be able to slide back and forth with temperature changes. It does expand and contract. If you drive the nails home and lock the siding in place, the siding will buckle. Also when installing your siding in warm weather and the siding is hot, hold the end of the siding approx. 1/2″ from the end of the corner slot. When the siding is cold, hold the end of the siding approx. 1″ from the end of the slot so there is room to expand.

Measure from the top end of the siding to the end of your wall, if your next piece of siding is less than a full piece. You want the cut end of your siding to go into the corner trim and stay ½” or so from the end. Pieces of siding overlap each other and lock together. When done correctly, the top edge of the siding will have a ½” gap between the nail slot portion of the siding. Each piece of siding moves independently of each other so other than corners and trims, siding is never nailed solidly or “hard” to the walls. It will take some getting used to doing this part of the installation. With insulation behind the siding the siding will tend to jump around a little and does not give a solid surface to nail against. You will catch on quickly but don’t be afraid to pull a nail back out and reset a new one. Now is when you really see what the building is going to look like. Siding applies very quickly and if you have a helper to cut and supply you the materials, it goes even faster. Most carpenters will setup a jig on their saw horses so a full piece of siding will lay flat allowing easy marking for cutting.


As you encounter the window and door openings there will be cuts to the edges of the doors, that’s easy, windows are a little harder. A window bottom never falls at the bottom of a piece of siding. It’s some kind of a weird law. This will require a cut that leaves the window opening in the top of the siding piece and must be slid up under the J-channel window trims. Remember to leave room for expansion on the ends and in the j-channel slots at the sides of the window as well. When nailing any siding, avoid pulling the siding up hard against the lock on the piece below. You want the new piece to balance halfway in the slot. Not at the bottom, and not hard against the top. Every few pieces, step back and make sure you are installing the siding level. Pulling on the siding and not realizing it, can cause the siding to run out of level very quickly. Place your 4′ level horizontally under the lip of the new piece of siding to check it is in fact level before nailing.

Top of wall-Ok we are to the top of the wall. Everything looks straight and level so we want to complete the wall. Measure from the bottom of the lock to the top of the wall. IF and it’s a big IF, the last piece would be cut at the thickest part of the siding, you may be able to install just a j-channel, slide the piece into place and the j-channel will hold it. Not likely, so, you install a piece of j-channel around all the edges for a finished appearance and then install a piece of termination strip inside that. The trim flanges are wide enough for you to nail one over the other without damaging the other piece. Using your siding punch, work along the cut edge and punch holes every 16″ or so for the entire length of the piece. You will see that the flat part of the siding where it was cut now has holes in it and the material “punched” out, has formed a bump in the siding piece. When you install the siding, the bumps will lock into the termination strip and hold the siding in place. Only occasionally and then only at the top of the siding in gable ends, a small (4 penny) galvanized finish nail will be driven through the siding to assure the last piece does not come unlocked and fall. This only works in a situation where the piece is very small and high up enough so the nail cannot be seen. A vinyl siding slot punch is really handy. Just slide the top edge of the siding in the jaw and close the punch. It will create a dimple that will hold the siding in the j-channel.

Vinyl siding unlocking tool. Very handy when having to remove a piece of siding. Just slip it behind and into the lock and slide it along the length thereby unlocking the siding when removing a piece in the middle of a wall. You must have a good pair of sharp snips for odd cuts. A razor knife wil also be needed for very small adjustments ot siding pieces. Always remember to cut away from you.

Maintenance- All vinyl siding will fade with exposure to sunlight over time. It is usually gradual and not noticeable unless you place a new piece alongside. When replacing a piece of siding due to damage, expect to see a color variation. Once a year a good washing with a vinyl siding cleaner helps keep your siding bright and nice looking. Cleaner is available in 1 gallon bottles at most hardware or retail lumberyards. Occasionally a piece may come unlocked in high winds. You can reinstall it with your siding unlocking tool. Just slide it in under the siding until the tip is in the lock and pull downwards to force the lock under the piece below and slide it long until the entire piece is relocked. It takes some muscle but it can be done and is far less work than removing all the siding.

Fascia trims- Fascia material is available in rolls of differing widths. Once you measure how wide the fascia board is (8″) plus the angles that have to be bent to cover the edge of the soffit panels, etc. (1″) you know each piece needs to be 9″ wide before bending. Rolls come in 18″ widths (among others) so you will be able to get 2 pieces from each piece you cut. You will require a sheet metal brake for this work. Do not try to bend the material using 2×4’s or by hand. It will simply crinkle and be ruined. Sheet metal brakes come in 8′ and 10′ lengths. Rent a 10′ brake if at all possible. Less joints, less work. When installing the metal the edges will be sharp so careful handling is required. Using a colored matching aluminum nail, place the piece over the fascia, UNDER the drip edge and the bottom 1″ leg over the ends of the soffit panels. The fascia piece will look like an L with one 8″ leg and one 1′ leg using our sample measurements. Use as few nails as possible. Over use of nails will cause the fascia to “oil can” or bend when sunlight heats up the metal. Fascia can be cut with tin snips. You will quickly learn how to bend corners, small cover pieces, etc. to make your work look good. Also remember to always lap your pieces with the top one over the lower to shed rainwater wherever that situation occurs. End joints in fascia should again face away from the road or the prevailing wind direction whenever possible.

Once you have completed a small siding project, a larger project is basically the same, it just involves more materials and a great deal more labor. With careful measurements and application you will have minimal waste of materials and can save thousands of dollars by doing this project yourself.