Vinyl siding was installed on 32 percent of new homes started in 2012, according to a study by the NAHB,  making it the most commonly used exterior cladding in new-home construction. That’s because as builders and consumers know, vinyl siding has a number of selling points.

Vinyl siding is less expensive than other types of claddings, it’s low maintenance, and it never needs painting. Early shortfalls—such as fading, melting, and low wind-resistance—at this point have largely been addressed.  

“Vinyl siding is theoretically maintenance-free for decades,” said Tristan Roberts, editorial director for BuildingGreen, which publishes Environmental Building News. “Any construction material has [environmental] impacts, so the longer these impacts are spread out over its life, the better it is.” Roberts also notes: “One of the better things about vinyl siding is the free draining space behind it. A well-designed building envelope will allow whatever is behind it to get a little wet and dry out.”

In terms of curb appeal, the category has continued to improve since its introduction in the 1960s. An array of profiles are available, including panels that are smooth or have a wood-grain look, or that mimic pricier shakes and  shingles. George Williams, owner of Precision Homecrafters in Birmingham, Ala., installs Foundry vinyl siding from The Tapco Group. “With the Foundry’s cedar shake profile, until you walk up and touch it, you don’t know it’s vinyl,” he says. Likewise, nearly 325 vinyl colors are certified to meet ASTM standards for color retention.

Meanwhile, insulated vinyl options—first introduced in 1997—have been gaining notice, mainly as a replacement cladding. Insulated vinyl panels are reinforced with a foam-core backing laminated to the sheet. These panels look straighter and offer improved resistance to hazards such as hail and baseballs. 

Insulated products advertise R-values that range from R-2 to R-5, as well as noise reduction and reduced thermal bridging. In a market focused on energy efficiency, it’s no surprise that such claims are getting a lot of attention. 

But Is It Worth The Extra Cost? BUILDER recently asked members of the Building Science Community group on LinkedIn to weigh in on what they think of hollow vinyl and insulated vinyl, and the insulated product’s energy-efficiency claims. Many of the experts who responded say they are skeptical that the insulated vinyl improves upon the original. 

“Vinyl siding is a great cladding because it is very air leaky,” wrote Joseph Lstiburek, principal at the Somerville, Mass.–based Building Science Corp. “It is hard to screw up vinyl siding over house wrap. It is the single most forgiving [residential] cladding system out there.”

While insulated vinyl installs much like traditional vinyl, the rigid backing curtails air movement and fills the wall system’s drainage plane. Members of the building science group on LinkedIn agreed that, potentially, filling the gap between the vinyl siding and the wall system takes away the major performance benefits of vinyl as an exterior cladding. 

Bob Kelly, owner of Kelly Carpentry in Chicago, made this statement: “My daily findings are always this: There’s no drainage plane to manage condensation and long-term vapor accumulations. Many buildings have a vapor barrier behind the drywall. If yet another vapor barrier is added in the form of insulation to the exterior, you’ll rot out the building.” 

BuildingGreen’s Roberts echoed the group’s consensus with his comments: “R-2 is not very significant. You can get it in a lot of ways and you can get it without compromising moisture issues.”