The New Discussion on Vinyl Siding: Part Two

Vinyl siding and historic preservation typically do not play well together. It’s an ongoing debate, sometimes cringe-worthy sight as buildings across the country are clad in vinyl. Preservationists know vinyl isn’t the maintenance free answer that people think it is. Yet, we seldom make headway. Perhaps until now.

Introducing a guest series by a new contributor: Philip B. Keyes, a fellow preservationist, with a new approach to the old discussion on vinyl siding in a four part series. Part One.


By Philip B. Keyes


Approach #2 (of 4): Stop telling people not to install it.

For one thing, people hate being told what to do, and the arguments rarely work in any case. And remember, the vinyl lobby never sleeps, evidenced by a yearly production of vinyl resin in this country in excess of 20 billion pounds. The Vinyl Institute, the national lobbying organization representing PVC manufacturers and suppliers is conveniently located in Washington DC and their suits schmooze and cruise the halls of power to defeat any legislation that may limit PVC’s popularity, or legality. Somehow (and we can guess how) the institute even managed to contract Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, to be their pitch person. He has since retired from Greenpeace. Once an intrepid pioneer in environmental science, Dr. Moore’s painfully scripted, plastic YouTube videos are nothing short of nauseating.

A tool to remove the vinyl siding. Click for original source.

A tool to remove the vinyl siding. Click for original source.

When I suggest that we stop telling people to avoid plastic siding, I am not saying we give up that fight. I am suggesting we move past it, to recommending that people remove plastic siding. Counterintuitive, perhaps, but this strategy has advantages. Moving the discussion to the benefits of removal attacks the bigger problem, if you believe as I do that the majority of historic buildings that will end up with plastic siding have already been plasticized. Our efforts are better concentrated there. Also, consider the motives of those thinking plastic siding is the answer: believe it or not many are thinking modern, shiny and avant-garde, bringing their properties out into the tech future, or at least mainstream. How will dreams of their shiny plastic siding feel when they discover the world has moved on, to the issue of how quickly it can be removed? Just maybe they look at their painted clapboarded buildings and say “hah, I haven’t spent a dime and I’m cutting edge!”

Vinyl siding over clapboard siding. How about removing it?

Vinyl siding over clapboard siding. How about removing it?

Consider also the extent to which the vinyl institute will mobilize their forces for the battle of deplasticizsing. There is no direct effect to their bottom line when we’re making our pitch to remove a product they’ve already profited from, meaning they’re less likely to send their suits to that table to argue. As a result, preservationists get a stronger voice and more control of the issue. Look out.


Beneath the vinyl eave is a clapboard eave.