Vanquishing the Vile Vinyl Veneer

Winter, as many know here in upstate New York know, quickly accelerates into Summer, and so, our plans for uncovering the original siding from beneath its plastic exterior briskly came to reality. As I may or may not have mentioned Kit and I are members of the Young Urban Preservationists who are a group of 20 to early 40 somethings who celebrate our region’s rich history through a diverse offering of events which we plan and execute ourselves. One of our fellow YUP’s and cofounder of the group itself, Caitlin Meives who works at the Landmark Society, finally got her way and convinced me to make an event out of tearing off the vinyl siding.

Leading up to the event I got to dive into some research on all of negative side effects and impacts of vinyl siding. So to review…vinyl siding is predominately (80%) composed of polyvinyl chloride (pvc). The production of pvc, like many plastics, is petroleum-based, furthermore its production releases chemical compounds such as dioxin which have been directly attributed to cancer in humans. Additional facts pertaining to vinyl siding to consider are:

  • Lead is often used as an additive to pvc as a stabilizer that provides added stiffness for vinyl siding, and can leach out over time.
  • Vinyl siding has also been attributed to off-gassing formaldehyde into the home…most infamously in the temporary trailer shelters provided by FEMA to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Vinyl siding and its requisite aluminum trim conceals the original design details of your historic facade, obscuring the articulated depths and reveals of the original siding, casing, and trim…not to mention it robs you house of its character doing its best to make your home appear as though it belongs in a 1990s suburban cookie-cutter tract.
  • Vinyl siding, whether installed correctly or incorrectly is quite capable of trapping moisture against your home leading to rot and accelerated deterioration of the original building materials.
  • Vinyl siding is not maintenance free as claimed by salespersons and builder alike. Cleaning as well as dealing with breakage in cold temperatures can prove challenging for homeowners. Colors do fade and painting vinyl, while not impossible, is notably difficult.
  • In the event of a catastrophe such as a fire, vinyl siding and its polystyrene insulation board beneath are both highly flammable and release toxic levels of dioxin and hydrogen chloride when burned, threatening not only you but your neighbors, bystanders and firefighters. It is often claimed that in a house fire with vinyl siding the occupants often succumb to the deadly gases it releases instead of smoke from the fire.
  • Did I mention its exceedingly difficult to recycle and so predominantly finds its way into landfills where it will take thousands of years to degrade?

The YUPs partnered with one of our great local architectural salvage stores, Re-House, to recycle the vinyl. Sally Kamprath, the owner of ReHouse…who also has a fantastic tudor revival in our neighborhood…graciously agreed to take the bundled vinyl and insulation board for their warehouse so that someone who may need to do repairs or use it for a small shed can put it reuse, diverting it from the landfill, yay!

Rehouse has a terrific menagerie of salvaged building materials from the 1800s through to the 1990s, and they recently increased their already large store so that there is a completely separate storefront dedicated to all the awesome mid-century appliances and furniture they sell.

Despite our heavy promotion of the event only a core group of YUPs showed up the day of our “Vinyl Siding Striptease“, but as it turned out having a larger crowd would have been unmanageable. Nevertheless we were all pretty excited to find out how good/bad the original siding was going to look like…maybe, just maybe it would be close to this…

So let us pursue our idealistic goals with reckless abandon. Today vinyl you have met your match (at least for the front of the house)!!!

Less than an hour before the destruction was to begin...the air is tense.

Less than an hour before the destruction was to begin…the air is tense.

There were nails, lots of nails…and the specialized vinyl siding removal tools we ordered for the event were not as easy to operate as YouTube videos would have you believe. Gloves were a necessity, not only because of the debris, and dead bugs that had accumulated behind the vinyl, but also because of the plentiful aluminum sheet metal wrapping every piece of trim and hidden in every interior corner just to ensure is was extra hard to remove. The nails used to attached the aluminum trim wraps were nearly impossible to remove due to their negligible heads and weak metal makeup.

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So after thousands of nails, a few cuts, some sunburn, and a healthy serving of Genny Cream Ale, the vinyl is officially gone from the exterior, and man what a difference it makes! The siding is 5/8″ red cedar shingles, each one was individually cut to create that wandering storybook style look, and is in surprisingly good shape. However, the vinyl installers could not help themselves when it came to tearing off the crown molding at the roof eaves as well as (and this one really grinds my gears) rough splitting (destroying) the copper wrapped drip moldings over all the windows.

TA-DA!!! (that last piece at the peak had to be removed by one of our roofer friends at CSTM Corp)

TA-DA!!! (that last piece at the peak had to be removed by one of our roofer friends at CSTM Corp)

Now all that is left to do…aside from replacing damaged/missing trim, stripping, sanding, priming, and painting the siding and trim is to rebuild the flower box and shutters!

Tips and Tricks for Vinyl Removal Learned:

  • Wear gloves and eye protection. Sunscreen and a dust mask are good ideas too.
  • Practice using the vinyl siding removal tool beforehand…I finally got the hang of it, and they do work well. Most of the vinyl also had notches cut into the backs to provide easier access for the tool to get into the locking groove.
  • Remove the vinyl from the top down. Although your first course will be quite hard the rest are made easier, because you gain access to the securing nails without the use of the siding tool.
  • We got lucky with little to no deterioration of our beautiful wood siding, however our trim was not to be spared, so go into this process expecting that their will be some wood replacement required.
  • Thin and small pry-bars and a regular claw hammer go a long way to getting most nails, but the usefulness of a good set of needle nose pliers cannot be unstated, especially for those pesky aluminum trim nails.
  • And the most import tip of all is…just paint your damn house, and forget the vinyl siding all together, its bad for the environment, bad for your house, and bad for your health.

We have already begun stripping the wood siding in earnest, which has kept us busy and away from the computer, so my apologies for taking so long to write this. Look for another post soon on MPLMP’s history or our antique/estate sale finds…until then conserve, preserve, and rejuvenate!


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