Figure 1-23: Vinyl siding nailing guidelines (C) Wiley and Sons, S Bliss Guide to Installing or Repairing Vinyl Siding &Trim

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How to install vinyl siding:

This article describes how to choose & install vinyl siding on buildings, including vinyl siding materials, installation, nailing, flashing, and trim. We describe the composition & properties of vinyl siding such as use of PVC, siding thickness, siding profiles, and how vinyl siding lock and nailing flanges work.

We give detailed specifications for installing vinyl siding including corner posts, fixture mounting blocks, use of J and F channel, nailing guidelines, horizontal overlap, trim details and options, and how to assure proper waterproofing at a vinyl-clad building.

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Vinyl Siding: Product Choices & Proper Siding Installation Details

Vinyl siding blow off New Jersey (C) Daniel FriedmanAdapted/paraphrased with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction. Steven Bliss.

This article series discusses best practices construction details for building exteriors, including water and air barriers, building flashing products & installation, wood siding material choices & installation, vinyl siding, stucco exteriors, building trim, exterior caulks and sealants, exterior building adhesives, and choices and application of exterior finishes on buildings: paints, stains.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Vinyl siding is the leading choice for residential siding in the United States, accounting for an estimated 36% of the siding market. It owes its popularity to its low cost and low maintenance needs.

When first introduced in the late 1950s, vinyl was criticized for fading rapidly, turning brittle in cold weather, and buckling (or “oil-canning”) in hot weather.

Vinyl siding, if not properly installed, is also vulnerable to siding or trim blow-offs in high winds [especially on the gable-ends of houses-DF] as our photo (left) demonstrates.

Through the use of additives to the resin and better installation techniques, however, manufacturers have addressed these concerns, and vinyl is finding its way onto more higher-end projects. Today’s premium products typically carry a 50-year, or “lifetime,” prorated warranty.

Article Contents:

Vinyl Siding Material Composition: plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) & additives

Vinyl siding remodeling (C) Daniel Friedman

Vinyl siding is composed of the plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) blended with a number of additives for specific properties: plasticizers for flexibility; stabilizers to prevent oxidation; UV radiation absorbers, such as titanium dioxide, to prevent fading and degradation; and pigments to add color.

Fillers are added to hold down costs, and the resin is extruded into a wide variety of the shapes that mimic natural siding materials. PVC is inherently fire resistant and carries a Class 1(A) fire-rating.

Our photo (left) shows a 1920's home that was re-sided with vinyl by the editor [DF] Poughkeepsie, NY.

Watch out: for an understanding of plastic or odor issues and potential health concerns see VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO and VINYL SIDING or WINDOW PLASTIC ODORS

Vinyl Siding Oxidation, White Dusting, Color Shifts, Shatter Resistance

While enhanced formulas have improved vinyl’s performance over the years, it is not impervious to the elements. Oxidation still occurs and, over time, may cause a white dusting on the surface, particularly in wet, cloudy climates such as the Northeast or Northwest. In freezing weather, a stray baseball can still shatter a panel.

Also sunlight tends to fade dark colors, and excessive heat will soften and potentially distort the vinyl. To minimize the effects of heat and sunlight, most vinyl colors are muted, although some darker colors are available with special additives to stabilize the vinyl.

Watch out: we sometimes find badly buckled or even burned vinyl building siding where someone placed a barbecue grill too close to the exterior wall (photo above left).

See Heat-Damaged Rippled, Bent, or Sagging Vinyl Siding for details about heat damaged and rippled or sagged vinyl siding.

See Installation & Repair Procedures for Vinyl Siding for suggestions and tools that are used to remove and replace vinyl siding in the middle of a wall.

Watch out: Information about vinyl products (not just siding) that may produce odors or have other environmental concerns can be found at VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO and VINYL SIDING or WINDOW PLASTIC ODORS.

Vinyl Siding Thickness

Nowadays most vinyl siding is extruded in a two-layer process that puts the more expensive weather resistant resins only in the outer layer to save costs. While building codes allow vinyl siding as thin as .032 inch (32 mils), premium products range from about 40 to 50 mils, with the thicker products typically costing proportionately more.

Some contractors prefer a heavier material for residing jobs to better smooth over the irregular substrate.

Vinyl Siding Profiles & Textures

Shiplap or drop lap vinyl siding profile (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

The rigidity of the siding, however, is more a function of its profile and particularly the thickness of the butt edge, which typically ranges from 1/2 to 3/4-inch (Figure 1-22)

Our photo of ship-lap profile vinyl siding (left) was provided courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.

In general, more rigid products are easier to install, but they have more pronounced shadow lines at joints.

Siding panels come in several profiles, usually containing two to four courses of siding per panel. Panels range from 6 to 10 inches in width and are typically 12 feet long, although some manufacturers offer greater lengths.

Finishes found on vinyl wall siding range from completely smooth to heavily textured. A lightly textured finish most closely mimics painted wood siding.

Watch out: some thin or possibly poorly-formulated thin-wall vinyl siding products maybe more prone to warping, buckling, or failing to stay locked in position. Details are at VINYL SIDING BUCKLED WARPED

Lock and Nailing Flanges on Vinyl Siding

Figure 1-22: Vinyl siding profiles (C) Wiley and Sons, S Bliss

All vinyl siding panels have a locking tab at the bottom of each panel that snaps over the top tab of the panel below.

[Click to see an enlarged, detailed version of any image.]

Because of problems with blow-offs in high winds, some of the premium panels feature reinforced nailing flanges, either with a thickened extrusion or a hem as shown in Figure 1-22.

Tip: If you need to disassemble vinyl siding that has already been installed, especially if you don't want to have to take apart the whole wall, pick up a vinyl siding clinching tool at your building supply store.

This simple hooked blade looks a bit like the old frog knife used to clean horses hooves, but it serves a modern purpose of unhooking and re-hooking vinyl siding in the middle of a wall - DF.

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

Installation Procedures for Vinyl Siding

Waterproofing Details for Vinyl Siding-Clad Walls: housewrap, flashings

Vinyl siding is not waterproof. Since wind-driven rain will penetrate at lap joints, corner boards, and other penetrations, all new siding jobs should begin with the installation of a weather-resistant drainage plane consisting of building paper or plastic housewrap and integrated flashings. On re-siding jobs, any leaks should be repaired in the original flashing or cladding before installation begins.

See WATER BARRIERS, EXTERIOR for details, and also see our additional discussion about building codes and weather barriers behind vinyl siding found at SIDING VINYL.

Thermal Movement in Vinyl-Sided Walls - proper nailing, no caulking avoids buckling or gaps

Vinyl siding nailing flange (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Because of its high coefficient of expansion, the key to successful installation of vinyl siding is to allow it to move freely as temperatures change.

A 12-foot length will vary in length up to 1/2 inch over a 100°F temperature change.

For that reason, manufacturers recommend leaving 1/4 inch clearance at receiving trim located at corners, windows, mounting blocks, or other places where the siding terminates or is notched.

Increase the clearance to 3/8 inch when installing in temperatures below 40°F.

Our photo (left, courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates) shows the standard nailing flange used on most vinyl siding products - in this case with no nails installed. Just below we discuss how vinyl siding should be nailed.

Do not caulk the vinyl siding panels at overlap joints or at ends where they meet receiving trim.

Heat damaged Vinyl Siding

Heat damaged vinyl siding (C) Daniel Friedman

at Damaged Rippled Vinyl Siding, Buckled Siding, Bent, or Sagging Vinyl Siding we discuss the range of sagged, rippled, and damaged vinyl siding and suggest most likely causes such as heat or bending.

There we collect reader comments, guesses, and opinions about what caused the weird wrinkled vinyl shown in our photo at left.

Clue: this is not thermal expansion.

Nailing Guidelines for Vinyl Siding - Mistakes mean Blow-Off or Buckling Siding

Figure 1-23: Vinyl siding nailing guidelines (C) Wiley and Sons, S Bliss

Nails in vinyl siding can also restrict movement and cause buckling problems. To prevent this, do not nail the siding tight. Instead, “hang” the siding by driving nails in the center of the nailing slots and leaving 1/32 to 1/16-inch (the thickness of a dime) between the fastener head and the siding.

Drive nails straight since the head of an angled nail can pinch and distort the siding. Use corrosion-resistant nails with heads at least 5/15-inch in diameter, such as roofing nails, driven at least 3/4-inch into solid wood (Figure 1-23).

Standard nailing spacing for vinyl siding is 16 inches on-center for horizontal panels, 12 inches for vertical panels. In high-wind areas, use extra nails and choose a product with a hemmed or reinforced nailing flange. Carson Dunlop's photo (below) demonstrates aluminum roofing nails used to hang vinyl siding on a building wall.

Vinyl siding nailing detail (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Experienced vinyl siding installers who want to avoid siding blow-off (see VINYL SIDING INSPECTION & REPAIR) refer to "hanging vinyl siding" on the building wall rather than "nailing vinyl siding to the building wall" precisely to remind workers not to nail siding so tightly that it buckles when heated.

On a wall section long enough to have spliced sections of vinyl wall siding in a given siding course, if we see vinyl wall siding that is buckled, we also check to see if the siding moves freely left and right on the wall. It's easy to either use the butt of your hand to try to slide a siding panel left or right - it should move about 1/2" or so. If the siding feels tight we may check further by grasping the end or edge of a siding section to see if we can pull or push it.

When locking the vinyl siding panels into position, do not force them up or pull them down to adjust the alignment. Too tight panels can tear and too-loose panels can unlock and come loose. One exception is at the band joint between the first and second floor where panels may come unlocked due to shrinkage of the framing. To compensate for this, some contractors pull the panels a little tight over the band joist area.

For a detailed guide to  types and causes of buckled, broken, bent, or rippled vinyl siding on buildings see Damaged Rippled Vinyl Siding, Buckled Siding, Bent, or Sagging Vinyl Siding

Overlap Specifications for Horizontal Vinyl Siding Joints

Vinyl siding bad butt joint (C) Daniel Friedman

Where more than one panel is needed along a run, overlap the two panels by about an inch, with the overlapped edge facing away from high traffic areas so they will be less visible.

Overlaps should be staggered at least 3 feet and in a random pattern to avoid creating a visual seam or step effect up the wall. Where possible, use a single piece of siding across the wall.

The fewer joints, the more attractive and water-resistant the job will be.

Our vinyl siding butt joint photo (left) shows how not to install this material.

Fixture Mounting Blocks on Vinyl Siding

Exterior fixtures—such as light fixtures, electrical panels, and hose bibs—can also cause problems if they are fastened through the siding, restricting its free movement.

Siding manufacturers sell mounting blocks with integral J-channel to hold panel ends and allow for movement.

Or the contractor can install wood mounting blocks before installing the siding and trim them with J-channel or utility trim.

Trim Details for Vinyl Siding

The appearance of a vinyl siding job often has more to do with the trim details than with the siding itself. By using wider trim pieces and avoiding the overuse of J-channel, the installer can produce a more attractive finished product. Manufacturers sell a wide range of accessories in PVC, aluminum, or vinyl-coated aluminum. Most contractors fabricate at least some of their trim pieces on site from either prefinished or vinyl-coated aluminum coil stock, using a sheet-metal break and other specialized tools.

Like vinyl siding, aluminum trim has a high coefficient of expansion so installation details need to accommodate movement. Avoid putting nails in the face of flat pieces of coil stock and allow 1/4 inch at edges for expansion and contraction. Where possible, use a vinyl receiving channel, roofing drip cap, or another piece of trim to support long runs of flat aluminum trim, minimizing the use of nails.

Where nails are required, use slotted nail holes, which can be made using a slot punch. Repainted aluminum or stainless-steel nails are available to match siding and trim colors. A one-inch hem placed along one edge of flat trim, such as fascia, will help minimize buckling or oil-canning.

Soffit and Fascia Products Used with Vinyl Siding

Figure 1-24: Vinyl and Aluminum Trim Construction Detail (C) Wiley and Sons, S Bliss

Most vinyl siding jobs include aluminum fascia trim and vinyl or aluminum soffit panels.

[Click to see an enlarged, detailed version of any image.]

The fascia is typically secured at the top, either by the drip edge or a piece of vinyl utility trim, although it can also be fastened with a few face-nails (through slotted holes) if the nails will be hidden by a gutter.

The bottom lip of the fascia should be nailed sparingly in slotted holes to allow movement (Figure 1-24 at left).

The outside edge of the aluminum or vinyl soffit panels can be supported by the receiving channel (J-channel or F-channel) or by the L bend at the bottom of the fascia, as shown in Figure 1-24.

The back edge of the soffit is either supported by receiving channel or a wood or vinyl frieze board.

These details allow the fascia and soffit panels to move freely to accommodate thermal expansion and avoid buckling.

Windows and Door Trim with Vinyl Sided Walls - Using J-Channels

Figure 1-25: Window and door trim for vinyl siding (C) Wiley and Sons, S Bliss

Window and door trim is perhaps the most conspicuous part of a vinyl siding job. Good planning is important. If possible, plan the job so a full butt of the siding lands on top of the windows.

At window bottoms avoid the use of 3/4inch J-channel, which lets the unrestricted siding buckle. Instead use utility trim or under-sill trim to hold the siding tight here and at other horizontal projections.

Where the vinyl has been notched below a window, use a snap-lock punch to create raised lugs along the top edge of the siding, locking it into the under-sill trim.

At window side and head jambs, J-channel is the most common treatment, with end tabs on the top J-channel bent over the side channels to deflect water (Figure 1-25).

While this detail helps shed water, it is important to note that J-channel does not serve as window head flashing. The window head should be properly flashed with the window’s top flange or drip cap lapped under the sheathing wrap and sealed to the sheathing with flashing tape.

Figure 1-26: Vinyl Siding Corner Posts (C) J Wiley and Sons, S Bliss

Installing the Corner Post with Vinyl Siding

Figure 1-27: Vinyl Corner Posts

To simplify installation and avoid the conspicuous look of J-channel around windows, one option is to use solid vinyl windows with an integral J-channel (Figure 1-26 far left).

For the more traditional look of flat trim around the window, you can use vinyl widow casing, which is typically 2 1/2 inches wide with an integral J-channel.


Set the inside and outside vinyl corner posts about 1/4 inch below the soffit or frieze above, and lock them in place with nails at the top of the uppermost nailing slots.

Then nail in the center of the slots every 6 to 12 inches so that any movement is downward, not upward.

Vinyl corner trim tends to be wavy, so following a snapped line is helpful (Figure 1-27 above right).

Vinyl-Siding J-Channel Errors Over Windows: Leaks

Damaged vinyl siding (C) Daniel Friedman Damaged vinyl siding (C) Daniel Friedman

In our photo at above left it looks like really sloppy J-channel work during siding installation, leaving a leak at the window sill.

Our photo of improperly-cut J-channel trim around a window (above right) shows a more serious problem than may be immediately apparent.

In Spackenkill, Poughkeepsie, NY we found an entire neighborhood of homes in which nearly all of the windows were rotted beyond repair due to this error. The same installer had done all the J-channel vinyl siding work on all the homes.

Also see J-Channel Mistakes in Vinyl Siding Cause Costly Building Damage

Watch out: J-Channel errors can rot windows and doors: Wind-blown rain sent inside the J-channel trim and into the window structure was the problem caused because the installer didn't follow the manufacturer's instructions. Properly the top J-channel is trimmed to include a tab bent over the vertical J-channel to route water outside, not inside the trim. The little flap and proper J-channel installation details are shown in Figure 1-25.

Wood Trim Installation with Vinyl Siding

Figure 1-28: Traditional Trim (C) Wiley and Sons, S Bliss

For those attracted to the low-maintenance appeal of vinyl siding but who want the look of traditional trim, builders can use wood or composite trim rabbeted or built out to create a receiving channel for the siding.

For example, 5/4--inch corner boards can be rabbeted to receive the siding, or standard 3/4-inch stock can be furred out the thickness of the vinyl siding to create a similar effect (see Figure 1-28).

Window and door casings in a vinyl-sided wall can be fashioned the same way.

Either use a furring strip to raise the casing above the vinyl siding or use a thicker profile with a rabbet.

At the bottom of the window, you can partially conceal the undersill trim in the rabbet. To shed water, the head casing will still need conventional head flashing and J-channel, but these will be relatively inconspicuous.

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

Ten Tips for a Good Vinyl Siding Installation

The following suggestions are adapted from CertainTeed's vinyl and polymer siding installation guide cited and adapted just below. Bold and non-italic text has been added. As the company notes, (quoting)

... even the best products fall short of expectations if they are not installed properly. Following these ten recommendations—the basics of a professional installation—can help ensure a quality installation that fulfills homeowners’ expectations and reduces call backs. - Certainteed (2015) cited below.

  1. Install vinyl siding on smooth flat wall sheathing: Install all siding and accessories over a smooth, flat surface. Always install siding over a rigid sheathing, and never install it over open studs.
  2. Install vinyl siding over house wrap or a water barrier: Vinyl siding is not a watertight material. Install a weather-resistant barrier, like CertainTeed CertaWrap and flash around all windows and doors before installing vinyl siding and trim.
  3. How to cut vinyl siding: There are three recommended ways to cut vinyl siding: For rip cuts, score the panel with a knife or vinyl blade and bend the panel back and forth. Use aviator snips or shears to fit panels around windows and doors. For cross cuts, use a circular saw with a plywood blade in the reverse position.
  4. Vinyl siding end gap clearance at vertical abutments: Always leave room for expansion and contraction into receiving channels like outside cornerposts, inside cornerposts, and J-channel. If the temperature is above 40°, leave 1/4"; if the temperature is below 40°, leave 3/8".

    Watch out: : this end clearance pertains to vertical surfaces such as trim against which the siding ends abut. It does not mean you leave gaps between abutting coursed of siding themselves. Rather, those overlap so that when siding shrinks in cool temperatures gaps won't appear. See note 5 below.
  5. Vinyl siding butt joint overlap specifications: When installing horizontal vinyl siding panels 12' 6" in length or shorter, overlap the factory notches 1" to 1-1/4" (depending on the temperature).
  6. Vinyl siding nailing schedule & placement: Always nail in the center of the nail slots: 16" on center for siding; 8" to 12" for accessories.
  7. Hang the siding, don't nail it tight: DO NOT NAIL TIGHT! Always leave 1/8" to 1/16" between the nail head and the wall surface to allow for movement when the panel expands and contracts.

    Watch out
    : failure to follow this recommendation is a common cause of ugly buckled vinyl siding courses. If the siding is nailed tight to the wall it will buckle when it warms and expands even if the end gap clearances at step 4 were provided.
  8. Vertical accessories & window top j-channel: Hang vertical accessories from the top of the top nail slot. If the accessory is longer than 12', hang it from the top two nail slots.
  9. Siding course overlap direction: Lap away from the highest traffic pattern, typically the front of the house. Keep laps at least 3' apart from course to course, and install three courses between laps above each other.
  10. Top or last siding course detail: Finish the last piece of siding into utility trim or dual utility trim. 

Other vinyl siding installation manuals are listed at VINYL SIDING INSTALLATION MANUALS

Vinyl Siding Un-Lock Tool to Remove or Repair Vinyl Siding

Use this Siding Hook to Remove or Replace Vinyl Siding

Side Swiper vinyl siding replacement tool Malco (C) Daniel Friedmanh

This discussion has moved to a new article now at VINYL SIDING HOOK to REMOVE & REPLACE

There we show how to use this vinyl siding hook or siding removal tool to un-hook vinyl siding to permit repair, replacement or other work.

When Does the Siding Go On? Building Construction Sequence

Reader Question: Working With the Local Building Code Officials, Building Inspectors, & Building Code Compliance

Can I install the vinyl siding on my garage apartment project before I install drywall. - M.A. 9/21/2013


Your question is worrisome - as I'm not sure what you are worried about. Exterior siding has nothing to do with interior wall finish materials, except that it would be foolish to install interior drywall, vapor barriers, or insulation in wall cavities before the building exterior is finished sufficient to be completely weather tight.

Reader follow-up:

The building inspector is concerned that weight of drywall will cause siding to buckle.  9/22/2013

Thank you for the information on vinyl siding installation.  I was not worried about installing the siding it was the building inspectors  concern  that if  the siding was installed prior to hanging the drywall  that the weight of the drywall would cause the siding to buckle. M.A. 9/23/2013


I'm sorry, but with respect, I can't make any sense whatsoever out of the concern you describe.

Drywall is attached to and supported by the building structure not by the vinyl siding.

In proper construction we complete the building shell at least far enough along to make the building waterproof before we would ever consider interior work such as installing insulation and then drywall on walls and ceilings. The building may be dry - weatherproof, once the roof is on, wall sheathing is on, house-wrap is on, windows and doors are in place, and probably most exterior trim is in place; at that point the shell should be dry and weatherproof (unless an idiot installed the building housewrap improperly) and both exterior siding and interior work (wiring, plumbing, insulation, drywall) can proceed.

I suspect there is a serious miscommunication going on here.

Reader Follow-up:

As I am very limited with computers please excuse my inexperience. I thank you for all the information regarding my 2 story garage apartment project. I have never thought it was a problem to install the vinyl siding prior to installing the dry wall. It was the building inspectors concern. I would love to get my home sided before winter so that I could start the inside. Can building inspector force me to wait or can I move forward with my vinyl siding installation. Thank you again. - M.A. 10/17/2013

Reply: how to get along with the building code inspector: comply with the building codes

Can the building inspector stop a construction project?

If by building inspector you mean the local town or city building department's inspector: yes absolutely that person can stop a construction project.

But in the case we have been discussing it sounds to me more as if there may have been some confusion about just what the problem is.

In my experience, building department officials are sick and tired of people who are trying to evade proper construction codes and practices and not very friendly to people who they think are trying to do something cheap, stupid, or similar.

But if the inspector understands that you want to do what is correct and proper and you fully intend and want to comply with the building codes and officials, you can usually expect the building inspector to be "on your side" and even to help you out by making clear exactly what they think is required.

If then you think what the inspector has said makes no sense, you need to get the requirement clarified; on occasion the building inspector may agree to a variation from what she or he has specified if the variation in turn has been signed-off-on by a licensed building professional such as an architect or engineer. In that case they are passing responsibility for correctness and safety on to that person.

It might help sort out some of the confusion about when you can hang vinyl siding and when you should or should not hang drywall by reviewing the concerns listed at DRY-IN, DEFINITION. There you will see that weight of the outside or inside wall claddings is not listed.

Frankly I cannot imagine that a knowledgeable building professional would want the (insulation and) drywall installed before the building exterior shell is dry - which would normally include the steps I described above. Installing drywall presumes that we have already installed wiring, plumbing, and building insulation first. If those were installed before the building exterior were fully sealed against the weather we are inviting a catastrophe: leaks into the building walls, wet insulation, mold, rot, insects, a disaster.

That's why I said earlier I thought there must be a misunderstanding. In general in construction we frame the structure, then install roof sheathing and roof covering and wall sheathing, then house wrap, then windows, doors, and exterior trim; When those components are in place it is perfectly fine to install the finish siding outside, even if the walls have not been insulated; In fact the more complete that we make the exterior shell of the building the more we are assured that the building is "dry" - which makes the installation of wiring, plumbing, and then insulation safe - in that we don't want wiring or insulation to be wet.

Watch out: some building departments permit drywall to be installed before the building dry-in has been completed provided that moisture-resistant board (presumably greenboard or cement board) is used on the building interior surfaces. In my OPINION this is very risky - wind-blown rain or any other leaks entering enclosed (and worse, insulated) building wall or ceiling cavities is an engraved invitation to possibly dangerous and certainly costly mold contamination that may not be discovered until later. Such problems can be initiated in as little as 24-48 hours after a wetting event. Longer term problems may ensue such as insect infestation or even rot.

Keep me posted and send along photos of your project if you can - that may allow further comment.


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