Purchasing Siding, Gutters and Roofs


All About Contractors


Siding, roofing, and gutter contractors often work through subcontractors – that's just the nature of the business.  You want to make sure that the subcontractor that does our work is the company's "A Team" who works for the company on a regular basis and with whom the company's owners are comfortable.  Some firms can quote you a low price on siding or trim because they can pick up a freelance subcontractor on an as needed basis.  A prior customer of such a company could be quite satisfied with the project results, but we could have a different experience because a different crew might be hired to do our work.  You don’t want this to happen to you.  I don't mean to disparage independent subcontractors – I'm sure that most of them are quite good.  However, I'm sure you'll agree that we want to get good consistent workmanship throughout our neighborhood.


Designing Your Home’s Exterior


CertainTeed has a computer program at www.certainteed.com/colorview/ that allows you to selected siding, shutter, roof, and trim colors.  Of course, the program is keyed to CertainTeed products and colors.  However, even if you select another siding or shutter manufacturer, CertainTeed's colors and designs are probably close enough to give you some good ideas.


Finally, MidAmerica, which distributes shutters and a variety of design details such as window sunbursts and window headers, has a window design program at http://www.tapcoint.com/Midam/web/pages/DIDesignIdeas.html  In addition to viewing their products on the screen, if you choose "Mix 'n' Match" you can see what various window and shutter designs/colors look like.


Replacement Siding


Very little aluminum siding is made these days.  Nearly all siding sold is solid vinyl which doesn't fade very much as the color pigment runs through the siding.  Siding is installed by nailing long sheets to the exterior of the house.  When a single piece of siding is not long enough for the area, multiple pieces are run end-to-end, with a slight overlap.


You'll want a rigid product that won't warp and give a wavy appearance when you sight down the side of the house.  Siding generally runs between .040 inches to .046 inches in thickness.  Although one would think that the thickest siding is the best, thinner sidings can often perform quite well because other manufacturing details provide rigidity.  I would generally shy away from .046 siding, though, as it is so thick that the overlap is obtrusive.


Much of today's siding is textured to simulate wood grain.  If the texture is too deep, it may attract dirt.  Also, some colors will hide dirt better than others.  Another factor is the color of your neighbors' homes.  I was originally leaning to beige until I realized that I am already surrounded by beige colored houses.  Yet another beige house would make my cul-de-sac monotonous, indeed.


There are numerous siding manufacturers and, quite honestly, I'm of the impression that they all offer high quality comparable products.  There is a lot of competition in the business and no one company dominates.  Installers may steer you toward a particular manufacturer because they are familiar with it or get an especially good price or freebies (like a "trade show" in Cancun!) if they purchase sufficiently large quantities.  Bear in mind, though, that any installer can get you any brand of siding you want.


Two siding brands that seem to be popular with local installers are CertainTeed and Alside.  They are both pretty good products.  You can view their product lines and learn a lot about siding in general by visiting their web sites.

CertainTeed www.certainteed.com/cside/csvs00001fu.html

Alside www.alside.com/siding/index.htm

CertainTeed and Alside are both huge national companies.


Two other popular national brands are Norandex and Royal.

Norandex www.norandex.com/Siding/general/index.asp?vinyl

Royal www.royalbuildingproducts.com/html/main.html


Also visit the vinyl siding trade association at www.vinylsiding.org and learn all kinds of information about vinyl siding.


All of these sites can teach you about the products and get some ideas on color schemes.


Consumer Reports magazine has a report on vinyl siding in the August 2003 issue.  If you are interested in learning how vinyl siding is installed, check out "Vinyl Siding Done Right" from Fine Homebuilding magazine. www.taunton.com/finehomebuilding/pages/h00110.asp


When I spoke with the contractors, I emphasized that Hickory Farms is a medium priced neighborhood and I suggested a medium priced siding be included in the bids.  However, don't dismiss a higher quality/priced product out of hand.  Price differences in various qualities of siding are fairly minor.  The difference in price for a higher quality siding could amount to as little as $250 for an $8,000 siding job.  Siding is priced according to the "square," which is 100 square feet of wall space.  The contractor will measure your home to estimate how many squares of siding are needed and quote a price per square.


Any installer can throw up siding.  The difference in quality is in how well it is installed, and it's the small details that can make a big difference (Remember the A Team discussion?).  Does the installer use special pieces (called J-boxes) around water spigots, dryer vents, and under exterior lights – or does he just cut the siding around the water spigot and caulk?  Does the installer replace the existing cheesy plastic gable vents with matching vinyl vents?  What is the warranty (The manufacturer should offer a product warranty and the installer should offer an installation warranty)?  Does the installer use J-channel around windows and doors (our original aluminum siding was installed using caulking between the siding and doors and windows, which was common at the time) or, if possible, are wide window and door casings and other techniques used to avoid J-channel (Sometimes, too much J-channel looks ticky-tacky)?  Are the windows flashed before the siding is installed?  Does the installer use a starter strip at the bottom of the exterior wall and sill trim under the windows?


You can also order all kinds of vinyl door headers, sunbursts for over the windows, door surrounds, and other forms of exterior detail to spruce up your home.  They tend to be expensive and they require ACC approval because they change the exterior appearance of your house.  You can view such products at www.tapcoint.com/Midam/web/pages/Homeowners.html


When you negotiate a contract, consider asking for the following requirements.


  • Remove & haul away existing siding
  • Install starter strips
  • Use 2" siding nails
  • New vinyl louvers with screens to gable vents
  • Window flashing replaced if damaged
  • Install sill trim at windows
  • Use J channels around windows, doors, rakes, flashings, and gables as required.
  • Miter cut J channel where appropriate
  • Consult homeowner regarding seam orientation.  If not available, orient seams away from dominant views – for example, by running the siding from a back corner to a front corner.  On front, install so seams are least visible to someone approaching the house.
  • Install proper mounts for lights, electrical boxes, hose bibs, and exhaust vents
  • Reset all lights, flag holders, etc. and tuck any wires possible
  • Remove and reinstall existing shutters, unless new shutters are purchased from contractor or provided by customer
  • Complete site cleanup upon completion of work ("broom clause")
  • Homeowners may provide new light fixtures that contractor will install. (In new siding areas only)
  • Ask for two pieces of leftover siding that you can later use for repair, should your siding be discontinued.
  • Warranty: Manufacturer product warranty.  10 year workmanship/installation warranty


Siding Insulation


You might consider having some kind of insulation installed under the siding.  At least 1/4" of foam insulation might be a good idea.  Although it only provides an R-1 insulation value, it helps flatten out the wall, giving the siding a good installation surface.  It also acts like Tyvek and helps keep drafts from entering the house.  Installers like it because it has grid lines that they use to locate the studs where they need to nail into (you won't believe how much of our siding is nailed into the Celotex underlayment and not into studs!).  Another consideration is a "P38" type product which is 3/8" foam covered with a heat reflective surface.  It has an R value of about 3.6 but it costs more than the ¼" insulation.  If you exceed 3/8" thickness, the width of the siding and insulation could be so great that it exceeds the thickness of the window frame.  Another option is to choose a siding product which has Styrofoam insulation molded right into the siding itself.  It offers a good insulation value but tends to be very expensive.  If you're getting insulation, discuss with the contractor whether you really need it for an unheated garage.


If the width of the area to be sided exceeds the length of the piece of siding (generally 12'), two or more pieces must be installed with a slight overlap.  The thicker the siding, the more obtrusive the overlap.  This is why I suggest you shy away from the thickest .046" siding.  Although thickness implies rigidity and strength, the overlaps can be obtrusive on the thickest siding.


The siding crew will install the siding such that the overlaps point in a direction that is least obtrusive when you are approaching the house.  If overlap orientation is important to you and you're unsure that the crew will orient the siding as you would like, speak with the crew foreman and tell him how you want the overlaps oriented.


Also, some manufacturers such as CertainTeed offer a few types of siding in 16' long panels.  Since longer panels mean fewer seams, you might consider longer panels if the visibility of overlaps is a major concern.


Regardless of what vinyl siding you choose, you'll find that vinyl siding overlaps are more visible than our existing aluminum siding overlaps.  That's because aluminum siding is thinner than vinyl siding.  Vinyl also tends to flex a bit more than aluminum, thereby making the vinyl overlap a little more obvious.


I've also learned of an aspect of the dutch lap siding that you should be aware of.  Dutch lap siding is designed to simulate a wooden plank.  Thus, once it is installed, there is a void between the vinyl siding and the exterior of the house.  If you press the siding, it will give a little bit.  All things being equal, this could make the dutch lap siding a little more prone to breakage than traditional clapboard siding.  Some dutch lap sidings have the void filled with Styrofoam which provides more rigidity and significantly more insulating value; it is also very, very expensive.


Finally, whether you choose dutch lap or clapboard siding such as the Alside Odyssey Plus, I recommend 5" wide panels (they come in both 4" and 5").  Existing aluminum panels on our homes are either 4" or 8".  In my opinion, the 4" panels make the house look "too busy."  And, dutch lap has an extra crease as compared with clapboard.  So, all things being equal, dutch lap siding looks "more busy" than clapboard siding.




Your existing shutters will have to be removed when the old siding is removed.  Do you want to reinstall your old shutters, particularly if they are wooden ones that need to be repainted?  You might consider replacing your shutters with new vinyl ones that will not fade or chip.  They're fairly inexpensive (about $30-40 a set at Home Depot) and the contractor may give you a good deal because it's easier to tear down the old brittle shutters and junk them.  Although louvered shutters were installed when our homes were built, some folks are opting for raised panel shutters.  Finally, you might consider installing shutters on some windows that currently do not have them, such as on the sides of the garage and house.  If the window is visible from the street, it probably ought to have shutters.  Regarding warranty, consider asking for 10 years workmanship/installation warranty, transferable to one new owner. The shutter itself should have a manufacturer’s specified warranty.


Replacement Exterior Lights


If you have lights mounted on your siding, the contractor should remove and reinstall them.  I’ll bet that your current exterior lights are in dire need of replacement.  So, rather than making a late night run to Home Depot or Lowes in the middle of the remodeling project, buy those replacement fixtures now and have them on hand for when the contractor installs your siding.  Home Depot seems to have a better selection of fixtures than Lowes.  Check the local lighting stores.  Sometimes the will meet or beat the big box stores, and they have a better selection.  You'll notice vast price differences between solid brass and brass finished fixtures.  You can get a brass finished fixture for around $25, but it will corrode after only a few years.  For $100, you can get a solid brass fixture with a “lifetime” finish guarantee (In all honesty, no finish will last a lifetime.  The higher price basically buys you insurance that the manufacturer will replace the lamp as long as you own your home).  The $100 fixture might be the better buy over the long run.




Our homes have wood trim that needs to be painted periodically.  A lot of folks want to have it covered so that they no longer have to paint it.  You can trim the roof overhangs (soffits), the wood trim around the perimeter of the roof (rakes and fascia), and around doors, windows, and garages.  A very crude cost estimate for vinyl coated aluminum trim is two times the cost of having your exterior trim painted.  Installing trim is a very labor intensive activity.  The technician has to measure each piece of wood and bend the trim material to fit precisely.  The material is then nailed to the wood and the corners caulked.  45 degree corner angles are a sign of quality.  Also, decide whether you want the detail of your existing woodwork preserved.  You can have trim done very inexpensively if you only want a simple box covering an intricately molded piece of wood.  Matching the intricate shape of trimwork is costly.  Think carefully, though, about whether you want trim around doors and garages as they tend to get dinged, especially with children around.  A dinged painted door frame can be repainted, but a dinged trimmed door frame may have to be retrimmed (or painted).


When you negotiate a contract, consider asking for the following requirements.


  • Remove & haul away existing trim
  • Exterior casing to be capped with an architectural bend and corners will be miter cut
  • Trim to be nailed and caulked (not just caulked)
  • Gutters to be retracted for installation of frieze board trim.
  • 40+ caulk, such as year OSI Quad
  • Complete site cleanup upon completion of work ("broom clause")
  • Warranty: Lifetime product and workmanship/installation, transferable once to new owner.


Replacement Windows


Although some folks (like me) are considering completely removing their existing windows and replacing them with new construction windows, that involves removing, replacing, and painting all of the interior window trim.  It's very time consuming and expensive, but you can get a beautiful new wooden (interior) vinyl (exterior) new construction window such as an Andersen, Pella, or Marvin.  New construction windows are an option only if you're replacing the siding at the same time, though.


Most of the folks in the neighborhood who have replaced their old drafty windows have chosen the vinyl replacement window route.  Here, the existing window frame stays in place.  The storm window and existing window sashes are removed from the outside.  They are replaced with what is essentially a completely new vinyl window and frame.  The existing wooden frame is then trimmed in the same manner as described above, so that it never has to be painted.  This trim is included in the price of the replacement window.  There are a lot of advantages to replacement windows over new construction windows, the first being that an installer can replace all of your windows in a single day.  The second is that they're cheaper.


Replacement windows are usually made of solid vinyl with a limited number of colors.  They tilt out for easy cleaning.  You should insist on double pane windows.  They can be filled with argon gas and a nearly invisible heat reflective "low E-coating" that keeps the house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, as well as keeping out much of the rays than fade furniture, drapes, and carpet.  You can upgrade from argon to krypton gas for an even higher insulating value (but that would mean that you couldn't let Superman near your windows!)  Also, gas filled double pane windows are noted for reducing outside sounds better than our existing windows.


As with the siding, the two brands that the local installers seem to prefer are CertainTeed and Alside.  They are both pretty good products.  You can visit

CertainTeed www.certainteed.com/cwindows

Alside www.alside.com/windows

Vytex www.vytexwindows.com/homeowner.shtml


Another good source of information is www.vinyl-replacement-windows.org


The National Fenestration Rating Council at www.nfrc.org/select.html evaluates the insulating qualities of many products, including replacement windows.  If the window is not rated by the NFRC, the manufacturer might be trying to hide something – be suspicious.  The NFRC sticker allows you to compare the insulating qualities of various windows.


Consumer Reports magazine has a report on windows in its October 2000 issue, and rated the CertainTeed Bryn Mawr II pretty well.  It's a good window and any contractor will sell you one if you ask.  However, there are a lot of other good windows out there, and you might get a better price on a different window.


Fine Homebuilding Magazine has a good article on energy efficient windows at www.taunton.com/finehomebuilding/pages/h00029.asp


Another good source of information is the Fall 2003/Winter 2004 issue of Consumer Checkbook magazine (which is a local version of Consumer Reports).  It's available at the Fairfax Library or you can order the article online for $10 at www.checkbook.org/cgi-bin/download/default.cfm?action=showsummary&FileID=132


(Here's a plug for Consumer Checkbook:  Please subscribe by visiting www.checkbook.org.  I've been a subscriber for years and they provide a great service to us homeowner types.  Consumer Checkbook rates home repair firms, doctors, restaurants, dentists, federal employee health plans, grocery stores, vets, insurance, and lots of other things.  Their articles tend to be more comprehensive than Consumer Reports.)


When purchasing windows, consider the warranty (both manufacturer's and installer's).  The manufacturer's warranty is particularly important because if the seal between the two glass panes fails, the window fogs up and the glass will have to be replaced.  Some contractors will include a manufacturer's lifetime glass breakage warranty in case it gets struck by an errant baseball.  Some windows use tempered glass which is less prone to breakage.  Check if the warranties transfer should you sell your home.


A major consideration with replacement windows is loss of glass area.  It is for this reason that I was initially tending towards new construction windows rather than replacement windows.  Because our homes were built shortly after the mid 1970's energy crisis, the windows are on the smallish side and our homes tend to be dark inside.  Our basic home designs, though, have been around for quite a while.  For example, I have a 5 bedroom colonial that was built in 1981.  My carpool buddy has the identical home built in 1969 in Vienna.  Her windows are a lot bigger than mine.  (The home also has hardwood floors and other bells and whistles that are missing from mine, but that's another story.)  When you consider that the nearly invisible low E insulation film in the double pane window reduces light transmission by a little bit, you'll want your replacement window to have as much glass as possible.  Also, remember that a replacement window is a window within a window.  So, it's likely that the new frame is going to take away some existing glass area.  Depending upon the window chosen, you could lose a lot of glass area because some frames are particularly wide.  Take this into consideration when comparing replacement windows.


Our existing double sash windows have six or nine individual glass panels in each sash.  Replacement windows use single panes of glass.  The individual pane effect is simulated through plastic grids installed between the panes.  If you are ordering grids, consider asking for ones that simulate our Colonial look, rather than the  ½" flat ones you see in a lot of newly constructed homes.


Speaking of windows, you might consider replacing those single pane casement windows you have in the basement or bathroom as well as that drafty basement sliding glass door.  Basement windows and doors with low E glass can make quite a difference in comfort.


Based upon my discussions with installers, I get the impression that replacement windows are one of the highest markup items in their package.  Most of the other products require a lot of skilled labor which is fixed and pretty much costs the same whomever you hire.  For windows, it is the cost of the window itself that forms the bulk of the total cost.  So it comes down to how much markup the installer is willing to sacrifice in order to get the job.


How much glass area will be lost due to the frame width?  Is the material that separates the glass panes a low conducting material to reduce heat transmission (aluminum is not good)?  Do both sashes tilt for easy cleaning?


Here are some questions to ask about replacement windows:  What is the NRFC U-factor, or insulating factor (lower is better)?  Does the U-factor apply to the glass only, or to the entire window?  A single pane of glass in an aluminum frame has a U-factor of 1.  An expensive high tech window might go as low as .1.  Most replacement windows are in the range of .35-.5.


The NRFC also rates windows for Solar Heat Gain Coefficient.  Numbers range from 0 to 1, with the higher numbers meaning that the window allows the sun's heat to get indoors.  A high number may be great in the winter but not so good in the summer.  A Solar Heat Gain Coefficient in the range of .4-.55 is probably acceptable for our region.


Visible Transmittance is also evaluated by the NRFC.  Numbers range from 0 to 1, with the higher numbers allowing in more light.


Are the corners of the vinyl windows welded rather than screwed (Screws had a bad rep several years ago and have gotten much better, but welded is still considered the better quality)?  What are the warranties (including leakage and glass breakage) and who will back them up?  Do you really need a high tech insulating window for an unheated garage?  Some windows also have the Energy Star label which identifies them as being suitable for a specific region.  You might consider frosted windows for bathrooms or the garage.


If you really want to get fancy, you can order different window types for South and West facing sunny windows than North facing windows that don't get direct sunlight.  But for most of us, a double pane argon filled low E window is probably a reasonable choice for most of our windows.


When you negotiate a contract, consider asking for the following requirements.


·        Windows include: argon filled, low-E film, Colonial grills to match existing configuration, double strength glass, ½ screen, and exterior casing capped with an architectural bend with miter cut corners

·        Remove and dispose of all windows/storm windows

·        Cap and caulk exterior, using brick mould bends and 45 degree miter corners

·        Cap steel header

·        Complete site cleanup upon completion of work

·        Caulk interior with paintable 40+ years caulk, such as Siroflex. Exterior to be 40+ year caulk, such as OSI Quad.

  • Warranty.  The window carries a manufacturer’s product warranty.  Consider asking for lifetime glass breakage warranty and 10 years workmanship/installation, transferable once to new owner. 


Gutters and Downspouts


Aluminum gutters and downspouts (sometimes called "leaders") are priced by the foot and come in a colors, although most homeowners choose white.


Gutters are often installed using spikes (large nails) which tend to work themselves out over time.  A better, but more expensive, alternative is a hidden hanger system which uses screws rather than spikes.  Since the screws are inside the gutter, there are no spike heads or screwheads to mar the gutter appearance.


You might also consider oversized gutters.  I had 6" wide gutters installed two years ago and have been very pleased with them.  They can handle the heaviest downpour but, more importantly, they tend to clog less than the smaller standard sized gutters.


If the contractor offers it, you also might consider screens to keep the leaves and twigs out of the gutters.  I've tried several on my own with varying success.  I've tried plastic screens from Home Depot and aluminum flip up screens, and neither worked well.  What is working well for me right now is a screw on metal mesh screen that was installed by the contractor.


When you negotiate a contract, consider asking for the following requirements.


·        Remove & haul away existing gutters

·        Install gutters and downspouts specified in contract using hidden hangers

·        Complete site cleanup upon completion of work ("broom clause")

  • Warranty: Gutters – Consider asking for 10 years product and workmanship/installation, transferable to one new owner.


Roof Replacement


To get up to speed on roofing replacement, you mightread the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of Washington Consumers' Checkbook magazine, available at the Fairfax Regional Library.


If you get a new roof, I strongly recommend you specify a ridge vent.  It keeps the upper floor cooler in the summer and helps prevent water condensation and ice damming in the winter.  However, ridge vent is probably not needed for garages and carports.  Ice shield installed along the lower part of the roof is required by code and also helps to prevent ice damming (Kirk experienced ice damming 16 years ago and it was a miserable and expensive experience).  Homes with heating ductwork in the attic such as the colonial models (and 5 BR in particular) are especially prone to ice damming under certain winter conditions, and could probably benefit from a ridge vent.


The standard roofing material is what is known as a three tab shingle.  Another consideration is what is known as a dimensional (or architectural) shingle.  This is a thicker shingle that provides a very pleasing look.  Kirk is very pleased with his six year old dimensional shingle roof and feels that its unique appearance was well worth the additional cost.


Approval from the Architectural Control Committee is required before construction begins if you are changing either the color or style of your roof.  If you are switching from a three tab shingle to a dimensional shingle, ACC approval is required.  You do not need approval if you are simply replacing a three tab roof shingle with one of the same color.


When you negotiate a contract, consider asking for the following requirements.


·        Remove and haul away all existing roofing and debris.

·        Check and inspect plywood for damage. Replace price should be specified.

·        Furnish and install 15lb felt paper, drip edge, step flashing, pipe collars, and ice shield according to code.

·        All shingles installed with 4 nails per shingle using 1¼" galvanized nails.

·        Clean out and tap gutters back into place.

·        Clean all yard debris with magnet as required.

·        Caulk as required.

·        Five year labor warranty on all workmanship

·        Manufacturer's warranty on shingles


Contract Matters


Many contractors try to get as large a downpayment as possible.  Try for only a 20% of deposit with remainder upon “total satisfaction of purchaser.”  If the contract is signed at your home, you have three days cooling off period to cancel.  If you have problems with your remodeling job, first try to work it out with the contractor.  The Fairfax County Office of Consumer Affairs and Better Business Bureau can also advise you regarding consumer problems.


 Return to Home Page


This page last updated 10/3/04

(c) 2004 by Kirk F. Randall.  No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted without prior permission of the author.


Purchasing Siding, Gutters and Roofs