There is a growing demand for siding products that have the look of natural materials, but have the kinds of durability and energy-efficiency qualities of synthetic or engineered materials. Making siding that looks like something else is something the industry struggled with early on, but new material advancements have opened many possibilities.
“The history of the industry is littered with not-so-authentic looking things that have tried to look like cedar or stucco but kind of lost it around third base. They don’t make it all the way home,” Skoog explains. “Today, engineered products are quickly replacing traditional products due to significant advancements in building materials technology.”
Built to Last
Although looks may be one of the top considerations for homeowners, remodelers and builders, it is not the only thing to factor into the decision-making process. Durability, maintenance and cost are other important drivers. “We know value is especially important in this market,” Huntley says. With budgets tight at all levels, initial installed cost can often be a major part of the decision but long-term impacts are on the minds of siding decision makers, as well.
“A survey we conducted of remodelers and homeowners found that low-maintenance is extremely important these days,” Huntley continues. “In a world of single-parent or single-person households, no one wants to spend the time we used to spend taking care of our homes, so low-maintenance features of vinyl siding have been really important.”
Although first costs are still a major factor for most choosing a siding system, the life-cycle impacts of siding definitely figure into the decision. “We always want to start by getting a feel for the customer’s current situation,” explains Tom Dustman, president of Vekton Corp., a remodeler in Rochester. “Are they looking to remodel in order to sell? Will they be moving in a couple of years? Is this a home they plan to stay in for a long time? These considerations help us work with customers to find a solution that fits their specific needs.”
Demand for insulated siding has been increasing, even if the focus on sustainability has waned somewhat in today’s tough economy. Although initial upfront costs dominate the conversation, long-term energy efficiency and life-cycle performance are still part of the equation. “Organizations like the Vinyl Siding Institute are making strides to educate the industry and consumers about insulated siding as a way to improve a home’s energy performance,” Blais says.
Following a tidal wave of greenwashing in years past, the marketplace has become much more sophisticated about sustainability, and green claims generally need to be backed up with more than words. Groups like VSI are working on life-cycle assessments to provide that kind of backup. “There needs to be more of a focus on data behind any claims,” Huntley asserts. “That’s why we’ve been upfront about our work and our presentations being data-driven.”
The More You Know
In all segments of the siding industry, educating installers and consumers has been a major point of emphasis. “Education is the cornerstone. We’re teaching [remodelers] not only about the product and the science in it, but also the business model, how to generate leads and how to partner with manufacturers,” Skoog says.
“Our goal has been to educate based on data,” Huntley says. “It’s a very old-fashioned philosophy that if you put the data out there, the customer will make the appropriate choice. That’s very important to us.”
Online technology and applications have provided new and dynamic tools to help consumers and remodelers make siding decisions. More manufacturers are using online visualizer tools that allow users to select different siding options and apply them to home styles to get a realistic vision of how different systems will look and operate. Some programs even allow users to upload a photo of their own home to visualize new siding. “These have been designed as business-building tools for remodelers to help jump-start conversations with homeowners while delivering a better solution to meet their needs and personality,” Blais explains.