Painting Vinyl Siding

What Can Go Wrong

by Joffre Essley

Painting vinyl siding is an option worth considering. It can look good and last a long time if done right. In an earlier article I discussed the various sidings that can be painted, and followed that up with some expert advice on how to paint vinyl siding. Here I emphasize some of the problems you will face if you go that route.

Vinyl siding is one of my least favorite siding options, but it is the cheapest. Yet, as relatively inexpensive as it is, it can cost a lot more than painting, especially if you plan on doing your own painting. If painting vinyl siding makes economic sense then continue reading. I will show you two big problems, but I also show you two big solutions.


Painting Vinyl Siding Problem 1: Expansion

Vinyl expands. A lot.

It is only a few percent, but over the length of a house that can add up to several inches. That is why vinyl siding doesn't come in lengths that can span the whole house. It is installed in a way that allows one plank of siding to slide over another. The nail holes are slotted to allow for this expansion.

Here is where this affects your paint job. Say it is a beautiful 75 degree day when you paint your home. It looks great when you are done. You are so pleased with yourself that you brag to your neighbors that painting vinyl siding was easier than expected.

Then October comes. Its another beautiful day, but this time it is 45 degrees and slightly overcast. You are cleaning up around bushes that run alongside your house when suddenly you see it. A small sliver of that ugly, faded color you had so successfully painted over.

painting vinyl siding problem - contraction gap in the paint
A real example, from an unhappy homeowner. Click on the photo to see his story.
You look around. You realize that most of your house has these little slivers of color showing at the joint between to planks of siding. You start feeling a little sick and you go inside and lay on the couch. Painting vinyl siding doesn't seem like it was such a good idea.

You decide to Google your problem. You find a dozen articles telling you that you were an idiot for painting vinyl. Now you feel really sick. You imagine that your neighbors are laughing at you. You realize that your home's value has just plummeted. Your wife hates you. Financial ruin is imminent. It is a bad day.

Luckily this is just a little "what-if". Your marriage and your finances will survive because you are reading this article.

The problem is that the vinyl will contract when it is cold. When it contracts it will draw back from the overlapping siding and it will expose that part of the vinyl that had been covered up (and therefore did not get painted). It will look bad after a 20 degree drop. It will look really bad after a 70 degree drop. It will look great again in the summer.

There are a couple of solutions to this problem. One is only a little helpful. Let's deal with that solution first. You can try painting your vinyl siding when it is cold. Unfortunately paint does not go on well when it is too cold, so the best you can do is to limit the problem by painting when it is cool, but warm enough to paint. Then your problem will only come about in the colder months, and when it does show it won't be so bad.

There is a downside of this. This means your paint will have to expand more, but if you use the type of paint recommended in my article on painting vinyl siding you should be good.

A better solution is to paint underneath the overlap. This will require a little extra effort in advance. You will need to slide a wedge in between the planks so that the gap stays propped open. You will not remove this wedge until the paint has dried. Otherwise you will run the risk of the planks sticking together, which will mess up your paint job when the siding contracts or expands.

There is also a little expansion up-and-down. I refer to the narrow dimension of the siding. This will have a very small expansion and contraction so this can be solved by making sure you spray or brush at an upward angle to force paint into this shadow area between the planks. But don't apply it too thick in this region. It is still better to avoid bridging.

Painting Vinyl Siding Problem 2: Warping

Our mythical homeowner from Problem 1 has now gotten the nerve up to attempt to fix his problem. He is going to paint the gaps and solve all his personal problem. It is now early summer, and he would like to start on the problem, but it has become unseasonably hot so he decides to delay. He braves the heat for a moments to take a look at the work before him.

He comes back inside, sick. His siding is warping. It is curling up before his eyes. It has become soft and gooey. Life is bad again. His headache has returned, the throbbing one that lasts for hours. He hates houses. Somewhere in the back of his mind he ponders living on a park bench, unemployed and broke, but free from house maintenance.

Glad this isn't you? See how lucky you are that you found this website full of interesting articles (hint: bookmark this site, read the articles, tell your friends about it and frequent my advertisers - life will be good).

So, what did our homeowner do that was wrong? He painted the siding a dark color. Dark colors absorb heat and the vinyl gets hot. Very hot.

Some vinyls can take the heat. If a vinyl is already dark then the plastic was modified to be able to withstand higher temperatures. If the vinyl is a light color it may not have been. You just don't know.

The solution is easy, although you may not like it. To ensure this problem does not happen to you paint your vinyl a lighter color than it already is. That means if you have yellow siding, you don't have many color options. If you have white siding...

painting vinyl siding problem - dark paint has warped the vinyl siding
Courtesy of the Paint Quality Institute. The lower siding planks were painted dark. Ouch!

Can you get around this? Yes, but you will need to test your desired paint on a section of the house. It needs to be an area that will get a lot of sun. Hiding it behind the bush might keep it from the neighbor's eyes but it won't be an accurate test. You will need to let the test section survive a summer. If it survives without warping painting vinyl siding should work out for you. If the test section doesn't survive then you will need to replace the warped test section, or just re-side the whole thing.

And next time use another type of siding, such as one mentioned on my section on siding options.

Thanks for reading this article. Drop in again sometime. The coffee is on and I'd love to have you.





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