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Material Changes: The Latest in Siding, Decking, Roofing & Fencing

In the midst of the sluggish housing market, manufacturers struggle to introduce innovations in home-exterior products. As a result, they’ve tweaked some products and added longer warranties.

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Spring, the calendar tells us, is on the way. The return of warmer weather might have you thinking about outdoor remodeling projects. Although the number of new siding, decking, roofing and fencing products that have come to market in the past few years has decreased under the grip of these tough economic times, manufacturers of home-exterior products are exploring ways to tweak their products to attract reluctant customers.

Vinyl-siding manufacturers have increased the length of their siding pieces to reduce the number of overlaps that many consumers consider to be unsightly. Further, composite decking has undergone a facelift, and the new version is intended to fix issues that plagued the appearance of its predecessor. Meanwhile, roofing manufacturers have all but done away with term-based warranties of 30 or 45 years and have replaced those with lifetime warranties.

It all sounds good, but you should be aware that some of the recent developments when it comes to home-exterior products aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be.

TAKING SIDES. For decades, vinyl-siding manufacturers sought to emulate the look of cedar and other types of solid board siding in their products, although no one yet argues that the differences are indiscernible. A continuing problem that vinyl siding presents is that installers must overlap the pieces where two pieces come together, which creates visible vertical lines on the side of a home. (Other siding materials— fiber cement, wood and wood composites—aren’t overlapped.)

Consequently, manufacturers sought to overcome this issue by introducing longer siding that’s meant to reduce the number of overlaps on a home’s exterior walls. At least five companies now make vinyl-siding pieces that are  20–25 feet long. These ultralong pieces reduce the number of overlaps by about 50 percent.

Siding manufacturers say they don’t charge any extra per foot for longer vinyl pieces. But you’ll pay more for longer pieces, because distributors and dealers mark up shipping-and-handling costs by as much as 20 percent for vinyl-siding boards that are 20 feet or longer.

And you might be nicked for even more than that if you choose longer boards. Based on our discussions with eight contractors, half of them say they charge extra for labor when they install the longer version. They say pieces that are 20 feet or longer are more difficult to install than are the 12- or 16-foot varieties. Consequently, contractors who charge extra justify an additional 20 percent markup in labor charges by suggesting that it takes as many as three installers to handle and affix 20- to 25-foot pieces.

Contractors who don’t charge extra say this practice is dishonest, because longer vinyl-siding pieces are no more difficult to install than are 12- or 16-foot pieces and they actually go up faster. (Naturally, despite this contention of quicker installation, none of the contractors with whom we spoke charges less for installing longer vinyl pieces.)

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If you like the idea of having fewer overlaps that result from longer vinyl-siding pieces, we believe that your best bet is to have contractors draw up two quotes—one for standard 12-foot lengths (nobody charges extra to install 16-foot pieces), the other for long versions. If you notice a higher labor rate on the quote for longer siding pieces, it’s worth your while to see whether another contractor in your area doesn’t jack up labor charges on the longer siding pieces. 

FULL DECKS. When it comes to decking, manufacturers say they have found a solution to the shortcomings of wood-plastic composite decking.

Composite decking long has been marketed as a low-maintenance alternative to pressure-treated wood, but manufacturers readily admit that the organic materials that are found in composite materials make the product prone to stains or mold and require strong cleaning products.

The good news is that manufacturers now have a product that they say is designed to get it right this time. So-called capstock decking was introduced in October 2008, and now it’s made by at least five major decking manufacturers under seven different brands.

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