General Overview for installing vinyl siding Do’s and Do Not’s


friendhelpingBefore we get started let’s quickly talk about what this guide is not.  This is not a definitive installation guide for every type of vinyl siding on the market.  This will explain the main points to consider and give you some great idea’s   Really it is not that hard to install vinyl siding at all.  Please read your brands installation guide and head all warnings.  Also, if you do not feel comfortable doing something like working off a ladder etc  HIGHER A PROFESSIONAL 

I am going to talk about a lot of tools here so if you need some suggestions head on over to my tool page for recommendations.

 Prepping the wall for vinyl siding installation

An often rushed through step that can come back to bite you years later.  Make sure you have a good surface to install your vinyl siding to.  If you are going over old wood siding we HIGHLY recommend the installation of a foil backed insulated foam board first.  This will help even out the wall surface while also adding some R value to the wall.  YES get the foil backed kind and install toward the inside wall of your home if colder climate to reflect heat back to you in the winter.  In southern states with a mild winter you may want to install the foil facing outwards.

IF you are removing old vinyl, wood or aluminum here are some things to consider.

  1.  This is most likely the last time you will have open access to the exterior wall and this is a GREAT TIME to hide cables wires etc…
  2.  If you want to route any new electrical for fixtures etc save your electrician the headache and do it now.
  3.  Do you have an older home with non insulated walls?  It is easier to fill them now by drilling some holes for blown in insulation or foam spraying than later.
  4.  REMOVE the old nails so they do not later work out and start showing through your new siding.
  5.  Replace rotted wood NOW it will make the rest of the job go smoother
  6. If you do not have a previous vapor barrier installed now is the time

Install your insulated backerboard if not using an insulated siding panelhousewrap

We have mentioned this before and with a fresh wall this will go very neatly and help for convective heat loss (R Value of Foam)  Radiant heat loss (if you get foil backed) and air infiltration making your home much more energy efficient.  Fan-fold backerboard is the most popular and easy to install (Use plastic cap nails), if you are really motivated you can get 1″-2″ Foil backed foam board just make sure to tape the seams with foil tape.  Take your time on this step and get tight to your doors and windows caulking any spaces left over.  Butt Joint the corners of home with a small overlap on one side keeping everything flat.  Tape the corner joints.insulationboard


At this point with the siding removed you can see if your windows and doors need to be flashed to the sheathing.  If they are not already now is the time to do it and this will save you trouble down the road.  If there is not at least either metal or peel and stick flashing on the top of the windows and doors add it now.  You are going to have to remove the exterior brick mould or casing around the window.  Then cover the nailing flange and nails with flashing.  Adhere to to substrate wall (wood sheathing usually)  If you are motivated and also want to help with energy efficiency we recommend doing this around the entire perimeter of the windows and doors.  If your home already has replacement windows installed you can still do this just to cover the small gap that will exist between the window and the framing.  (This is also a GREAT time to insulate, our top choice no pressure expanding foam)  The house wrap in you next step goes right over any flashing you have installed just make sure not to penetrate it with any nails or staples.

Installation of J Blocks, J Channel, Utility Trim, Inside and Outside Corner Posts

I’m sorry, no you can’t throw up your siding panels just yet. If you properly install all of the “trim” type pieces talked about here the panel installation will be a piece of cake.

  • Vinyl Corner Post SelectionCorner Post– This is as good a place as any to start getting some vinyl on your home.  Corner Post come in a variety of sizes from 3″-7″ Fluted designs.  They are one of the easiest components to install.  Generally they come in 10ft sections, place them snug against the wall and down to bottom of siding level.  Nail with 1/16″ between head of nail and flange to the wall in the middle of the nailing flange every 8″.  The very top of the corner post should be set down 1/4″ from overhang and the nails here should be at the top of the nailing slot.  Handling Splices – We highly suggest overlapping the upper post to allow a natural path for water to follow.  Do so by cutting off with your tin snips 1″ of the upper post nailing hem then sliding the post over 1″. Inside Corners are installed identically just where two walls form an interior corner
  • J Blocks 2 J Blocks – A very professional and neat way of handling small areas where things like lights,hoses, hooks, etc are mounted to the J corner installation siding.  They simply nail on all the way around – many are two pieces to slip around an outlet or hose spigot.
  • J Channel – The most widely used accessory piece on your home.  You will in all likelihood being trimming out all your doors and windows with J Channel.  It comes in varying widths so make sure you get deep enough J to encase your siding panels.  The essentially hide the cut edge of the siding and the 1/4″ or so gap you will be leaving for expansion and contraction when you install you panels.  There are two ways to install J channel – simply cut to length and square off the corner by removing some of the nailing hem. The preferred method in to cut a 45 degree angle for the corners and then bend the base material down onto the side portions and around the bottom to give water a path to follow.   A new product for the not as talented DIY’s out there are J corner – They give a neat appearance to square cut corners. It is also place at the top where the siding terminates to the soffit.
  • Gable Vents – Please do not leave your old wood or aluminium gable vent on when residing your home.  Pick up a matching vinyl gable vent from your siding supplier or one of the many accessory suppliers that offer them in a wide variety of colors.  There are available in all sorts of shapes and sizes including, round, square, rectangle, octagon and triangular
  •       .
  • Utility Trim – Often overlooked but highly needed is utility trim.  Put simply UT (Utility Trim) holds cut pieces of siding in place(typically under J channel to stop them from coming out or flopping around in the wind. UT is placed inside the J channel under all windows and the upper termination J at the top of the home. Later when installing your panels you’ll use the snap punch creating a tab on the panel to lock into the UT..

Step Five – Starter Strip Installation


Steel Starter Strip Use This

Starter Strip hanging downDo not rush the process of properly installing the starter strip.  It is a CRITICAL part to get absolutely right.  This one accessory will determine if your siding looks straight and has an even reveal when you get to the top.

A word of caution – We have pictured here at the left a galvanized steel starter strip which is one of the more expensive options, but WELL WORTH IT.**Special note,  some higher end vinyl with lock down panels etc come with their own starting strips, these are for the most part a heavier duty version of cheap vinyl starter and fine to use.**  The cheapest way to go is simply cut the nailing hem off of a siding panel and use that to hold the bottom of first panel in place.  We don’t like vinyl for two reasons.  One, it is the weakest connection point and this area is often times the most stressed.  Two, it is too easy to mess up, that it not put on perfectly straight because you can easily bend it.

Here on the right you can see a starter strip hanging down to overlap the foundation,  if need be this can be moved up a little over an inch or so.

It seem relatively straight forward you just nail it in every 6″ through the nailing hem, you can use the same nails as the accessories and siding.

BUT FIRST MEASURE – the distance from the bottom of starter strip location to the top of home.  Why you ask? – you can tweak the starting point a little by letting the siding hang down past the bottom edge over a foundation or bringing it up as far as possible to set flush.  There is even extra wide starter strip to help with this.  The reason being if you need to cut the top panel you want to have enough material to work with on the “lap” in order to snap punch and properly secure. Nothing is worse than only needing a 1/2″ of material to finish.  So divide your total height by the panel reveal and PLAN accordingly.

Additionally, if you want your panels to line up on all side of the home,  good planning now will make it easy.  Take your chalk line and mark all the way around – first find the LOW on the most visible side of the home and use that as your reference.  As long as at least one panel will end up being on line with the adjacent side everything will come out beautifully.  USE a level as you go on top of the starter strip sections to make sure you aren’t sneaking low or high on one end.

Here come the panels!

Yes, finally you are ready to put on all the panels.  In fact this step while it makes the greatest visual impact and finally looks like you are doing something often goes faster than all the preparation.

Some things to keep in mind when installing

1) Nail Length – Make sure you are using long enough nails – The nails need to penetrate into the wood substrate (usually OSB) at least 3/4″.  So if you are using a 1″ foam board for instance you need 2 1/4″ nails minium.  1″ to get through foam board – 3/4″: inch into the substrate, maybe 1/16″ to 1/4″ for the nailing hem on the siding, and 1/16″ to 1/4″ for the siding to hang on.  DO NOT NAIL TIGHT.  The siding needs to “float”  Just going through house wrap with no insulation and a cheap panel with small nailing hem?  1″ nails may be all you need.

2) How often and where to nail? We recommend nailing every 8″-10″ which is one the conservative side of most manufacturers recommendations which allow for 16″ spacing.  Although you may be just fine at 16″ spacing unless you are marking every stud to make sure you are sinking the nails into something very solid 8-10″ will keep you safe.

NAIL IN THE CENTER – STRAIGHT  –   Please place your nail in the center of the slot on the nailing hem to allow movement from side to side.  Also do not drive the nails in at an angle.  Maintain a parallel line to the ground in order to make sure you are not pulling the panel or creating undo stress on the hem.  Remember when the siding locks into the bottom piece that is doing the work of keeping the panels straight.  As long as you followed are instructions with the starter strip installation you do not need to correct anything while installing the panels.

3) Cutting and overlapping the panels – The standard length of vinyl siding panels is 12 Feet 6 Inches long.  Which probably means you will end up having some seams to deal with.  Additionally, we’d like to make a point that when installing with a little planning you can choose where those seams end up.

  • Overlap the panels at seams 1″ to be safe – and to allow for proper movement trim the nailing hem to create a 1/” gap where panels come together.
  • Placement of Seams, Staggering the Joints-  If you simply use full panels for your siding and then cut the remaining panels to make up the difference you will end up with a pattern of seams which looks bad.  Yes this uses the least amount of material just going back and forth on the wall but will create an unsightly stair step pattern in the installation.  After your bottom row cut the next starting panel to 2/3 of length and go from there,  As you are going do a little planning.  You want joints within 3ft horizontally to be separated vertically by at least 3 panels. Additionally, avoid seams directly under or over focal points like windows or doors.  The planning and craftsmanship at this stage immediately sets apart the professional from the casual homeowner installer.  You can instantly tell a seasoned installer if they pay attention in this area.
  • If possible use extended length panels – Many manufacturers are offering vinyl panels in extra long length’s up to 25ft long.  If possible we really like using these panels. On many houses they can completely eliminate seams which results in a sturdier and more wind resistant install.  Of course, if you are going this route you’ll be using a nicer grade siding panel anyway probably .046 mils.Long Panel Length Vinyl Siding stair stepped vinyl
  • How to Cut Panels to Length – First mark your panel you plan on cutting with the carpenters pencil and speed square to make sure you have a straight and perpendicular line.  If possible we recommend cutting the panels with tin snips.  Some thicker panels are very difficult to cut with snips especially those with a rolled nailing hem and reinforced upper.  If you do decide to use a miter saw we understand.  Be careful and buy a quality fine toothed bladed.  Many panels have been ruined by trying to cut too fast, with a dull or rough blade.  A quality saw and blade here will ensure a clean cut.  ***Vinyl emits an odor when sawed don’t worry that’s normal***

4) Great now there’s a window, vent, door etc...

Utilitytrim under windowNo worries with a little time you’ll have this part down in no time and loving the results.  Now is where that utility trim (you already installed) and snap punch tool come in very handy.

utilitytrim notched siding diagramFirst when you get to the panel that will need to be cut draw an outline on the panel (error on the side or being too tight, or not enough trimmed) you can always cut more later but adding siding back is a little vexing.  Use a utility knife and straight edge to make any lengthwise cuts after you cut down with tin snips for the vertical cut.  Wiggle back and forth when you get 2/3 way through the material and the scrap will break loose.  Now using your Snap lock punch tool  create some notches 3″ apart with at least one on each end.  These notches will lock into the utility trim when you slide the panel up under the J Channel. Avoid the number one mistake here of not leaving enough siding material to fit into the hidden utility trim and form a bond.  Some installers even prefer adding a bead of caulking before snapping in place.  Follow the same procedure in reverse for top of windows or doors but know there is not suppose to be any Utility Trim here.  Instead if the window is over 3ft long we recommend creating some caulk set points every 12″ or so just to help with uniform panels appearance.  DO NOT run a continuous bead inside the J channel this will create water pooling.

5) Cutting gables or angles

finding angle to cut sidingOnce you get the first cut down this is a piece of cake.  Many first time installers think they can figure this out by “eyeing it” holding a piece of scrap near and making angle cuts till they “get it” .  While this may work there is a much faster way.  Amazingly enough they actually make a tool for finding angles then you can simply transfer the angle to the siding and cut away. Place this tool even with the horizontal ground line then move one side up into the track. Transfer the angle mark to a scrap piece of siding, cut and use as your template for marking remaining pieces.  You can use the same1-2 ft. piece of scrap and mark both sides. This is a particular handy tool for going around odd angled windows.

Cheaper Solution – Another method that has been used for years is to hole a wide board flush with the underside of the overhang(or inside the J channel if it will fit), then use the bottom to mark siding that has been installed as close as possible.  Marking this will transfer the exact angle the the corresponding siding piece giving you the reference mark you need.

.What to do at the top?  Triangular piece? – Don’t overcomplicate this, there are two methods one can use here.  Our favorite is to install some small sections of that utility trim we used under the windows and at the top of the walls on either side of the gable.  Use your snap punch tool on the last piece at the top on both sides and slide the triangular piece up to snap in both at the top and the bottom.  Alternatively, for the somewhat less motivated, get a colored nail and drive it through about 1-2″ down from the top.  Dipping the nail in caulk first may help seal out moisture although this area is usually well protected. Usually you are pretty high up at this point and seeing the small trim nail from the ground isn’t noticeable.  The thing we don’t like about the “easy way out” is over time the nail will work it’s way out and you may end of finding that last piece in your neighbors yard!.

I thought I was done! External Accessoriesvinyl shutters to install

Well maybe you are and maybe you are not.  Many people stop here and that is fine, you have a beautiful, hopefully efficient exterior sided home to enjoy for years to come. Want to add a little extra? – It’s easy. The most common accessory at this point is shutters and they are simple to install.gable vents

  • Choose a coordinating color (that is one that is DIFFERENT, from your siding color but goes well with your base color choice)  if in doubt ask your wife. These simply screw into through the siding with the provided hardware.  Be careful about screws provided if you have added extra depth to your wall by way of insulation.  You may need to go but some longer screws we recommend stainless steel with a diameter matching the included hardware, long enough to penetrate the house sheathing by at least 1″.
  • Get shutters slightly bigger than the openings if your exact window size(with trim) is not available) Hold them up so an equal distance is revealed(if larger) on top and bottom and use a pencil to mark the hole locations.
  • Predrill the siding at the intended hole locations then install some waterproof caulking in the hole and plenty of it.  This will waterproof the hole as you screw thru it.
  • Put your shutters up and install them with your screws, taking special care not to OVERTIGHTEN,  Tighten to just snug as not to warp or bend the shutters.
  • Use the included plugs to cover the holes.

                                                                          ENJOY A JOB WELL DONE!