Is Your Siding…Vegan?

By Scott Sidler • July 20, 2015

is your siding vegan?Vegan is all the rage these days along with gluten-free everything. I remember as a kid, the strangest diet I every heard of was a vegetarian which I could understand, but knew wasn’t for me. Today things are very different.

The complexities with which people decide which food they will eat is baffling to me, especially in the vegan world. I don’t have the energy or time to scrutinize all the details of where it was sourced from and if it was made in a factory that at one time had a glass of cow’s milk in it.

So, what on earth does any of this have to do with old houses? Well, I was recently talking with a friend who built a new house and we were discussing different building materials. Their house used fiber cement siding, which is a good long-lasting option today, but that brought us to the topic of what materials are better than others.

He likes old buildings just like I do and as the conversation went longer we both, almost simultaneously, came to the conclusion that his siding is vegan. What?!

Here’s how we came to it, most vegan foods that I see (yes there are plenty of exceptions!) are modeled after some other kind of non-vegan food. Vegan cheese, vegan burger, vegan meatballs, vegan chicken nuggets…the list goes on and on.

The thing that really got to me is that this vegan food is masquerading as something it isn’t!

Why not create something new and vegan that will make meat-eating people want it so badly that they will grind up a ribeye and make it look like steak taboule (or something)? If vegan food is so much better, then why work so hard to turn it into the appearance of the very food you are trying to avoid?

Vegan Siding

The same goes for building materials. Why are we so obsessed with making new products that look like the old stuff we loved so much? These products are pretending to be wood and I hate pretenders. Be proud of what you are. Loudly shout “I am vinyl siding!” Unless, of course, you are ashamed of what you are. And to me, that must be the case with all these pretenders

If you want the natural texture and look of wood siding, then buy wood siding, not molded vinyl or fiber cement siding that looks like wood.

If you want wood floors, then buy wood floors and not tile planks that look like wood floors.

If you want true divided light windows, then buy (or keep) your divided light original windows and don’t get the peel and stick muntins.

We spend so much money to fool ourselves and our neighbors that our homes are the real thing when us old house owners often have the real stuff but choose to replace it with the pretender materials.

Authenticity matters, and just because something looks somewhat close from the street and touts low or no maintenance doesn’t make it the best choice. We have been fooled by the big box stores that these products are better.


The No Maintenance Myth

Most of these materials are quick to let you know that they are low or no-maintenance, which sounds great, but without reading the details, you may miss some important information.

As my friend Jo-Anne says, “No maintenance usually means it can’t be maintained.”

Everything has a lifespan, everything.

Some things, like wood windows, wood siding, and wood floors, have a maintenance cycle built into their lifespan. That means that if you build using wood and you maintain it regularly, that wood will last indefinitely. Read my maintenance checklist below

 Preventative Maintenance Checklist

Paint, for example, is a sacrificial layer meant to protect wood and other surfaces from weather and the elements. When the paint wears out, you put another coat on and repeat the process of keeping the wood protected.

In brickwork, the same applies. Mortar is the sacrificial element that as it wears out, should be replaced so that the brick will be protected and last indefinitely.

“But Scott, I don’t have the time or money to maintain my (fill in the blank).”

Maybe you don’t, but that’s what companies like mine and the thousands of others across the country are here for. Regular maintenance is always cheaper than wholesale replacement and leaves you with a better final product. When you neglect regular maintenance, you begin to need restoration to get things back to where they should be. That’s when expenses start to mount again.

So, what can you do? Get your house on a regular maintenance plan (use a local craftsman if you don’t have the time or inclination). We offer maintenance plans for our clients if you want to see what these look like.

Keep that old wood siding beautiful, keep those wood windows proudly shining, and keep those character rich floors safe for the next hundred years.

You bought that old house, so the torch has been passed to you to care for its history. It’s lasted for almost 100 years or more, don’t let it down now and settle for vegan siding.


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7 thoughts on “Is Your Siding…Vegan?”

  1. Wow, ouch. As a vegan who also loves old homes and hates vinyl siding, laminate siding, etc., it’s a little bold to call all “fake things” vegan. The most authentic vegan foods are also the most “real,” natural, and whole: fruits, vegetables, beans, rice, grains, etc. Vegans do not just eat fake meat.

  2. On the other hand, you might say that traditional wood siding is vegan because it is made of renewable plant products. As you mentioned, with proper care, it can last 100 years or more.

    I think one reason that synthetic materials are impressed with false graining and such is that they tend to flatten out a building, so we add detail back in with the false graining and throw on some fake shutters to boot. There just isn’t the finesse with exterior proportions and detailing in new houses that old houses had, and putting new materials on an old house tends to be the worst of both worlds, even if done with care. Old House Guy has a lot of examples on his blog, especially for porch railings and window casing.

    Plus the synthetic materials can be very expensive, and don’t always perform as promised. Just take a look at some of the problems with synthetic stucco, fiberglass doors with a storm, Aztec trim, vinyl windows and so forth. They can look good initially, but after 10-15 years really start showing their age.

    Nor do we really pay the full cost of the use of these materials and their impact on the environment. Vinyl is the least expensive siding available, and perhaps one of the least environmentally friendly. It may be 50-100 years from now, but some day, we will pay the price.

    Techniques using traditional materials were developed over generations to keep what worked and unfortunately a lot of that knowledge is nearly lost, except perhaps for a minority of dedicated craftsmen. And the layers of 20-21st century building materials make old buildings far more complicated than they were when they were built.

    I wonder if the next generation will be shaking their heads about all that we have thrown away in the name of practicality and energy conservation. Just how green is our choices over the lifespan of a building? Unfortunately, most of us think only in terms of short-term results, figuring it is the next guys problem when they wear out. We don’t build for the ages anymore, or with the intention of handing down the family house to our children.

    We are too mobile to commit to the long term, and that has a lot of consequences.

  3. Scott, this was an interesting feature and one that often leaves me conflicted. I consider myself an old home enthusiast but not really a preservationist since preservationist often have the “home as a museum” mentality. I simply try to be considerate of the style and era my 1905 post victorian craftsman mutt was built. I also firmly believe in the fact that a homes primary function is to do one thing, house its family. So if a home is doing that and doing it well, regardless of materials, are we being to critical? I am not sure, that’s where my conflict lies. I live near St Louis, MO and one of it’s great assets is the Eads Bridge, first bridge to use structural steel as its primary material, check it out. Anyway when it opened in 1874, a reporter asked Mr. Eads, the designer/engineer, how long he thought the bridge would last, Mr Eads replied “As long as the people find it useful.” The bridge has been converted to light rail and automobile traffic and still used today.

  4. Scott, this post remind me of a college architecture lecture. Form follows function in good design, yet in the production of new housing materials today, form follows form. Perhaps entirely new home styles or at least new siding trends would develop if the products were designed based on their material performance and not wholly to look like something its replacing.

  5. Nice illustration, haha. But you’re talking about processed food, a.k.a. “vegan junk food.” It looks like meat because some vegan used to eat meat and might still like the atmosphere of a cookout even if they don’t want to eat a cow. If you want vegan food that isn’t junk food, just try something made of vegetables or fruit. I recommend a good curry, or bhindi (okra) masala.

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