Vinyl siding is reasonably durable, but like all house sidings, it can require occasional repair or cleaning.
For example, the siding can crack from a sharp impact, especially if the impact comes during cold weather.
A small crack can be patched with caulking compound and touched up with paint. Be sure to use paintable caulk or a colored caulk that closely matches the siding.
The best solution for severe damage to small areas of vinyl siding is to replace the damaged panel or panels. This requires matching panels. Homeowners who have any type of siding installed should obtain several extra strips from the installer. Many installers are glad to get rid of scrap pieces, which sometimes are large enough for repairs.
If no matching panels are on hand, try to get them from a siding dealer. If necessary, contact the home builder or installing contractor for information on the brand and possible sources.
Since vinyl siding is installed with nails and has interlocking strips that conceal the nail heads, there is another repair puzzle: how to remove and replace damaged strips without harming undamaged siding.
The solution is to use a simple tool, called a zip tool or zipper tool, to unlock the seam above the panel that is to be removed for replacement.
A zipper tool can be obtained from some vinyl-siding dealers and normally costs less than $10.
The business end of a zipper tool is simply a piece of flat, stiff metal with a sharp bend at the end. The bent end is slipped into the seam above the damaged piece and hooked over the lip of the upper strip of siding. The tool is then used much like a zipper to unlock the seam.
Once the seam is unlocked, the upper strip can be bent out of the way enough to give access to the nails that hold the damaged strip in place. The nails can be pulled with a claw hammer or pry bar, and the damaged strip removed.
Use the damaged strip as a pattern to cut a replacement strip, or use several shorter pieces that overlap at least one inch at the ends. Lock the bottom of the new panel on the seam of the panel below it and nail the top to the sheathing, holding the panel above out of the way. Use vinyl-siding nails driven into the centers of the nailing slots in the panel.
Space nails about 16 inches apart, and leave a slight gap (about 1/32 inch) under the heads so the siding can expand and contract with temperature changes.
When the replacement panel is in place, use the zipper tool to close the seam and lock the panel above it over the nail heads.
Siding that is simply dirty or stained often can be cleaned. Loose dirt and dust usually can be removed by washing with a long-handled carwash brush on the end of a hose.
Hard-to-remove dirt can require washing with a detergent, followed by rinsing. A cleaning solution recommended by some siding experts can be made by mixing, in a gallon of water, tTC one-third cup powdered laundry detergent, plus two-thirds cup of powdered, heavy-duty cleaner, such as Soilax or Spic & Span.
If the siding is mildewed, use three quarts of water with the cleaners and add a quart of chlorine bleach. Be careful not to mix bleach with ammoniated cleaners, however, as this can form a harmful gas.
When washing any wall or large surface, start at the bottom and work up. This will reduce streaking caused by dirty water running over dirty surfaces.
Greasy stains can generally be removed from vinyl siding by wiping gently with a soft cloth moistened with paint thinner. Before treating thick deposits, scrape off as much as possible with a plastic scraper of the type used for car windshields.
Vinyl siding also can be painted, with an important reservation: The color of the paint must never be darker than the original color, or the extra heat absorption can cause warping and rippling of the vinyl. I consider painting a last resort, but if it is tried, use a high-quality, acrylic-latex house paint.
Readers' questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, c/o The Baltimore Sun, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.