Can you paint vinyl siding?

If you’d asked the question a couple of decades ago, the answer probably would have been no. But thanks to advances in paint, these days you can paint vinyl siding. Not only that, there sometimes are compelling reasons to do so.

The point of vinyl siding was for it to be maintenance free over the course of its life. But vinyl siding has a usable life of 25-30 years, so if your vinyl siding is reaching that point, painting it is a way to extend that usable life.

Caveats to painting vinyl siding

Can you paint vinyl siding?
A house with vinyl siding will look this good for several years. But after 10 or certainly 20-25 years, it will need to either be cleaned or painted to continue to look this good. Unlike in the past, with today’s paints, painting vinyl siding is an option.

There are some caveats to painting vinyl siding. And one of them should be a showstopper if it applies to you. But that one doesn’t always apply, and none of the others should necessarily be showstoppers.

It voids your warranty

Making alterations to your siding voids your warranty. For this reason, if your siding is still under warranty, you probably don’t want to paint it. You might consider it if the siding is an ugly color that’s lowering the value of your house. But if the siding is still under warranty, it’s probably a fairly modern color and probably not terribly obnoxious. So look into your warranty. Some siding has a “lifetime” warranty. Find out what that means. Lifetime probably doesn’t mean your lifetime, but rather, how long the manufacturer expected the siding to last.

If your siding is under warranty, this should be a showstopper. Clean it, which will probably improve its appearance, and then let it be. More on that in a bit.

Not all paints work on vinyl siding

Some colors work better than others and some paint formulations definitely work better than others. You won’t get the greatest results buying the cheapest paint on the shelf at your nearest home center on wood or aluminum siding, but that goes double for vinyl siding.

You need to paint a shade lighter than the siding already is, to avoid increasing its heat absorption and therefore shortening its life expectancy when raising it should be your goal. You also need a formulation that works on vinyl. Acrylic paints can adhere to vinyl; other types of paint generally will not.

Getting a formulation and color suitable for vinyl siding likely means shopping at a specialty paint store rather than the nearest home center for this project. There are still many dozens of colors that will work. And to take Benjamin Moore’s vinyl color palette for example, there are only about five colors in that palette that someone is likely to find objectionable. Be very careful with yellow and green, as some of those shades are questionable now, and will certainly not look good in five years after the elements have had their way with them. But the myriad of tans, grays and blues in their palette will all work well.

Also, since vinyl siding does expand and contract with the temperature, you want to avoid a major color change since expansion can uncover unpainted bits of the siding from time to time. If you stay in the same color family this isn’t very noticeable. If you make a major change, it will be.

It doesn’t work at all times of year

It’s best to paint during early fall or mid spring, to limit the possibility of extreme temperatures or a weather event damaging the paint before it has a chance to fully dry and cure. Other types of siding are less time sensitive.

But this, like the paint, doesn’t have to be a showstopper. It means you need to plan ahead.

It doesn’t last as long as new siding

If you paint vinyl siding properly, it lasts 10-20 years, which is less than new siding lasts. At the end of that time period, you’ll need to paint it again. You’ll know it’s time when the paint looks worn and faded.

But this, too, is an argument primarily made by companies that sell siding. If you have a professional do it, painting costs 60 percent as much as replacement. It’s not a great deal if the paint job lasts 10 years. The break-even point is 15 years. So if it lasts 20 years, that’s a good deal. The up-front cost is much lower, and so is the cost per year of life expectancy. You have to look at the cost per year, and not just the life expectancy.

Painting siding to extend its usable life is also better for the environment, as it keeps the siding out of a landfill.

Cleaning vinyl siding before painting

It’s always best to clean your siding before painting it, but that goes doubly for vinyl siding, as vinyl is more difficult to paint. Clean your siding thoroughly with vinyl siding cleaner containing mildewcide and a pressure washer to ensure you remove all the dirt and mildew. The dirt and mildew will interfere with the paint sticking, which will make it look worse and not last nearly as long.

Once you clean off the dirt and mildew, the siding may look new, or very close to it. At that point you may decide against painting it, and that’s perfectly okay. But don’t skip this step out of fear that you’ll like the results too much and decide against painting it. It’s necessary either way. And if you like how the siding looks after you clean it, that saves you money.

Some people claim that vinyl siding doesn’t fade; that color changes over time are due to dirt and mildew. I won’t get into the debate over whether the color change you’re seeing is fading or something else. But prolonged exposure to UV rays can and does sometimes change the color of plastics over time, and that change usually isn’t desirable.

If the color still doesn’t look right after you clean it, most of us don’t care if it’s due to fading or something else. We just want it to look nice.

Painting vinyl siding yourself vs hiring a professional

It’s much less expensive to paint a house yourself than to hire a professional. The question is, do you have the equipment to do it, and do you have the time and skill to do a good job?

Painting yourself

If you paint your vinyl siding yourself, you’ll need to procure the right paint. You’ll also need to ask if the manufacturer recommends primer, then get a primer that’s formulated to work on siding and also to work well with the paint you want to use. You’ll need a paint sprayer to ensure the paint goes on smoothly, and you’ll need to apply two coats, perhaps with a coat of primer for a total of three.

Getting the project done in a single weekend may be possible, but is probably pushing it. Since you need to do the project in the early fall or mid-spring, suitable three-day weekends are scarce. If you happen to get Veteran’s Day off, that’s about the only suitable holiday weekend. That means either taking time off work, or doing half the house one weekend and the other half another weekend.

Hiring a professional painter

Hiring a professional is more expensive, but it’s more likely to get you good results. You can rely on the professional’s experience to anticipate possible problems and work around them. A professional will know what to use, make recommendations, and talk you out of potential bad decisions.

Painting vinyl siding requires getting a smooth, even coat for it to look good and last a long time. A professional is more likely to have the proper equipment and experience to get those kinds of results for you.

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