Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Every once in a while an architect is called upon to research and provide a client with an opinion. Sometimes it is very hard to find tuly unbiased information on the subject you are researching. In my case I have homeowners in a condominium association looking to me to help settle a controversy.

The development is an upscale residential condominium in southern Connecticut that is about 25 years old and has cedar clapboard siding. The association let the exterior maintenance slip and now the buildings really need attention. Some owners want to remove the cedar and replace it with vinyl. Some owners want to repair and restain the existing siding. Others are interested in alternative siding like fiber cement as long as it’s not vinyl. Now they look at me and want some guidance based on facts and not just my opinion or personal preference. They are concerned about longevity, continuous maintenance, initial costs, and the effect on their property appraisals and resale values.

What I have been amazed to find out is how little unbiased information is available on this subject. Siding materials are probably the most popular, highest produced, and greatest income generating products in the residential building industry, yet, I can’t find that anyone has bothered to do real head-to-head comparisons to find out which is the most cost effective, best performing product out there. Sure, the Vinyl Siding Institute will tell me their members’ products are the best thing since sliced bread! Of course, the Western Red Cedar Association will tell me how cedar will stand up, is easy to maintain, refinish, green, and overall the absolutely best thing ever.

As an architect I am left to sift through biased information and distill it to come up with a real comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of these products and arrive at a well reasoned conclusion. How do I do that and feel comfortable that I have given the best recommendation possible to my client? Maybe there isn’t much market for it and not much money to be made doing it, but it seems to me there ought to be some kind of “Consumer Reports” for construction materials and products where owners and professionals can go to get relatively unbiased information so that we can make educated choices on what products are best for what applications. Technology, the proliferation of synthetic and composite materials, and increasingly stringent building, energy and sustainability codes make it rather hard for an architect to give a strong recommendation to a client without knowing that opinion is limited by our own personal experience and preferences.

Who will step up and help us?