Vinyl siding is a popular covering for many homes due to its supposed low maintenance and the many colors it can come in. Despite the fact that vinyl is lower maintenance than wood, and doesn’t require the same level of care, it does have several drawbacks that homeowners are discovering only after they have it installed. In addition to the fact that the material is much less durable than many are led to believe, it can also bring some unfortunate health issues for those who have it installed on their homes as well.
Vinyl Siding and VOCs
What most people don’t realize is that vinyl siding is a type of plastic made up of polyvinyl chloride. And that polyvinyl chloride is also notorious for giving off high levels of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, including formaldehyde, which have been linked to some health concerns. Individuals who are sensitive to VOCs may experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, and respiratory issues when exposed to them long term.
In most cases, materials like vinyl siding only give off high levels of VOCs when first produced, when relatively new, or when they are burned. So even though your vinyl siding may stop giving off high levels of VOCs a few months after it’s installed, some people may experience health problems during the first several weeks after having it put up. And because some of the VOCs given off are fat soluble, meaning that they are not flushed out of your system as easily as water soluble chemicals, they can continue to cause problems for years after the initial exposure.
There have been several documented cases where people housed in trailers made of polyvinyl chloride after natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina have experienced long term and serious health issues due to their exposure to the VOCs the trailers gave off. And while vinyl siding is confined to the exterior of the home, rather than making up the entire structure like a trailer, it can still be a concern for some sensitive individuals.
Dioxin and Burning Vinyl Siding
One of the much touted benefits of vinyl siding is the fact that it doesn’t begin to burn until temperatures reach around 400C. Meaning that a home with vinyl siding is much less likely to catch fire from exterior sources than a wood sided home will. However, vinyl siding can and does melt at much lower temperatures, and melting vinyl has been known to give off a compound called dioxin. Dioxin is a well-known carcinogenic compound linked to long-term health problems such as cancer. In fact, dioxin is so caustic that heavy fumes from melting or burning vinyl have been known to kill inhabitants of a burning home long before the flames reach them. So while it is true that a home sided in vinyl is less likely to burn from the outside in the event of a fire, it is also true that homes covered in vinyl can be much more hazardous for residents in the event of heat causing the vinyl to melt.
Mold and Mildew Growth
Vinyl siding doesn’t have the same issues with water and moisture that wood does, meaning that the siding itself will never peel, or bubble, or begin to melt over time. This is one of the selling points that makes it so popular. Unfortunately, vinyl by itself is not completely water resistant, meaning that moisture can still infiltrate and get beneath and behind the vinyl siding if it hasn’t been installed properly with the right kinds of water barriers. If this happens, the vinyl can actually work to trap moisture behind it right up against the wood of your home. The trapped moisture can now begin to rot the structure of your home where it can’t be seen; the vinyl itself will give no signs of what’s happening below. This rotting wood can also become the perfect breeding ground for other moisture-related issues such as the growth of mold and mildew. And while some types of mold are essentially harmless, there are other types that can grow quickly, infiltrate your entire home, become airborne, and cause serious respiratory and other health issues for inhabitants. These mold issues can be so serious that entire homes may need to be evacuated for months while a very expensive abatement process is undergone. And because the vinyl itself will show no signs of mold from the outside, it’s difficult to tell what’s happening until the mold begins to show itself on the interior of your home.
Make an Informed Decision
While vinyl siding remains a popular covering for many homes, and it has many proponents who will argue in favor of its continued use, the fact remains that it can cause mild to serious health problems in certain situations, particularly if not installed properly, with sensitive individuals, and in the event of a fire. If you’re considering having new siding installed on your home, take care to weigh these facts about vinyl against other materials such as fiber cement to help make the best choice for your home.