Do homeowners care about energy efficiency? Any number of remodelers will tell you no, but others are seeing a growing concern on the part of their clients. They predict that the trend has momentum. “[Energy efficiency] is increasingly one of the driving forces in both remodeling and exterior replacements,” says Alan Lutes, owner of Alpha Remodeling, in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I think that as energy prices continue to rise, reductions in energy costs will have a bigger and bigger impact on the cost-benefit analysis homeowners make for a product."

Higher energy costs, Lutes notes, mean shorter payback periods on efficiency upgrades. State and federal efficiency improvement tax credits appeal to homeowners, too. All of which makes high-performing options more attractive to prospects who might, in the past, have focused solely on budget and aesthetics.

Great Opportunity

Windows have been part of the energy efficiency conversation for a long time. Siding, on the other hand, doesn’t typically come up. But siding replacement can be, under the right circumstances, a great opportunity to improve a home’s energy performance. After removing old siding, applying rigid foam insulation to a thinly sheathed exterior is a relatively low-cost process with potentially significant performance benefits.

“If a house needs new siding, it is an excellent time to add rigid-foam sheathing,” says Martin Holladay, editor of Energy Design Update. “We may reach a point when the gobal climate change issue and new carbon taxes, raising the cost of energy, require Americans to retrofit their houses with higher R-value walls. The time to do that is when you’re replacing the siding.”

Upgrade energy performance by adding rigid-foam sheathing under replacement siding, or by using foam-backed panels like the Crane siding shown.
courtesy Crane Performance Siding Upgrade energy performance by adding rigid-foam sheathing under replacement siding, or by using foam-backed panels like the Crane siding shown.

In addition to increasing R-value, rigid-foam sheathing creates a continuous membrane around the house. If it’s installed properly, the sheathing should significantly restrict the flow of air in and out of the building envelope, improving the efficiency of heating and cooling systems.

More Options

Meanwhile, the continued development of insulated siding means that homeowners who are willing to consider vinyl have yet another option. Brought to market just eight years ago, these products come with molded foam adhered to the vinyl face of the siding. The extra material makes for a more rigid facing, which has allowed manufacturers to produce wider profiles and bigger panels. Manufacturers have continued to improve on early iterations, offering a wider variety of styles, molded backing, and interlocking design for greater stability.

“It’s a good, solid siding,” says Mark Brick, of B&E General Contractors, in Glendale, Wis. Brick most often specifies CraneBoard. “In a lot of cases, it’s lighter, so it’s not as labor-intensive. Plus, it’s longer and there are fewer seams in it.”

Lutes, who uses Alside Prodigy, says that factory-adhered products, in addition to providing extra R-value, generally perform better all around than traditional vinyl products. “Because it conforms to the profile of the siding, the siding is more rigid,” he says. “It flexes a little bit less; it’s quieter because it rattles around on the house a bit less. I believe it would be less likely to break when it is hit during cold weather because it has this backing on it.”

Though installation is generally faster than a combination of vinyl siding and insulating rigid-foam sheathing, foam-backed siding has its own challenges. One is that the foam backing doesn’t always expand and contract with the vinyl face. Manufacturers have sought to address this issue by molding the foam to the siding. Crane’s backed siding comes with a leading vinyl edge designed to fit in a pocket between the face and backing of adjoining panels.

Still, Lutes says, buckling and oil canning can be an issue unless the foam at the edge of the panel is trimmed by the installer. “A lot of that foam has to be hand-cut; that’s sort of the installer practice. People have had difficulty with buckling,” he says. “If they don’t cut the foam back to allow for the expansion and contraction of the vinyl, it is possible to get warranty calls.”