Historic houses offer unique beauty and charm. They bring a sense of pride to their owners, but they also bring a distinctive set of problems to those who own and love them. At the top of the list is exterior maintenance. Painting every few years gets expensive, but alternatives like vinyl or aluminum siding are frowned on by purists and often banned outright on historic properties.

One alternative to traditional siding and regularly scheduled painting is spray-on siding. Referred to in the industry as “permanent coating,” spray-on siding is formulated with resins and polymers, and is liquid, like paint, but is applied 10 times thicker. Manufacturers say that because it's breathable, it allows moisture to escape, and it also expands and contracts with temperature changes. One company, Alvis Spray-On Siding, says it can match any color sample. One of the major selling points is that the liquid siding looks just like paint, with added strength and durability.

“You can still see the wood grain [of the siding] through it,” says Dan McConkey, marketing and advertising specialist for Alvis Spray-On Siding. “You can't tell the difference between this and paint.”

Denise Perron of Spray On Siding of Southern New Hampshire says she's seeing a lot of interest from owners of historic and old homes.

She recently worked with a client who didn't know what to do with his home, a historic building called the Colonial Arms, which was well-known in the area. He wanted to avoid the upkeep of continual painting but was wary of vinyl siding. He heard a radio ad for Perron's company and was instantly intrigued. Perron says it wasn't a hard sell, because the client immediately saw that he would never have to paint again and that, unlike vinyl siding, the spray-on coating could be applied to the intricate scrollwork trim on the building. He was also wowed by the 1,800 colors he could choose from.

Even where vinyl is allowed on historic properties, Perron is happy to be able to provide spray-on as an alternative. “You go through New England, you're watching them have vinyl put up on beautiful [older homes], ... and the vinyl fades, and it's just sad.”

One project she's particularly proud of is the Guglielmo Marconi Foundation's U.S. National Marconi Museum in Bedford. In partnership with Spray On Siding of Central New Hampshire, Perron's company provided exterior coating free of charge so that the owner and operator of the museum could preserve the historic building and keep his lease.

Installation of spray-on siding requires chemical pressure-washing of the home's exterior; removal and replacement of rotted boards; meticulous covering of windows, lights, and landscaping close to the house; and application of a bonding agent before the siding can be sprayed.

Although most manufacturers of sprayon siding guarantee the product itself, some installers are under no obligation to guarantee or warranty their work.

Stories of excessive overspray and other installation gaffes have caused some homeowners to shy away from spray-on siding, especially when more familiar options like traditional siding are available.

But the biggest reason consumers don't use it is that many people just haven't heard of it. “If you asked 1,000 people about sprayon siding, most wouldn't know about it,” said David Anton, owner of the Alvis-affiliated Spray-On Siding in West Chicago, Ill. Nonetheless, Anton, who commented in an interview for REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR, REMODELING's sister publication, expects to do $10 million in installations in 2004. “It's a new idea for a lot of people, so there's no way to go but up.”