The Sustainable Side of Vinyl Siding

Sustainable Side Of VinylThe National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is currently more focused than ever the green building movement. This is very important in the resources materials we build with and the standard s and codes we regulated building with. Matt Dobson of the Vinyl Siding Institute joins the Green Gab today. Matt is a past chair of the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) subcommittee on Sustainability and Green Building which Marla serves on. The subcommittee recently changed their name and it signals a new way of thinking for NAHB. In the past, this committee was more focused on the standards and energy plus related codes. As Matt put it, now the committee is “more focused on the green building movement and that it is pushed and embraced in state and local home building associations.”

Keep America Beautiful

Sustainability and green building offer an “Opportunity to inspire people and help them see this truly can be a better way of building.” We reminisce back to the first sustainability-related campaign we all remember. That would be the Keep America Beautiful advertisements with the Native American and tears rolling down his face.


For a quick trivia check, we ask if Matt knows who started and championed the Keep America Beautiful Campaign.  It was Lady Bird Johnson, then First Lady. There is a great article about this campaign in the Shelton Group blog and how key the campaign was to get Americans to quit littering and change our perspectives on littering.

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The Strategy of Green

This strategy could be used with sustainability and green.  Or we could make it more like the iPhone model – build in green and sustainability philosophies, practices and features and let home buyers be delighted and learn that they can live without it.

Sustainability and green building is a philosophy and not a one-size-fits all solution, which makes it easily translated to all different types of houses. Just about everyone in the home building industry is thinking about sustainability and green in some way now. Many people are surprised to learn that vinyl is a green and sustainable product.  Vinyl as a building material has been around for about 100 years and is not something new. Vinyl siding has been around about 50 years. One of Matt’s first tasks working with the Vinyl Siding Institute was to work with the US Green Building Council’s LEED Program and get better information out about vinyl.

At that time, much of the available information about vinyl was from the 1970s and talked about the pollution and bi-products produced from vinyl resins plants. While that may have been the case before the Clean Air Act, that is not the case since. Actually, vinyl resin plants emit very little. So why does vinyl get a bad rap, especially on the environmental front?

The Aftermath of Mis-information is Mis-conception for Generations until…

Much of the misinformation came from a documentary called Blue Vinyl which claimed vinyl production was making people sick. Upon closer investigation, it was proved wrong and the illnesses were proved to come from other causes.  However, the misinformation persisted.

For starters, Matt asks me and Tony if we (both supposedly well versed on many things related to homes and the products that homes are made of) know what vinyl is made of? Between the two of us we come up with oil, petrochemicals and salt. We were kind of right. The biggest components of vinyl are salt and natural gas. 56% of vinyl production is salt based for resin made in North America.

Knowledge isPower

The Vinyl Siding Institute has undertaken an education process to help people learn what vinyl is made of and how cleanly it is made. Making the resin into siding is basically a heat process. A science and fact-based process called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was put in place. This helps manufacturers to better understand the processes and how to improve them. It also helps people understand are talk about the environmental impacts of vinyl siding, especially as compared with other types of siding.  These LCA principles were adopted in the vinyl industry about 10 years ago and look at many elements of manufacturing vinyl resin, including water consumption. Many manufacturers have adopted closed water programs in response.

Green building programs recognize LCA. With so much green washing, consumers often don’t know what to believe. The vinyl industry is working to educate people using the science and facts. The best way to get people to associate vinyl with green building and sustainability is to think about where and how it is used. Many products are made with vinyl and it is very durable.

Vinyl siding is the “Prius” of sidings. It takes very little material to make vinyl siding, which makes it extremely resource efficient. This plays into transportation and other factors. Many people don’t know that vinyl is recyclable and a number of vinyl products have recycled content.

While having sound information for people, be they architects and specifiers, or consumers, is important to the decision-making process, it is also important for people to understand why a product makes sense. This is where showcasing how vinyl is made and its impact on the environment helps. And then show people the steps to take so they can take action.

The Vinyl Siding Institute website makes it easy to make informed choices with the attributes of vinyl siding:

  • Time saving, low maintenance
  • Energy and cost savings
  • Lots of variety – shapes, forms and colors
  • Easy and quick to clean and maintain
  • Vinyl siding can last the lifetime of the house

We asked what the biggest surprise was from the LCA and Environmental Declarations Process and Matt responded “Wow! We do really well.”  When you compare vinyl siding with other cladding products (brick, fiber cement and wood) by functional unit, vinyl siding stacks up well.

Just remember “Think of vinyl siding as the Prius of siding” – Matt Dobson of the Vinyl Siding Institute


Vinyl Siding Institute

Why Vinyl Siding