If you think about your home’s exterior, there are a lot of individual components: shingles, eaves, flashing, vents, windows, doors and siding. These pieces all work together to create what is called the building envelope. Like any envelope, it’s there to protect what’s inside: insulation, studs and rafters, wiring, plumbing, furnishings and, most importantly, you.

What Does a Building Envelope Do?

A building envelope is the first line of defense from the elements. It keeps wind, rain, snow and hail out. It’s also the last line of defense from escaping heat. While insulation is meant to help maintain a home’s internal temperature, heat can escape through gaps in seals or thermal breaks like exposed rafters in studs. The building envelope keeps it from escaping completely.

What Role Does Siding Play in Creating a Tight Building Envelope?

In terms of square footage, your home’s siding is probably the largest part of your building envelope. It keeps the water out on a rainy day and the warm air in during cold winters. Many siding options, like vinyl, have their own insulation properties, which further improve the energy efficiency of your home.

Properly installed and maintained siding also acts as a failsafe when other building envelope elements degrade. For example, if your eaves are poorly maintained or damaged, they can leak or overflow.

If, however, your siding is improperly installed, or if it’s not well maintained, that’s a lot of surface area for water to sneak in through. Cracked siding, or places where joints and seams have failed, are ideal locations for moisture intrusion, which can lead to mold growth on your insulation, drywall and even inside your home.

Making Sure Your Siding Is Properly Installed

Along with manufacturer’s instructions for installation, all residential construction, including siding installation, is subject to local building codes and standards. Among other things, you want to make sure that siding panels overlap enough so that water pouring down the exterior wall can’t seep in through too large of a gap between the seams and won’t be forced upward by wind and into the wall via capillary action.

Once your siding is installed, give it a thorough inspection to make sure all seams meet the minimum requirements for overlap. This is especially important at joints and where the siding meets other building envelope components like flashings, windows and doors. If you find deficiencies, contact your contractor immediately so they can be repaired.

Maintaining Your Siding

Siding only works as an effective building envelope component when it is properly maintained. At least once a year, do a visual inspection of your siding to make sure it is still in good condition.

For vinyl siding, look for cracks and faded or stained areas. For steel siding, look for staining. Good quality siding should last for decades, but eventually, all siding will start to degrade. You want to identify potential issues before they become expensive problems.

For both types of siding, part of your maintenance program should include regular cleaning. While wood siding needs to be resealed or repainted every few years, steel and vinyl siding stay looking nice without repainting. But cleaning them with a stiff broom or soap and water will help uncover any weak spots and deficiencies.

If you identify cracked or damaged areas of your siding, replace it quickly. While the contractor is removing the damaged siding, and if you are concerned there may be damage behind the walls, have them open the wall. If there is evidence of water intrusion in the insulation or studs, you may need to engage a mold remediation specialist before the new siding is installed to make sure the interior is completely dry.

Choose the Right Siding

To maximize your siding’s longevity and make sure your building envelope performs as expected, make sure you choose the right type of siding from the start. First, consider your climate. Vinyl can crack in extremely cold temperatures or warp in very hot ones. For these extremes, choose steel.

Similarly, while modern vinyl siding is more durable than its predecessors, steel is still the most durable option. If you live in tornado- or hail-prone regions, steel will last longer for you. For other areas, choose a vinyl siding that is scratch- and dent-resistant.

Your home is probably the biggest investment you will ever make. Spending the money and energy to maintain it will pay off in the long run. Keeping your siding in good repair is a key factor in maintaining your building envelope. For more information on choosing and maintaining your siding, visit the Rollex website.