Philadelphia-based writer Jim Cory is a senior contributing editor to Professional Remodeler who specializes in covering the remodeling and home improvement industry. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homeowners writing a five-figure check for a siding job, whether vinyl or fiber cement, usually know only one thing about that job: When it’s done, it looks great. And since siding is mostly about making a house pop, it had better look good.
But here’s another consideration: The fact is, a siding job is never going to look better than on the day it’s finished. And being expensive, it needs to last. Unfortunately, many times it doesn’t.
“I see it every almost single day,” says Paul Panagiotidis, owner of Total Home Construction, in Melville, N.Y., who’s installed thousands of vinyl siding jobs in the nearly 30 years he’s had his Long Island company. “It’s waving or it’s oil canning. It’s nailed too tight or it wrinkles because it’s too thin.” Jobs that fall apart after a year and a half are common enough that Panagiotidis spends much of his sales presentation explaining that the company installs with its own crews, at which point he reviews, step-by-step, its installation procedures.
Help, My Siding Is Failing
For companies installing siding with employee crews, communicating that difference and what it can mean for job quality is a key differentiator. For instance, when salespeople from Twin Cities Siding Professionals, in St. Paul, sell a job, they show homeowners photographs of what a bad siding job looks like and explain why a job falls apart. The company’s been selling jobs that way since 2006. “We’d get a lot of calls from people saying: ‘Help, my siding’s failing,’” company president Terry Stamman says, about how that started. “We still get those calls. We fixed three jobs this week.”
When TCSP gets a call to repair siding, Stamman says he typically will “show them the manual.” That is, exactly how the job should’ve been done. Those fixes, which not all siding companies will do, can cost homeowners anywhere from $2,000 to “$20,000, $30,000, or $50,000” if the whole house has to be stripped and re-sided.
More typically, TCSP inspects, then writes a quote “based on what [the homeowner] wants,” Stamman says, which often involves tearing off some siding and trim and installing capillary breaks. Failure stems most often from “mis-nailing, improper or missing flashing,” and “sometimes bad products,” such as a particular brand of composite trim where water “hangs on the bottom of the board, causing that to swell and rot.”
Show Me the Manual
Homeowners who do a little online research would quickly realize there’s a right way and a wrong way to install siding. What they probably don’t know is that the right way is specified in exacting detail in printed manuals, such as the James Hardie Best Practices–Installation Guide Siding and Trim Products which both installers and salespeople at Lakeside Exteriors, in Missouri, carry with them at all times.
“[Homeowners] can go on the Internet and see all kinds of bad things about how Hardie fails,” says Lakeside’s vice president of sales Dan Merrifield. “Ninety-nine percent of the time it has to do with installation errors.” In the case of a product like James Hardie fiber-cement siding, such errors render the company’s non-prorated 30-year warranty on the materials null and void.
Correct Installation Sells
Most of the jobs at K&B Home Remodelers, in Morristown, N.J., are siding jobs and all its siding jobs are fiber-cement. Owner Horacio Kusnier, an Argentine immigrant who twenty years ago began as a helper on a siding job, says bad jobs are often rush jobs resulting from “lack of training and lack of knowledge about the product.”
“People tend to rush through jobs and get it done as fast as they can because the job wasn’t properly priced. It’s not necessarily the amount of work out there, it’s sales organizations that sub out the work and don’t pay enough for anybody to take the time to do a proper installation,” he says. “It may look beautiful, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to last too long. A few years down the road, you’ll see issues.” (For tips and techniques the company uses, see its 5-minute video on proper installation.)
Mark Franzoso, owner of Franzoso Contracting, in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., says that such carelessness leaves house and condo owners holding the bag. “It breaks my heart,” he says, describing condo associations who went with a lowball contractor only to end up with a failed installation. “They have no conception of detail,” says Franzoso, who started his company 37 years ago. “They don’t lay the job out properly.”
Franzoso Contracting runs seven in-house siding crews (“my unfair advantage”) who do both vinyl and fiber-cement and are also cross-trained in roofing. The company usually works on single family residences, but also completes two big multifamily siding jobs a year. All are done to the same standard, whether a $2.2 million condo re-side or an 18-square job for Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Recently, for instance, Franzoso bid on a condo job with vinyl as the material. A counter bid came in at $325,000 less. “My pitch to the board president was: I can’t deliver the kind of job you’re going to get from him. I am a detail-oriented guy.” He offered to take the head of the condominium association to the other side of town to see another Franzoso Contracting job. “I took pictures and he took pictures,” he says. “They hired us.”
Right Company, Right People
Employee installers—that “unfair advantage”—is persuasive for homeowners who want not only a beautiful siding job, but one that will last long enough that they don’t have to worry about it again for a long time.
Twin City Siding Professionals also installs mostly with its own crews, but in addition uses a few trusted subcontractors when backlogs build. Three field supervisors and a 67-point checklist ensure jobs are installed by-the-book. (“Not every job requires all 67 points,” Stamman notes.) Stamman says he sells around the idea of “the absolute importance of the right company with the right people who are supervised properly.”
Since 2011, TCSP has been taking crews to the Dodge Nature Center, a 460-acre wildlife preserve in West St. Paul and Mendota Heights, Minn. Donating both the labor and materials (non-returnable items from its warehouse), installers get hands-on training as, one-by-one, they have re-sided the center’s various buildings. When the company first proposed doing this, management at the Nature Center “were thrilled,” Stamman says.
Sell Process, Not Project
“Every contractor says he’s the best”—that’s what Paul Panagiotidis, owner of Total Home Construction, says homeowners sometimes tell him. That claim is easy to make, but these days it’s necessary to prove it, especially if you’re asking a higher price. Homeowners may know nothing about how siding goes on and assume that every company installs by the book.
Franzoso says his company strengthens the sales proposition by taking no money down and, in addition, offers a labor warranty equal to the length of the manufacturer’s product warranty. “We sell our process,” Merrifield says. That includes a step-by-step explanation of how product’s installed, as well as establishing job timelines, communication parameters.
A really professional company, Kusnier points out, has a crew chief, shows up on time in company-owned trucks, with company shirts, hits targeted completion dates, cleans up daily and is on that job every day until it’s finished. “We’re not hopscotching from job to job to meet payroll,” he says.
Panagiontidis says he gives people a list of 4,000 “recent” siding jobs. He also makes a point of not asking if prospects have other proposals in hand. Though sometimes they are at pains to signal that they do. At which point he tells them: “I’m here to sell myself, not to bash anybody else.”