The media love to bash Millennials as endlessly entitled and too tech-savvy for their own good, even while marketers are busy trying to anticipate what the tastes of this 20-something/early 30-something generation might be. In this business, one factor often cited by trend spotters is Millennials’ supposed rejection of home ownership. This demographic, they say, doesn’t want to buy houses, preferring to rent. And no home buying means no home improvement.
Actually, plenty of Millennials are planning to buy, or already own, a house. A March 2015 report issued by the National Association of Realtors and quoted in a blog post on the Vinyl Siding Institute’s website says that for the second year in a row, Millennials are the biggest group of home buyers in America, representing 32 percent of the home-buying market. Separate data cited in the post, naming TD Bank Mortgage Service Index as the source, claim that 50 percent of Millennials say they’re “extremely” or “very likely” to buy a house during the next year.
That’s good news for the home improvement market. But whether or not those improvements include vinyl siding is up for grabs. We know that Millennials love vinyl—at least when it comes to records. But in cladding their preferences may be elsewhere.
Not Your Grandma’s Siding
Vinyl is currently the market leader in siding and has been the leader for decades. The product came onto the siding market in the late 1950s and early ’60s. And once some basic flaws had been addressed, vinyl rapidly gained traction, to the point that it pushed aluminum siding out of the picture. So complete was vinyl’s triumph that aluminum siding on a house today is something in the order of a historical artifact. (Note: Aluminum siding was invented in 1947 by Jerome Kaufman, who, with others, went on to form Alside.)
Vinyl has owed its ongoing popularity to two things: its ability to mimic wood, and its cost, which was less than aluminum. Today, vinyl’s ability to mimic wood is better than ever, and it remains the low-cost cladding of choice. But for Millennial homeowners looking to re-side, neither of those factors may offer enough appeal. Aluminum was their grandparents’ siding; vinyl was their parents’; and Millennials aren’t having any of either.
The Millennial generation does its research and knows about products and companies before picking up the phone. That may have something to do with why vinyl’s share of market has dropped in the last six or seven years, while fiber-cement and composite products have expanded. Millennials, as Forbes pointed out a year ago, are all about the authentic. Authenticity, the magazine advised its readers, is “the way to the Millennials’ heart.” But “authentic” isn’t the first (or the second or third) word that springs to mind when you think of vinyl siding. All of these products were introduced to take the place of wood, either because they were less expensive or were easier to maintain, or both. When you install fiber cement or composites, you begin by tearing everything off the wall, just as you would if you were installing new wood siding. When you re-side a house using vinyl, what you typically do is wrap what’s there in plastic.
Millennials want what’s real. So why don’t they just buy wood siding, then, if they’re so interested in authenticity?
The answer is that if it didn’t take so long, cost so much, and require all that ongoing maintenance, they probably would.
The other reason why Millennials might pass on vinyl is environmental. Vinyl siding manufacturers, through the Vinyl Siding Institute, have tried to position the material as the greenest of claddings. I doubt Millennials would agree. There’s too much information—like the 2002 documentary Blue Vinyl which looks at the carcinogenic effects of PVC—to contradict that idea. To quote Siding Magazine, “Vinyl siding is made primarily of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a durable and cheap plastic often used in construction. When PVC is heated up or burned, such as in very hot weather or a fire, it will release formaldehyde, hydrogen chloride, and dioxin into the air, all of which are gases that may cause illness and are known carcinogens.” So, no matter what the green footprint of the product may be, the idea that it could be in any way harmful to those who live in the house is a big barrier to Millennials. This is a generation that’s hard to convince. They grew up bombarded by marketing messages. Now they want facts.