Vinyl siding has long been an aesthetically pleasing and affordable choice for homeowners, to go along with brick and wood. However, is it a dangerous choice?
That is something the Covington City Council looked at when a recommendation to ban the material on new or remodeled homes in the city of Covington came up during its meeting Monday.
An ordinance that would ban the use of vinyl siding for new and remodeled housing in neighborhood residential zones 1, 2 and 3 was tabled following a long discussion at the Covington City Council meeting last Monday.
Scott Gaither, of Covington's Planning and Zoning department, said the proposed ordinance addresses concerns about the safety of vinyl, which has a lower fire ignition point than wood and often melts during a fire, and its appearance. Odors released by vinyl during a fire are also toxic.
“The Planning Commission requested such amendment as a way to ensure quality housing was being constructed with the desired outcome being higher valued houses as the main purpose,” Gaither said in a later interview.
The safety of homeowners, neighbors and firefighters became the driving force behind the amendment after the commission had done additional research, he said.
“As vinyl is exposed to flames it melts and a byproduct of that melting is the possible emissions of hazardous gasses, depending upon the base material used in the manufacturing process,” he said.
Studies by the American Society of the International Association for Testing and Materials (ASTM) have shown “vinyl distorts and melts at a lower degree of heating than other building materials and has a lower initial ignition point as well,” he said. “The Vinyl Siding Institute’s installation manual even discusses fire safety on page three of the manual.”
Chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission Lee Aldridge said, “We have discussed the topic of various types of siding for several years. At first, the topic came up because of housing developments that built houses close together. We wanted to study the safety issues involved.”
Aldridge said when a house on Lee Street near Usher Street caught on fire, the topic came up again during a commission meeting.
“We want to ensure the safety of the houses that are being built or that may be built when there is an increase in building development,” she said. “We also discussed the value of houses. The higher quality of material may increase the price point and overall quality of construction.”
What ordinance requires
The ordinance would require new or remodeled building projects to have exterior walls consisting of brick, stone, cement fiber board, hardi-wood or wood. However, he said, vinyl siding is cheaper. He reported he talked to a few local builders who said the cost difference ranged from $5,000 to $7,000 for a 1,200-square-foot house to $5,000 to $10,000 for a 3,000-square-foot home.
For a number of council members that cost difference made the proposed ordinance problematic.
“A lot of houses in Covington Mill have recently been remodeled,” Smith said. “Is it better to have vinyl available for those who can’t afford to use hearty wood?”
Council Member Hawnethia Williams, Post 2, West, asked why the use of vinyl had suddenly become an issue. Gaither responded by saying there was an upswing in construction, and there were roughly 300 single residential lots that could
be built on in the future.
Williams said she would like to hear from the fire marshal and learn more about the issue. The council agreed to table the ordinance.
When contacted, Covington Fire Chief Stoney Bowles said that from a fire safety or response standpoint, the department doesn’t change tactics whether it’s a brick-sided, vinyl-sided or hardi-plank sided house. “Obviously, you’re going to get heat damage to vinyl before you get it with brick or hardi-plank.”
Properties that already have vinyl siding would be allowed to keep the siding or replace it if it needs repair. If 60 percent or less of a house with vinyl siding is damaged, it can be rebuilt with vinyl siding.
Property owners could request a variance from the Covington Board of Appeals and Adjustments (BOAA) if an ordinance prohibiting vinyl siding in residential neighborhoods is approved.