Q. You have written that we should take the cedar shakes off before re-siding. Would it be more insulated if the siding is put over the shakes? As a widow, I would like to eliminate maintenance. I would like to replace the windows also so there is no upkeep. Vinyl or aluminum?
A. Cedar-shake siding is quite irregular and makes things difficult when trying to apply vinyl siding smoothly. You will get more insulation if the shakes are removed, and 1-inch thick rigid extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation is installed directly over the sheathing.
If your question is whether to have vinyl or aluminum siding put on, the decision is very much up to you and the local market. Vinyl siding represents the bulk of the installations nowadays and, when properly installed by experienced workers, it is a good and long-lasting, maintenance-free siding.
So is aluminum, although it is not as popular as it was decades ago, and you may not find it available in your area. I would urge you to insist on XPS insulation (blue, grey, green or pink) instead of accepting the type of thinner fold-up material some installers will offer you; it is not as effective an insulation, but the dealers like it because it goes up faster.
The windows are also somewhat of a local matter — whichever is most popular in your area: aluminum or vinyl, just make sure that it is a top-quality product. I have worked with clients who had bought lesser-quality vinyl windows, and were beset with cold-air infiltration as the vinyl shrank in cold weather — a tremendous loss of energy. The windows may have looked like they were tight in the store, but they did not perform well once installed.
It is recommended that you get three estimates from reputable contractors, but the most important thing you can do is choose a contractor who has an excellent reputation for quality work, presents you with a clear and detailed contract that stipulates the type of material to be used, a start and finish date, and who follows up quickly on any punch list items (they are almost unavoidable in construction.) Ask for several references of people whose jobs were done recently, one and two years ago (two names for each category), and call them.
Keep in mind that choosing the lowest price is often not the best in the long run.
Do not agree to pay anymore than 10 percent at contract signature with the balance due at satisfactory completion. Anyone who asks you for half or more of the money “to pay for the materials” should arouse your suspicions. Also check with the Better Business Bureau and the consumer protection division of your state’s attorney general to see if there are any unresolved complaints against the contractors you are considering.