Finding good instructions is the first step and half the battle in making repairs


July 31, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Sometimes making a repair isn't as daunting as figuring out how to do it. Unless you've tackled such a task before, how to begin can be baffling.

That seems to be the situation of a reader in Glen Burnie, who writes: "How do I repair a hole, approximately 2 by 2 inches, punched in the vinyl siding of my house? There is a space behind the hole (i.e. nothing solid for at least finger depth and the piece(s) of siding was not recovered.

"Please help -- I haven't been able to find the answer anywhere else!"

Actually, it's fairly easy to repair vinly siding -- at least, the process is easy. The problem is in finding suitable material to make a patch or replace the damaged strip.

If you're lucky enough to have a scrap of the original siding, you can use it to cut out a patch big enough to overlap the hole; or if it's the right size, you can use it to replace the entire damaged strip.

To understand how to repair vinyl, it helps to know how it's installed. Each strip of vinyl siding locks into the one below at the bottom, then is nailed to the structure at the top. It's held in place at corners and around doors and windows by channels. Installers first put up the channels, then, starting at the bottom, nail up the first piece, interlock the second and nail it, and so on, moving up the wall.

If a damaged piece is near the top, you may want to reverse the installation process, removing the piece at the top first, prying out the nails gently so the piece can be reused, and working down to the damaged piece. Remove the damaged piece and reverse the process again, installing strips upward to the top of the wall.

It's possible to remove just one strip of siding, however. To do so you need a "zip tool," which should be available at home-improvement centers or from suppliers who sell vinyl siding. The tool breaks the interlock between strips. To remove one piece,break the interlock at the bottom of the piece above and gently keep it out of the way while removing the nails in the damaged piece. Unlock the damaged piece from the one below, lock in a new piece and nail it in place, then use the zip tool to lock in the piece above.

You can also take the damaged piece out and patch the hole. Use a scrap of matching material and cut it large enough to make a healthy overlap on all sides. Use PVC cement (the same stuff plumbers use to glue plastic pipe) around the hole, then press the patch in place. Then replace the strip in the siding.

If you don't have a piece of the siding, you may still be able to find something to match if you shop around. One problem with vinyl siding, however, is that it can fade, so the patch may show, at least for a while.

Or, if you're willing to tackle the job, you can paint the vinyl, either to conceal a patch or repair, or to renew or change the color. The procedure, according to Larry Horton, general manager at Budeke's Paints Inc. of Baltimore is: First, if the surface is very smooth, scuff it lightly with sandpaper; then clean it thoroughly. Keep testing the surface with your hand; if there's any residue, clean it again. Then apply one or more coats of top-grade exterior acrylic latex paint. In the past, vinyl presented tough surface for paint to adhere to. "The new acrylic latexes hold real well," Mr. Horton says.

When we got this letter the other day, we weren't sure what the complete answer would be. We knew that strips of vinyl siding could be replaced, but weren't sure about simple patching. (Since we work mostly with older masonry construction, we don't encounter much vinyl siding. Lots of Formstone, but little vinyl.)

The way we found the answer to this question answers another question, from a reader in Baltimore, who asks for our recommendation "on a general home-repair and maintenance book."

We have two standbys we turn to for reference when we need more information about a topic. To check how to repair vinyl siding, for instance, we consulted the "Reader's Digest New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual" (Reader's Digest Association, 1991, $27.99). Another favorite reference is the "Complete Fix-It-Yourself Manual," from Time-Life Books (Prentice Hall, 1989, $24.95). Both books are clearly and lavishly illustrated, and both should be widely available. The Reader's Digest book deals with all sorts of installation and repair in structures and systems. The Time-Life book explains how to repair everything from plumbing fixtures and lighting fixtures to oil burners and electric furnaces, to major and minor appliances -- it even includes VCRs.

We have about five shelves full of books on home repair, construction and renovation, and there are scores and scores out there that we don't have. But these are the first two we check when we need help, because they cover virtually all the bases.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.

Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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