It covers more exterior wall space than any other cladding material in North America.
The question is: Will that still be true 10 years from now?
The $3 billion vinyl siding industry continues to undergo a self-correction. Even more plant closings and consolidations are expected to achieve healthy capacity utilization levels.
The segment took a beating in 2006, like so many others in building products, hampered by the ongoing housing slump.
An emerging competing material - fiber cement - has posed a threat for the past decade that should become even more pronounced moving forward, as its production ramps up in North America while vinyl siding extruders shut down more lines.
Even major players in vinyl siding like Valley Forge, Pa.-based CertainTeed Corp. have been hedging their bets by expanding into fiber cement and investing in new manufacturing capacity. Toledo, Ohio-based Owens Corning was rumored to be interested in acquiring North American fiber cement market leader James Hardie Industries NV. Owens Corning also manufactures Cultured Stone, another product that is cutting into vinyl siding's market share.
Moreover, the sale of Owens Corning's vinyl siding business, Norandex, is expected to be announced in the very near future.
The $1 billion fiber cement industry has grown at the expense of vinyl, specifically targeting vinyl and other cladding materials in its effort to be No. 1. James Hardie, founded in Australia and based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, has 10 fiber cement plants in the United States.
``The business is continuing to focus on ... taking market share from alternative materials,'' said Louis Gries, James Hardie's chief executive officer, in a fiscal year-end address released in May.
Hardie's sales increased 4 percent last year, but the firm actually sold less product, reporting a 2 percent decline in volume.
Overall production numbers for vinyl siding are difficult to ascertain, as fewer extruders submitted data to Washington-based Vinyl Siding Institute Inc. than in past years.
It's widely believed the North American market equals about 40 million squares of production. Vinyl represents about $3 billion of the $8.2 billion residential siding industry.
Anecdotally, 2007 will continue on the path of the past few years: Vinyl siding is No. 1 in terms of market share, and may keep that designation for the next 10 years. But the threat is there.
``First-quarter shipments across the industry were down about 25 percent vs. last year,'' said John Pruett, a principal at Exton, Pa.-based consulting firm Principia Partners.
``It will not be a good year for vinyl siding manufacturers, yet vinyl remains No. 1 ... and will remain the most affordable cladding option and the siding material of choice for starter homes in many tract communities.''
The downturn in housing is the primary reason for lower sales volumes, but emerging materials are definitely threatening, he said.
``Fiber cement and Cultured Stone experienced respectable growth momentum due to brand building, mainstream production, builder acceptance, greater availability nationwide for both new construction and remodeling applications, and appeal to upscale homeowners,'' Pruett said.
``Engineered wood is also making a run at vinyl siding's market share, so it's a triple threat.''
Jim Ziminski, president of Columbus, Ohio-based Crane Performance Siding, said the onus is on individual manufacturers to innovate and develop new technologies that will move the industry into the future.
``Some of the innovation has been taken out of the marketplace,'' he said in a telephone interview, referring to companies like Alcoa Inc., which sold its vinyl siding business to Ply Gem Industries Inc.; Louisiana-Pacific Corp., which sold its vinyl unit to Kaycan Ltd.; CertainTeed, which continues to increase its fiber cement manufacturing capacity; and Owens Corning, which is expected to exit the market soon.
``They are putting their innovation into markets that are growing by double digits, like fence, deck and railing,'' Ziminski said. ``In my mind, it's the individual manufacturer's job to spend money and innovate. Markets change and evolve. They're never static.
``What are the new trends? What do people want?''
Ziminski pointed to the music industry as a good case study. As music lovers decided they were more interested in downloading music files than they were in buying compact discs, it was up to those in the music industry to figure out how to capitalize.
``They changed the industry overnight,'' he said. ``Those who adapted are OK. Those who didn't went out of business. The same thing happens in building materials.''
Both Ziminski and Jery Huntley, VSI executive director, said the expected population growth in the United States during the next 30 years is going to bring ample opportunity for vinyl siding manufacturers.
``The industry, long-term, looks healthy,'' Ziminski said. ``The projections are that the U.S. will add 100 million people by 2040, which is faster than we have added people in history.''
The projections breed optimism.
``An aging population [will want] low-maintenance beauty and affordability,'' Huntley said. ``What else do we see in that increased population? We see a lot of immigration. Vinyl siding is a wonderful material for that starter home that ties to that increase in the population.''
Industry officials said they applaud fiber cement manufacturers for their success in brand building and marketing, but are not ready to give up market share without a fight.
``Fiber cement needs to be painted. It needs to be caulked. It uses extra resources,'' Huntley said. ``The dust can cause silicosis if you're not using protective gear. And ... with cost, maintenance, use of resources, safety, green [building] ... I think it's almost a short-term buzz as far as competition. What counts is who is there at the end of the race.
``In the long run, the benefits of vinyl siding will win out.''
Ziminski agreed, but said there are still going to be some casualties along the way.
``The only way to survive and thrive long-term is to look at trends, see what they're doing, and go after them,'' Ziminski said. ``We don't have the ability to change trends, but we do have the ability to see what they are, and meet them.''