Vinyl Siding vs Clay Plaster
The concept of durability is familiar enough; we all want buildings that last a long time. But in sustainable building, that concept can be more nuanced.
In conventional construction, durability and maintenance-free have come to mean the same thing. Many products that are sold as maintenance-free have a working lifespan longer than a typical warranty period (often based on the average duration of home ownership, which is 13 years, according to the National Association of Home Builders) and are designed to require no maintenance over this length of time.
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While it is laudable to reduce the amount of maintenance a home requires, the downfall of most maintenance-free materials is that they are typically difficult or impossible to repair, and become garbage at the end of their lifespan. Maintenance-free is another way of saying “won’t need work until it goes in the garbage.”
A good example is vinyl siding, which is sold as being maintenance-free and is assumed to be durable. However, should the siding be damaged, repair is uncommon and often impossible. And when UV and other environmental factors finally take their toll on vinyl siding, it is removed and taken to landfill.
A radically different approach can be found with clay plaster. While not as immediately water resistant as vinyl siding, any damage to clay plaster is easily repaired by wetting the area and applying a bit more clay plaster and/or clay paint. This exterior finish, while requiring maintenance every 5-10 years, can last for hundreds of years with no waste and virtually no material costs.
One solution is not necessarily better than the other; there are valid reasons for choosing either option. But it does put the concept of durability in a different light!