Over the last couple of decades, vinyl siding developed a reputation as a down-market product — cheap, but ugly. That's a bad rap, says Jim Atkins, president of Southern Siding, in Fort Myers, Fla. “There's nothing wrong with vinyl siding. In Florida, we put vinyl siding on homes worth millions of dollars,” he says.

VIRTUES OF VINYL Contractors say that the quality of some “traditional” vinyl siding products hurt its standing, as has the aggressive marketing of competitive products. Unlike its competitors, vinyl siding is truly maintenance-free, available in more than 400 certified colors, and is — in higher grades — tough, too, Atkins says. One of his installations took a direct hit by Hurricane Charlie in 2004, “without losing a single panel or soffit.”

As with other products, Atkins points out, the professionalism of the installation is key. “We tell people that the reason vinyl sometimes looks bad is because of how it's installed. If you take a good, high-quality vinyl product and install it with nice trim, it looks great.”

WHERE AND WHEN Another argument is that vinyl is more aesthetically appropriate to some homes and neighborhoods. “Vinyl has its place,” says Jeff Petrucci, president of Bloomfield Construction, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “It depends on what your goal is. If you want maintenance-free, to save some money, and your house is in the right location, vinyl is fine.” But vinyl probably isn't a good choice if all the surrounding homes are faced with brick, stone, or wood siding, Petrucci adds. The vinyl he installs in his upscale market “has deeper cuts and a deeper butt edge, so it looks more like wood.”

NO PRODUCT DOES EVERYTHING At Amazing Siding, in Houston, consumers choose from three siding products and two levels of installation, explains Bob Birner, vice president of sales. “We educate the customer on the good, the bad, and the ugly of every product we carry, since no product does everything.”

Customers often want fiber-cement siding at first, but “we find that by going over the pros and cons, the warranty coverage and exclusions, and, finally, the price, typically customers have what they need to determine what is best for them,” he says. “So instead of it being a yes/no proposition, it's a question of which they prefer.”

Jay Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Jamestown, R.I.