That is a very common question, as well as a very fair question. However, answering it can get quite loaded and confusing. So I am going to try my best to give as straightforward and answer as possible. Let's start with the most direct concern with most of our customers, especially in the southern states.
The strength of vinyl siding directly relates to the quality of the brand, and the application of the siding itself. While it may not be cheapest option, middle tier to upper tier brands of vinyl siding offer the best options available for proper installation and durability. Not to knock on the big chain stores, but your best option for the absolute best choice in vinyl siding is a dedicated business that deals directly with the vinyl manufacturers themselves.
Below is a brief rundown of the parts of vinyl siding that affect the durability the most.
This is a single nail hem, or nailing strip. It is found on the lowest price economy panels, usually found at the large chain stores. This hem offers the "weakest option", and we generally recommend against this.
This option, the most commonly installed, is the partial curl nail hem. Found on most medium tier panels, it reinforces the nailing area to give more security under heavy wind loads.
This is a full roll over nail hem. Most commonly seen on premium panels, it doubles the strength of the nailing hem and reinforces the primary installation point.
Finally, what is known simply as the "Lock". The part that, well, locks into the upper lock. The medium to higher tier brands offer very secure interlocking, panel straightness, and more strength under wind pressure.
When it comes to wind, you have to consider that wind either "blows" or "sucks". In the South we get strong thunderstorms, as well as gulf hurricanes that create a volatile environment for the weather. Properly installed, contractor quality vinyl siding can withstand up to 110-150 mph wind loads, and the premium brands can even go as high as 190 mph. Tests are done by the Vinyl Siding Institute, http://www.vinylsiding.org/, and most brands have to adhere to strict standards and requirements. Always look for VSI http://www.vinylsiding.org/ certification, and make sure to hire contractors that use VSI certified products.
Will the color fade?
Major, VSI http://www.vinylsiding.org/ certified brands of vinyl siding offer rich, vibrant colors that run all the way though the panel, front to back. This gives the best level of resistance and performance in extreme weather conditions for long life, and lasting endurance. The color through enhancements offer a superior barrier against UV rays, and protect against fade and color washout. As well, brighter colors can help to maintain a lower energy bill, but that is a topic for another day.
Is it truly maintenance-free?
Most salespeople will try to sell you on the "maintenance-free" idea of vinyl siding. While for the most part this is true, there are a few caveats. Vinyl siding does offer flexibilty, weather endurance, fade resistance, and very low upkeep. However, the best option to keep, at least, the fade resistance and appearance up to par is to wash the siding no less than once a year. That very same rule usually applies to your entire exterior as well though. Short of your roof (though that is another debate), all outside home walls should be washed and cleaned annualy to keep the lively appearance and new look of any home.
Vinyl siding will not rot, flake, peel, get termite damage, or ever need painting. It is a plastic resin, made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and is engineered to be very durable and long lasting. Although, vinyl siding is not fully resistant to cracking; too close with the weed eater, or hale damage and broken tree limbs. But again, even your roof is susceptible to two of those, and wood is susceptible to all the above damage risks.
Lastly, the possible issue as it concerns fire. I will simply give you the explanation directly from VSI's website, http://www.vinylsiding.org/professional/resources/caring-for-vinyl-siding/. "Vinyl siding is made from organic materials and can melt when exposed to a significant heat source. Vinyl is a combustible material, but will not readily ignite unless exposed to flames from an existing fire. Home and building owners with all types of siding should always take precautions to keep heat sources such as barbeque grills, and readily ignitable materials such as dry leaves, mulch, and trash away from the structure".
Hopefully, this has answered some of your questions concerning the application of, durability, and maintenance of vinyl siding. At Jack Ray Siding, we only use top quality VSI http://www.vinylsiding.org/, certified vinyl siding. We only buy from established, trusted manufacturers and wholesalers, and we only use top quality brand name products. With over 30 years of experience in installation, maintenance, and repair, Jack Ray Siding has a proven and verifiable history of delivering high caliber workmanship at affordable prices.