Monday, January 10, 2011

Stucco, "Real or Fake"

Can you spot a "synthetic stucco" home?  Do you know the difference between "hardcoat" and "synthetic" stucco?  Is there a quality difference between the two, and are either of these types "real stucco".  Can stucco be fake?  Would it be called "faux" stucco??  So many questions!

According to Wikepedia "Stucco or render is a material made of an aggregate, a binder, and water. Stucco is applied wet and hardens to a very dense solid. It is used as a coating for walls and ceilings and for decoration. Stucco may be used to cover less visually appealing construction materials such as concrete, cinder block, or clay brick and adobe. "

In the Atlanta market, most "stucco" homes are not the Wikepedia definition of the aggregate applied over concrete, cinder block, brick or adobe, although I have seen a few here.  Most stucco homes in Atlanta are either "synthetic" (E.I.F.S) or "hard coat" stucco cladding.  E.I.F.S. homes are not built so much around here anymore.  Actually, Lindsay Lohan has a better reputation than synthetic stucco/EIFS homes. 

In  the 1980's  synthetic stucco seemed like such a great new, inexpensive and beautiful construction method.  Over time though, several major issues came to light.  EIFS cladding consists of a layer of foam plastic insulation (also called simply "foam") that comes in the form of sheets 2' x 4'.   A reinforced layer that is applied onto the face of the insulation with a trowel, consisting of a fiberglass reinforcing mesh ( or "mesh") embedded in a cementitous adhesive. The mesh has an open weave, somewhat like window screening but with opening about 1/4" square.  A final topcoat,or finish, which is a colored, textured paint-like material that is applied with a trowel or, very rarely, by spraying.  

Many times, general contractors did not follow proper the manufacturer's installation guidelines resulting in cladding that allowed moisture penetration and trapped it inside the building envelope.  Surprisingly, most homes including brick homes can allow water to infiltrate behind the exterior cladding, but brick and frame homes breathe and allow for any water intrusion to weep out-not causing damage.  Many EIFS homes, however, trapped moisture causing rot, mold and mildew.  The rotting wood was delightful to Georgia termites.  Another problem was that many times, the stucco cladding went all the way to the ground (or below grade).  The termites were tunneling behind the clad walls and chowing down on the home's moist wooden frame and termite inspectors couldn't see the tunnels.  Homeowners didn't know there homes were being damaged by termites until the damage was major.

In Atlanta, we call a lot of non-EIFS homes "hard-coat".  You typically can tell the difference between hardcoat and EIFS by touching or tapping on it.  The hard-coat stucco homes use  a different construction method that is more acceptable by consumers and widely used here.  Some of the disadvantages of hard-coat construction are surface cracking and they also can, if not properly installed, trap moisture in the wall cavity similar to EIFS.  This method also takes a more skilled masonry professional to apply the aggregate over a lathe material.  There is a moisture barrier applied over the wood subtrate and control joints minimize cracking.  Proper installation will ensure that there are control joints to control and conceal surface cracks and ways for any water penetration to evacuate the inside wall cavity.  Building codes no longer allow either EIFS or hardcoat stucco cladding to be installed less that 6" above grade.
If you have or want a "stucco" home, you should consider having a certified stucco inspection company inspect your home.  One of the tests they will do is a moisture test to see if there is a high level of moisture trapped inside the wall cavity.  They can make recommendations for repairs and make sure that stucco systems meet minimum requirements which include having all penetrations, transition joints, and trim completely sealed with Dow Corning 795 sealant (or equivalent), have proper flashing and sealants around windows and doors, and have adequate ground clearance.  There are also moisture free warranty companies that offer a guarantee that your stucco home is moisture free.  This warranty may be a great idea to obtain for your own protection or to help your stucco home sell in the future.
For more information, contact me at or 404-694-4663 and I can help you with references for a stucco inspection company.


  1. Great facts, several thanks towards the author. It really is incomprehensible to me now, but in basic, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming. Thanks again and very good luck!

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  3. Stucco when applied to a certain type of building, can be lead to either the frothy type or the dried out and crack susceptible.

    -Keystone Contracting Corp.