What Do I Need to Know About Stucco Homes?

Recently, the media has been paying special attention to stucco and its impact on homeowners buying and selling stucco clad homes. Despite the negative press it has received, stucco is a great cladding material. It’s durable, comes in many colors and textures, and provides a high-end appearance for a home, thereby increasing curb appeal and market value. Here's everything you need to know about stucco to help you make informed decisions when buying or selling a stucco home.

The reason stucco has been getting a bad reputation lately stems from an overall abundance of installation deficiencies during the construction boom of the 1990s that cause many homes built during that period to leak.

Stucco is a porous limestone building compound made up of Type I & Type II Portland Cement. It is designed to absorb water, which makes it flexible and durable for weathering the elements. Because water passes through stucco easily, it’s crucial to pay attention to water management. 

Typically, houses in the Northeast are framed with wood. In order to protect the framing wood from rot, stucco homes have 2 layers of a Weather Resistant Barrier, covered with 3 layers of stucco (scratch coat, brown coat, and top coat). These 3 layers of stucco provide maximum protection and resistance to cracking.

Due to the extreme weather swings in the Northeast, wood expands and contracts frequently, causing gaps around windows, doors, and other openings in the stucco. To bridge the gap, builders install flashing around all edges to protect the underlying home structure even during cold temperatures.

Most of the systems installed in the Northeast consist of only 2 layers of stucco with only one layer of Weather Resistant Barrier. Additionally, it was found that over 50% of leaks in homes are from improperly flashed windows, and 30% of leaks in homes are caused by lack of flashing details known as “kick out diverters.” Kick out diverters are installed at roof/wall intersections to push rainwater out into the gutter and away from walls.

Water entry behind the stucco can cause deterioration (rot) of the underlying wood, allowing water to wet the insulation, framing members, and drywall in our homes. This type of damage goes undetected until an inspection is performed, and consequently is all having a negative impact on the resale value of these homes. The stains observed under gutters, at chimney/roof intersections & under windows could be an indication of moisture penetration and are worth a closer look. 

Unfortunately, due to improper flashing techniques, improper installation of the underlying Weather Resistant Barrier, lack of communication among the trades, and lackluster inspections by local municipalities, many of the homes built during the 1990s have been leaking and are in poor condition. 

This deterioration of improperly covered stucco homes has led to relocation companies and some appraisers requiring testing of all homes with stucco systems. 

Selling Your Stucco Home: Be Proactive, Not Reactive 

The best way to sell your stucco home for the highest value and in the shortest time is to have the stucco system tested before putting your home on the market. If repairs are needed, get them completed so you’ll be able to market the house as “pre-certified dry.” Your Realtor will attach the inspection report and any repair documentation to your listing on the MLS in order to put buyers’ minds at ease that your home is safe and dry.

Last year, over 90% of the stucco homes sold in the Northeast had an invasive stucco evaluation to determine if the stucco system was leaking. In the majority of situations, it is less expensive for a seller to take control from the beginning, get the system tested, and make repairs, rather than wait for the buyer to find problems and request major overhauls to satisfy their anxiety about a leaky home. 

An invasive stucco inspection is designed to look deep underneath the stucco to determine construction quality. The inspector will complete a visual evaluation of the entire system from the roof down, looking for cracks, gaps, flashing details and staining. They’ll compile a photo log of the entire exterior while inspecting, then they’ll drill 2 small holes in the exterior and insert an electric probe into the framing wood in order to record moisture readings. Next, they’ll evaluate the interior, again looking for signs that moisture has or is penetrating the barrier. They may even use Infrared Technology to help identify possible leak locations.

Wood sheathing has a standard moisture content that ranges from 6% to 15%. If the moisture content in the wood is over 15% but under 20%, only minor work is needed that usually does not involve removing stucco. A moisture content of over 20% is an indication moisture intrusion is occurring. A licensed stucco analyst will determine to what extent, and advise you how much stucco needs to be remediated. Over 25% moisture content in the underlying wood requires removal of the stucco and locating the leak, re-setting windows, or possibly installing specialized sill flashing to better protect gap areas. 

Bottom line: performing an in-depth system analysis prior to listing is the key to reducing days on market and increasing the value of your home.

Our thanks to Rob Lunny, an EDI Level II & Moisture Free Warranty Certified Stucco Moisture Intrusion Analyst, for the information in this blog post. Rob is a BCO, PA Building Code Official and also holds membership in AWCI, EIMS & Building Science Corporation, he’s certified in Infrared Thermography, and performs stucco system evaluations for homeowners & the Real Estate Community in PA, Delaware, New Jersey & New York.

Schedule your stucco inspection today at www.LunnyDiagnostics.com or by calling (267) 483-8737. 

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