Stucco has taken a lot of hits over the past decade or so, but it’s still in the running as a preferred home cladding. Applied the right way using proper materials and with skilled hands, it can protect a home from the elements for many years. The problems started to emerge with exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS) using so-called modernized methods and materials. It didn’t hold up, and many homeowners suffered considerable financial damage as a result.
With the issues out in the open now and improvements being made, stucco is reclaiming its spot among prominent cladding materials. Here’s what you need to know about EIFS in 2017, how to spot defects before they lead to widespread structural damage and when to advise home buyers to call a specialist for an in-depth look.
The Jury is Still out on What Stucco Should Do
Some experts believe stucco should act as a barrier, protecting a home by sealing out water. Other experts argue that all cladding will one day fail, at least in a spot or two, and let in water. In that case, ASHI Reporter says its main job should be a rain screen that helps liquid water drain away and water vapor evaporate.
However you look at it, stucco, like all cladding, should keep water from entering the dwelling and causing structural rot. When it fails, stucco acts as a trap. If the sheathing is OSB, it will warp, rot and harbor mold. But any water that makes it through the wall can rot framing members along the way and damage interiors.
Home Inspectors Have Limited Testing Capabilities
Because stucco is concrete, it’s usually difficult to spot early signs of water damage. Cracks are a warning and so are warped areas where the concrete appears to be wavy. Invasive testing is beyond the scope of a general home inspector’s job, but there are a few ways to look inside without cutting or poking holes.
Infrared testing, such as with FLIR or similar equipment, reveals cold spots. Water usually appears colder on the imaging, and that can help you find wet areas. Moisture mapping is another method. Using a moisture meter, inspectors can measure moisture content at several locations to determine whether there’s damage in vulnerable areas, such as around wall penetrations.
Certain Areas are Prone to Early Water Infiltration
The most common areas for water damage in a stucco system are around windows and doors. If the homeowner hasn’t tried to mask the damage with a new paint job, you might find streaks along walls under the windows and wood rot around doors.
If there’s impact damage or cracks in the stucco, there’s a point of entry for water. Other penetrations, such as ventilation for a clothes dryer or plumbing pipes, can let water inside, as well. If the penetrations aren’t sealed properly or if the sealant or flashing fail, the homeowner could have damage inside the walls.
Applied the right way by skilled tradespeople, stucco remains one of the most attractive and protective cladding materials that a homeowner can buy. It has a certain aesthetic that spans many periods in architectural style. It’s especially popular in tropical Florida and arid New Mexico, but you might find it in suburban neighborhoods in almost any state.
Whether it’s designed to repel water or help it drain and evaporate, stucco has one job. If it lets water enter the home, the structure will eventually break down and cause the homeowner headaches. As a home inspector, you can’t dig into walls. But you can spot many signs that water is present. From there, you can advise buyers to get an expert to make the final call.
Home inspectors have an important job, and it revolves around information. The more you can tell a buyer about a home, the better equipped they’ll be to make a sound buying decision. If you’re ready to make a difference in the lives of people throughout your community, ICA School is ready to train you for the job. Enroll now and start learning about stucco defects, water infiltration and other issues that homeowners need to know.