And if you live on the east coast, you have water. Period.
“Put stucco over wood in the Northeastern U.S., add the expansion and contraction of the wood frame, follow minimum building codes and that’s a recipe for disaster,” said Robert “Rob” Lunny, owner of Lunny Building Diagnostics in Warrington, a building inspection services firm.
Lunny said having a home inspection is “always a good idea,” regardless of whether or not you’re in the market, or thinking about selling your property.
Homes and buildings constructed after 1990 are at particular risk for “rotting from the inside out” due to improperly applied stucco exteriors over wood frame.
“The construction boom was the tipping point,” Lunny said.
Lunny said during the building interval from 1990 to about 2000 a lot of fast-tracked construction occurred without standard or uniform building codes and best practices in place.
From windows, brick, vinyl, cement board or stone, Lunny said everything has to be integrated.
“We are really on the tip of the iceberg with this issue,” he said.
Homes in this time period often included “air-tight insulation with a focus on energy efficiency,” which set the stage for trapped water condensation between stucco and its substrates, or a rainforest effect.
Trapped moisture had nowhere to go, and it couldn’t evaporate or dry out quickly.
About 40% of leaks come from windows or improperly flashed seams and may take years before problems become evident. About 30% of problems come from areas where gutters terminate, Lunny said.
Homeowners often won’t see any evidence, until it is too late.
Lunny recommends ensuring structural materials, including window and door flashing, have a working water management system in place, to redirect water away from structures.
He said weep screeds help moisture get out when it contacts materials underneath the stucco and prevents the wicking effect that allows splashing water to impact surfaces.
“In 2010 we [Pennsylvania] were named the stucco failure capital of the United States,” Lunny said.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly has introduced Regular Session 2019-2020 House Bill 879, by State Rep. John Galloway, D-Bucks. The bi-partisan legislation aims to protect consumers and provide recourse to address building practices allowing construction failures, including stucco failure.
According to Greg Bustamante, owner of Bustamante Engineers in Doylestown Township, a certified inspector is the only authority legally recognized to evaluate stucco failure issues.
During an inspection, core sampling, which is an invasive process to the home’s exterior, is made to “prove a point” for reporting.
Identifying the systems used to create the stucco exterior is also identified, and good planning takes into account when leaking will occur.
“So you can show the construction of the system, from various substrate layers like wire and lath, as well as the thickness and number of stucco coats,” Lunny said.
He noted moisture readings of between 6% and 15% were considered good, and that during the sampling he can “feel the wood” to gauge its soundness.
Any small core sampling holes are filled and sealed after the information is collected to prevent leaking.
“If the process is followed correctly the sealant will work, and after the core samplings are finished then we have to look for the cause,” Lunny said.
“With testing [for property owners] it is the fear of the unknown, and that testing a house will somehow damage it,” Lunny said.
He recommends every house be checked.
“Inspecting is not only about looking for damage, but it’s about being proactive and preventing damage from occurring,” he said.
Once you see visible damage inside the house, problems can be significant. “It’s a latent defect,” Lunny said.
Symptoms or clues of water infiltration damage could include heavy staining, thin or long cracks, and bulges in the stucco wall or missing stucco. He recommends hiring a third-party inspection firm, not a remediation company to inspect the stucco.
“Signs don’t mean it is a bad thing happening, but don’t ignore them,” Lunny said.
“This is the largest investment any of us are going to make. Why wouldn’t you want to know,” Lunny said.
The Greater Philadelphia Stucco
Read part one of this five part series by clicking HERE
Read part three of this five part series by clicking HERE
When it comes to preserving a home with exterior stucco treatments, water management is the name of the game.