What Is Stucco And How Durable Is It?

What is stucco and how durable is it? Design expert and contractor Deborah Burnett explores synthetic stucco. Synthetic stucco, or what folks refer to as dry-vit, has been around since 1969 but it's just...

Synthetic stucco, or what folks refer to as dry-vit, has been around since 1969 but it's just in the last few years that homes in our area have begun to use this exterior facade treatment and construction style. If you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, just drive around any new subdivision and look for the houses that appear to have large textured stone accents on the corners and elaborate curved moldings or entire houses that appear to be solid stucco or textured cement over block walls. And you thought it was limestone corners, stone trim accents, or sturdy block walls with a texture. Don't worry you're not alone, most folks WOULD be surprised to learn that all of these curves, trims, and entire houses are nothing more than 1-2 inch pieces of expanded polystyrene, a special styrofoam! That's right, the entire exterior of the home is not brick, wood, or even siding, but insulating styrofoam sheets with a textured paint-like substance applied overtop of a mesh to keep it all in place. Now, don't panic, it's not the flimsy stuff that you would find packed around a new set of dishes, but rather a specially designed polystyrene sheet that has a reinforced plastic mesh embedded in polymer modified cement topped off with a tinted durable stucco-like finish coat. So you see, instead of having a house built of styrofoam, you have an EIFS. An elf?? No an EIFS. Pronounced "eefs" it stands for exterior insulation and finish systems. And yes it is durable, in that it offers about the same structural resistance as vinyl siding with one big exception: there's no bounce-back. That's important to keep in mind if your new home is situated on a golf course, but if a few patchable holes don't bother you, then an EIFS house is really a great way to boost the exterior insulation from the typical R-11 to R-16+. Plus the extra insulation doesn't add any additional costs! That's a rare find, especially in building a custom home where EVERYTHING costs more than expected. But there is one big drawback in an EIFS constructed building...faulty workmanship. It seems that all over the country EIFS systems are failing, causing thousands of dollars in damages, all due to incorrect installation practices. It seems a lot of sub contractors who actually apply this system are failing to flash, seal, and construct correct drainage angles around all of the openings (windows, doors, etc). The resulting potential problem will show up a few years later when the underlying substrate board and stud walls start falling apart due to water dripping in and around each of the improperly installed openings. So what should a homeowner do? If you're a homeowner with an existing installed EIFS, I recommend you self-inspect around all windowsills etc. looking for signs of mushy or weak understructures. If you find any damage, get it repaired quickly, before the rot spreads and causes major structural problems. For those of you about to build a house constructed of this highly insulating and fashionable building material, you need to insist that your contractor check out the EIFS subcontractor's installation methods to be sure he correctly adheres to the manufacturer's instruction to the letter! What may seem like installation overkill is actually an insurance that you'll have a great looking quality home still standing in a few years. For additional information call the EIFS Association (EIMA) at 800-294-3462.

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