A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Oh, For a Beautiful Exterior

As more people are beginning to realize that they are having issues with stucco or EIFS exterior coverings, I have seen an increase in using masonry coverings. These can be a truly striking feature on a home. However, if you are not careful, they can also have the same problems that stucco and EIFS have.

Any wall exposed to the elements needs to have a way for moisture to come out of it, and it needs to be kept above the foundation. Our friends the termites love to have hidden paths into our homes. By having the masonry covering come down to the ground to cover that unsightly foundation, you have accomplished two things: 1) created a perfect hiding place for termites to move up into your home; and 2) allow moisture to migrate to your wood framing. In the past, the code called for at least 4 inches of foundation to be exposed for masonry veneers, but I heard that this has been change to 6 inches. Weepholes or screens at the bottom of exterior coverings like stucco, EIFS, or the fake stone work covers helps the moisture behind the walls to seep out. This has been the biggest problem for exterior sidings: the lack of a means for moisture to escape. As long as the means is present, these wall coverings can work well with no problems to the framing.

Why do I choose to write this post? I have seen an increase of builders covering their foundations on homes, not leaving the 4 inch gap. I read an article this month from a builder who instructed other contractors to do the same. You see, a builder will construct a home to your tastes, and if the public complains about an unsightly foundation, the builder will cover it up. The builder might not even know that he just caused a problem. In a reversal of fortune, some affordable homes are built better than luxury/custom homes, simply because the buyers do not make many special requests. One study showed that affordable housing (housing under $135,000) is built to better energy efficiency standards than other housing.

The best course of action for builders is to educate their clients on what can happen if a home is built the way that they want it, and for those people considering building your own home to educate themselves first before making requests. In the end when you sell the home, you will just have a nasty old inspector like me pointing out your beautiful flaws.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

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7 Comments»

  stuccolady wrote @

A house with structural flaws or damage exposes siding from the inside out; I have seen “bad stucco” that turned out to be bad roofing or window installation. I think it would also be helpful to differentiate bewteen General Contractors who use Skilled American Trades from those General Contractors who use labor not approved by state & federal statutes. Skilled Trades people tend to take pride in their work and install their product correctly and in accorance with building codes and regulations.

Along Coastal Southeast Georgia there is a lot of century old stucco that runs right to the ground. The usual practice for modern hard coat cement stucco is to run screed along the baseplate, and then cover the foundation with a separate skim coat to hide and protect the block joints.

As a Traditional Hard Coat Cement Stucco Contractor, I am tired of hearing about E.F.I.S. We do not do E.F.I.S.; even our bands & trim are hard coat. This results in higher customer satisfaction, and no bad words from the home inspector.

  frankschulteladbeck wrote @

Thank you for your comment. You are correct that a skilled tradesmen would install stucco or EIFS correctly, and there are not many home builders who will only use these workers. EIFS is a good product when installed properly, but this is often not done on residential applications.
As for building codes, do they not state that there should be four inches of the foundation exposed (now going up to six inches with the new code publication) for the reasons I stated?
I have seen stucco on coastal area homes, mainly in Italy, that are centuries old. The architect Palladio frequently did this. The inspiration for Palladian homes in the South. However, many of these older homes had the stucco applied over brick or stone work, or at the very least heartwood lumber. These materials handle the moisture and termites better.
The reason for this post was to address an article in a national magazine directed to builders where I saw an improper installation being taught as if it should be a standard practice.

  Rob Santana wrote @

As a stucco and an EIFS mason for the past twenty years, I ‘ve seen some good installations as well as bad. That said, the bad installations were almost always applied to the structure in accordance with manufacturer specifications… for example, attaching EPS/foam to wood substrates using glue such as Dryvits’ Adeps. Everytime I think about that I ask myself, “What were they thinking?

  frankschulteladbeck wrote @

I apologize for not accepting your comment earlier Rob. I was out of the country, and I actually stopped in a small village where there were two haciendas. One was abandoned, and the other was from a family that has fallen on hard times. It is amazing how stucco can stand up when protected from the elements, but it was falling away from the adobe. The family had used a beautiful masonry veneer with stucco only on the front of the building. They maintained the stucco, but they let much of the masonry veneer collapse on the sides and rear of the building. Unfortunately, my camera lost its charge, so no pictures.

I have been involved with EIFS installations on commercial buildings, where I saw no problems with the installation. With residential buildings, I have only seen the final results. I did not know about those manufacturer instructions, so thank you for that information. The biggest problem that I have seen is not allowing moisture a way out by placing the screening below. I found that if at least one person on the crew has had some training in the installation of these materials, the crew will learn, but if the manufacturer instructions are misleading, what are we to do?

  Rob Sant5ana wrote @

Frank,

The truth is that there really wasn’t any quality control when the EIFS was going up in the early 90’s. Heck, I remember working side by side men who didn’t even speak English so how could they possibly read specs right.

I think it’s amazing how the industry constantly blames the craftsman for it’s failures.

Stucco Lady…like it or not, EIFS will be here for the long haul. Me, I’m proud to say that I’m a plasterer first and I have no problems with EIFS or hard coat whatsoever.

  frankschulteladbeck wrote @

Thank you Rob. It is easy for people to forget that manufacturers should take the time to ensure that the application of their product should be done right. I saw EIFS being installed on a house this weekend, and I am sure that the product will be around, like you say.

What we really need is a respect for craftsmen who take the time to do the job right, so in that regard, thank you Rob for taking the time to comment, and for the job you do.

  John D. wrote @

First of all, I’d like to congratulate you Frank, on having a blog not filled with misinformation about EIFS. This is one of the few sites I have seen where people seem to be up to date on the issues in the industry.

The issues of the 90s were a combination of installer and manufacturers… as was mentioned the people being hired to install this product were for the most part, plasterers and went at the job the same they would with traditional stucco. The manufacturers weren’t all doing their “due diligence” either. They have however, come a long way since. As you have said, exterior sidings need to stop above grade, 6″ where you reside, I believe it is 8″ up here in Toronto.

But you don’t need to settle for unsightly exposed foundation. Though the EIFS needs to terminate above grade, a DAFS (direct applied finish system) may continue right to grade. This finish consists solely of the mesh, base coat and finish coat applied directly to the foundation. Since the foundation can not rot, and doesn’t provide nutrients for termites, there is no issue of “hidden tunnels” for them to use. Again, the weeping vent is required at the base of the EIFS to further protect from infestation and allow drainage.

As Rob said, EIFS is here to stay. Though you need to be wary and hire a certified home inspector when purchasing an older home with EIFS, new installations by proper applicators provide better drainage and insulating value than other exterior cladding systems currently available.

If you’re interested in learning more, I have a site set up at torontostuccocontractor.com/blog which has lots of articles on the various aspects of EIFS.


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