By Larry Cerro
Building and home inspector Larry Cerro discusses the possible problems facing
homeowners with poorly installed "synthetic stucco" houses.
One canít help but notice all of the new homes being built today with stucco exterior finish
systems. Most of the applications today use a combination of stucco and a foam insulation
board. These systems are known as EIFS (Exterior Insulation Finish Systems) and are
produced by many different companies. As an exterior cladding the product produces a
clean, elegant, low maintenance siding - or does it? Not according to the Building
Department of Hanover County, North Carolina where a recent moratorium was initiated
against such systems says Building Inspector Grady Hobbs. A few years ago, Hanover
County building official Allen Golden began investigating EFIS homes. After inspecting 31
homes, Golden found excessive moisture within the walls of all but two, and several had
substantial rot. Following that, inspectors analyzed 300 randomly selected EIFS houses in
Wilmington, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, Fayetteville, and the Outer Banks, and
discovered moisture problems in 98% of the cases. In almost all cases, the damage could
not be detected without cutting into the wall. As it stands now there is a State wide ban on
the traditional EIFS installation unless modified with a manufacturer approved interior drain
system or protected with a 20 year warranty. As time passes I am finding more and more
houses with similar moisture problems in Tallahassee.
There are several problems leading to the failure of these systems:
∑ The system is being installed by "non-certified", untrained applicators. Manufacturers may
refuse to honor warranties in such cases.
∑ Many applicators are not following the very specific application instructions and
∑ The design of the system is such that it can trap water should water penetrate the barrier
∑ The homeowner is not educated about the proper maintenance and care of the product.
What to look for:
∑ Cracks at doors and windows, especially window sills where stucco joins the window.
∑ Openings in the stucco such as around hose bibs or wire penetrations.
∑ Loose caulk, or areas heavily dependent upon caulk
∑ Loose, delaminating or bowing surfaces.
∑ Visible foam or mesh.
∑ Siding system in direct contact with earth.
∑ Poor flashing between the roof and sidewalls.
∑ Poorly installed gutters and downspouts.
∑ Ant nests or termite tunnels in or next to stucco.
∑ No backwrapping along bottom (exposed foam or substrate along bottom edge).
∑ Siding in direct contact with roofing shingles.
∑ Rotting wood around doors or windows.
∑ Mildew on inner wall surfaces.
∑ Musty odor in house.
What to do:
1. Make a list of all of the above conditions found on your home.
2. Contact the builder to determine what product and system was used.
3. Find out what type of warranty exists.
4. If possible obtain the name of the applicator sub-contractor and determine what his
5. Obtain a third party, impartial inspection to document the problems. Be sure to check the
inspectors credentials and verify that the inspector is familiar with application techniques,
failure manifestations, moisture measuring techniques etc. Your case could go to court.
6. Obtain at least two bids from certified applicators based upon above findings and
conversations with applicators. (Recommended even with builder remedied cases).
7. Obtain extended warranties from builder and applicators after repairs are performed.
8. Obtain care and maintenance information from the builder and/or applicator.
If you have an EIFS system, walk around the house and look for any possible areas that
could allow moisture intrusion. Because of the relative newness of the system in home
construction, the jury is still out on the efficacy of the system when installed properly. As
you read this, however, the manufacturers are rewriting their specs to improve the systems.
The reality of the problem today, is that many systems are improperly installed. Itís a
shame that the conscientious builders and the trained and capable applicators will probably
suffer as a result of the backlash generated by the shoddy workmanship of others. On the
other hand, itís the trained and capable contractors who will be making the proper repairs.
Larry Cerro is four time past president of the Florida Chapter of the American Society of
Home Inspectors (ASHI) and owns and operates a building and home inspection firm in
Tallahassee, FL. He is establishing a data base to determine if moisture problems as
severe as those in North Carolina exist in Tallahassee. He can be reached at 850-222-4404.