Construction Defects: The Warning Signs of Stucco Failure
What is Stucco?
Stucco is generally a durable and low-maintenance exterior finish material that enhances the value of a townhouse or condominium. It is a long-lasting material made from cement, sand, and lime that can be colored in almost any way imaginable. Because stucco is porous, it is expected that some water will pass through it. As a result, underlying weather-resistive components must be installed correctly to ensure the water drains out from behind the stucco. Stucco also must be properly attached to the home so that it is structurally supported. When it isn’t, the stucco can crack or even delaminate from the building. Cracking can also compromise the weather-resistive integrity of the home and result in problems that include paint failure, wood rot, mold growth, and wet drywall.
What Causes Stucco to Fail?
While there are many factors that lead to stucco failure, the most common reasons are how the cement component is mixed, external temperature swings during installation, improper attachment, structural movement of the building, and other poor workmanship in the installation. But at the basis of most stucco problems is the failure to implement the systems necessary to protect against moisture penetration. Moisture can destroy stucco and the underlying construction (including structural members) if it is not installed properly, and trapped moisture in stucco is often caused by the absence of, or poorly installed, weather-resistive components.
The most common “waterproofing” defects include:
- Improper Flashing Installation
In instances where flashing is missing or it is improperly installed, water can’t drain out from behind the stucco. This can result in moisture damage to wood framing and interior finishes and cracking and overall deterioration of the stucco. Proper flashing is critical for the necessary drainage.
- Improperly Installed Doors or Windows
When doors and windows are improperly installed, moisture may not drain off of them to the exterior surface of the stucco. This can result in water being directed into the walls and subsequent mold growth and structural deterioration.
- Improper Sealing of Vents. Lights, Pipes, and Electrical Outlets
Improperly installed dryer vents, light fixtures, pipes, and electric outlets can allow moisture to penetrate and result in the stucco failures and other problems discussed above. These kinds of openings must be properly sealed and surrounded by water management systems for proper drainage.
- Material Transition Problems
Transitions between stucco and the joints of dissimilar materials like windows, doors, brick, and siding that have not been properly sealed for expansion and contraction can cause cracking of the stucco and separation between the stucco and adjacent materials, both of which allow water penetration.
What to Watch For
Condominium and townhouse associations with stucco should be on the lookout for warning signs that indicate that the stucco on your property is improperly installed and may even be beginning to fail. These signs include:
- Surface Water Stains or Efflorescence (white salt deposits)
- Leaking inside the home
Water Stains or Efflorescence
While water staining or efflorescence can appear anywhere, the most common areas to be affected are those around doors and windows. Staining can also occur around exterior lighting fixtures, decks, and other penetrations in the stucco, and it is important to protect these areas from moisture and ensure that sealants are in good condition.
It is not usual for stucco homes to develop cracks over time, especially during an initial “settling in” period. Hairline cracks are common and not typically a cause for concern. But it is important to address larger cracks quickly before moisture becomes trapped and causes more serious problems.
When stucco is not installed properly, moisture, especially rainwater and snowmelt, can become trapped behind the stucco and eventually seep through the walls or ceiling. There, the moisture can cause damage to, and even rotting of, drywall, wood trim, and other finishes. Moist environments inside the walls can breed mold that can cause serious health issues.
Improperly installed stucco can also lead to rotting of underlying wood sheathing and structural members like studs. Signs of rotting will often appear on the stucco exterior as dark spots and staining around windows, doors, chimneys, electrical outlets, meter boxes, pipes, and spotlights.
Either because of improper attachment to the structure of the home or deterioration of the underlying structure or the stucco itself, stucco can delaminate from a home. Often appearing as “bubbling” of the stucco, if not addressed quickly and properly delaminating stucco can fall to the ground, potentially injuring someone or other property in the process.
The Importance of Hiring Experienced Contractors
Properly installed stucco can contribute to a property’s aesthetics and overall value, providing it has been installed by an experienced, knowledgeable contractor.
When installing stucco, it is important to retain the services of professionals who are well versed in the importance of weatherproofing and water management. This will help to ensure that your property is protected.
If your townhome or condominium association is experiencing stucco failure or other problems, call Burg Simpson’s dedicated Construction Defect attorneys for a free consultation to discuss how our team can be of assistance to you. Call us at (303) 792-5595 or fill out a free case evaluation form here.