Most stucco deterioration is the result of water infiltration into the building’s structure, either through the roof, around chimneys, window and door openings, or excessive ground water or moisture penetrating through, or splashing up from the foundation.
Potential causes of deterioration include: ground settlement lintel and door frame settlement; inadequate and leaking gutters and downspouts; intrusive vegetation; moisture migration within walls due to interior condensation and humidity; vapor drive problems caused by furnace, bathroom and kitchen vents; and rising damp resulting from excessive ground water and poor drainage around the foundation. Water infiltration will cause wood lath to rot, and metal lath and nails to rust, which eventually will cause stucco to lose its bond and pull away from its substrate.
After the cause of deterioration has been identified, any necessary repairs to the building should be made first before repairing the stucco. Such work is likely to include repairs designed to keep excessive water away from the stucco, such as roof, gutter, downspout and flashing repairs, improving drainage, and redirecting rainwater runoff and splash-back away from the building. Horizontal areas, such as the tops of parapet walls and chimneys, are particularly vulnerable to water infiltration, and may require modifications to their original design, such as the addition of flashing to correct the problem.
Before beginning any stucco repair, a stucco inspection should be undertaken to determine the extent of the damage, and how much must be replaced or repaired. Testing should be carried out systematically on all elevations of the building to determine the overall condition of the stucco. Some areas in need of repair will be clearly evidenced by missing sections of stucco or stucco layers. Bulging or cracked areas are obvious places to begin. Unsound, punky or soft areas that have lost their key will echo with a hollow sound when tapped gently with a wooden or acrylic hammer or mallet.
Once the extent of damage has been determined through the stucco inspection, a number of repair options may be considered. Small hairline cracks usually are not serious and may be sealed with a thin slurry coat consisting of the finish coat ingredients, or even with a coat of paint or whitewash.
Commercially available caulking compounds are not suitable materials for patching hairline cracks. Because their consistency and texture is unlike that of stucco, they tend to weather differently, and attract more dirt; as a result, repairs made with caulking compounds may be highly visible and unsightly. Larger cracks will have to be cut out in preparation for more extensive repair.
Stucco is a material of deceptive simplicity; in most cases, its repair should not be undertaken by a property owner unfamiliar with the art of plastering. Successful stucco repair requires the skill and experience of a professional plasterer.
This article was sourced from the United States National Park Service.
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