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Home Buyers Stuck With Stucco

Your home's visual appeal is important to you, right? How about the structural integrity, as in keeping the exterior walls from warping and crumbling? If you chose a synthetic stucco exterior because of its appearance, you might be regretting it, according to a recent NBC Dateline program called "Is your home crumbling around you?" Traditional stucco has a reputation for cracking. But that's nothing compared to the moisture problems with synthetic siding revealed on the NBC story.

Synthetic stucco costs about 2-3 times as much as traditional stucco. To avoid cracking, newer stucco and synthetic stucco products are manufactured to allow some give and take. For the energy-conscious homeowner, the major advantage of synthetic stucco is it's high insulation values. Synthetic stucco is installed with a layer of foam-plastic insulation. The problem is, certain types have been known to cause water damage to homes, especially in wetter climes.

The stucco referred to in this NBC program is a synthetic type with the trade name of "EIFS", or Exterior Insulating and Finish Systems. The complaints center on the material's apparent inability to drain moisture, a major deficiency in areas with lots of rainfall. But when investigative reporters tested a home in Great Falls, Virginia, an area with moderate rainfall, the walls still weren't exactly "right as rain." They found rotting wood underneath saturated stucco.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), representing over 60,000 home builders nation wide, said synthetic stucco, "Isn't compatible with the existing wood frame construction methods in the United States." Even if meticulously applied and maintained, homes with synthetic stucco "develop moisture intrusion problems even when properly constructed according to industry standards," NAHB said.

That's not exactly a vote of confidence from the building industry, to say the least, and it's worthy of note for homebuyers. If you are shopping for a new home, you may want to opt for a different siding material, such as vinyl or wood composite. It requires looking at all the available siding choices, from wood to stone to synthetic, and deciding which material fits your budget and maintenance needs. Obviously, exercise caution and query your homebuilder if you decide to go with synthetic stucco. Make sure the builder and manufacturer stand behind the product.

If you already bought a home with a synthetic stucco exterior, check your warranty. Some states require a 10-year warranty on structure. If you bought recently, check whether or not your building contractor posted a construction bond, another possible source of financial relief in the event of damage or repairs. Then you may want to get your walls inspected for moisture internally.

By Cliff McCreedy

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