Stucco Exteriors... A Good Investment
by Brett Freeman
Stucco is most commonly associated with the southwestern U.S., but in fact it can be used practically anywhere. Stucco is less expensive and more versatile than other "hard" exteriors such as brick or stone and it lasts longer and requires less maintenance than wood, vinyl, or fiber cement siding. If you want your new home's exterior to last a lifetime with minimal upkeep, you might consider stucco.
Stucco is a classic building material...
Stucco is quite literally a building material for the ages. It has been around for thousands of years and, properly installed, can last for hundreds. The simplicity of stucco (it's essentially concrete, albeit very refined concrete) makes it very versatile. A talented stucco mason can offer you an incredible variety of textures and patterns for your home's exterior.
The key is to hire a contractor who knows what they are doing, because poorly installed stucco can turn your dream house into a nightmare.
Stucco: Built to Last
From a cost perspective, stucco sits firmly in the middle as far as exteriors go. It costs roughly 50 to 100 percent more than vinyl, wood, or fiber cement siding but less than half (and in some cases, far less than half) what a brick or stone exterior would run. Aside from normal cleaning, stucco requires very little maintenance and it should last for many decades and even extend the life of your home.
If you are considering stucco, be aware that its great strength can also be a weakness if you tend to have fickle tastes. Stucco is permanent and little can be done to change the appearance. Stucco can be painted, but it doesn't hold paint very well, so be prepared to repaint every few years. Outside of painting, there's not much that can be done to change the look of a stucco exterior, so make sure to choose a finish that will appeal to you forever.
An Ancient Art
Well-done stucco exteriors can bring to mind the age of artisan craftsmen and rightfully so. There is nothing mysterious about installing stucco. Trade secrets simply can't be kept secret for as long as stucco has been around! Applying stucco is a skill that can't be taught in books... it must be learned hands-on through experience. For this reason, stucco installation should be left to experienced and reputable stucco contractors. As a do-it-yourself project, there's simply too much that can go wrong. When choosing a contractor, look for a well-established company that has references going back at least five years.
Also, when it comes to construction plans, be aware that the lumber used to frame houses is generally fresh and therefore wet. As it dries, the lumber shrinks somewhat, which is no problem in most cases. But stucco is very rigid, and if it is applied before the framing lumber has dried out, it may crack as the wood shrinks. To deal with this, contractors should put up the frame and roof, then allow the frame to dry for at least a couple of months before applying stucco. If your contractor plans to do things differently, ask for an explanation... in writing!
About the Author: Brett Freeman is a freelance journalist. He also owns a landscaping and irrigation company in North Carolina. Previously he has worked as a beat reporter, a teacher and for a home improvement company and he used to own a bar/live music venue.