What's your stucco situation?

Conquering cracks to keep out the water

By Paul Weideman
Posted 7/18/19

The skin of a house - the roof and the stucco on the walls - holds early …

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What's your stucco situation?

Conquering cracks to keep out the water


The skin of a house - the roof and the stucco on the walls - holds early warning signs for any homeowner.

If there's a problem, even small cracks, water can get in. And that can mess up drywall, insulation and eventually even the wood framing. Worse, it can even lead to mold.

Since a complete stucco job can easily cost $10,000, it pays to keep track of your existing stucco.

What can you do yourself?

"There are minor things you can do, like putting urethane sealer in small cracks," said Francis McPartlon, CEO of Santa Fe Stucco & Roofing.

"But the biggest thing you can do is just check the stucco every year. Walk around the house and look for cracks. The biggest area to check is the parapets, the top of the walls, where the stucco meets the roofing material."

And if you have multiple cracks around the house that are wide enough to put a credit card into, it may be time to pull the trigger on a full-blown redo, McPartlon said.

When to hire the pros

What kind of surface should you get? For ages, before the arrival of Portland cement at the end of the 19th century, women known as enjarradoras applied protective layers of a mud-straw mix to the adobe walls of houses.

Today, the use of earthen plasters has been almost entirely replaced by cement-based and synthetic, or elastomeric, stucco.

"They have similar life expectancies," McPartlon said.

Traditional stucco tends to change over time, sometimes resulting in what he called "wild varieties of tones," while the synthetic material stays more uniform.

You can tell the difference when it rains. Water soaks into cement-based stucco and the tops of the walls look darker and wet, whereas walls with synthetic stucco just look shiny overall.

McPartlon said homeowners should check with their homeowners association to see if there are restrictions regarding stucco colors, and if they're permitted to do repairs on stucco versus doing whole walls.

The homeowner should also vet the contractors they hire. Do they have a license with the city and state? Do they have insurance? Are their workers covered by workers' compensation? Does the company have any complaints against it with the Better Business Bureau? Are they mixing and matching brands, or are they using all one brand so they can get a materials warranty through the manufacturer?

McPartlon said the concept of stuccoing a house is simple but, in practice, it is not.

In his company's process, a crew first power-washes the entire house. Then it trenches the perimeter, 4 inches to 6 inches down. That technique will help prevent water weeping up from the ground and causing deterioration in the stucco.

"We patch the house with a fiberglass mesh and a synthetic cement that will be able to expand and contract with our weather," he said. "Then we put a waterproofing cement over the parapets. When that has cured, we prime the entire house with a roll-applied primer and then we hard-trowel the new color coat. Then, finally we use sponges to get consistency."

The original version of this story published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of the Taos News.


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