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Sticking With Stucco

Whether building a home or renovating one, chances are you're faced with choosing siding. If this is the first time you've considered siding, you may be surprised - maybe even bewildered - at the array of choices available in San Diego, California.

Today's siding options are numerous, and the prices vary to match. Before making a final choice, be sure to discuss your options with your contractor, who will have insight into structural and climate issues that may affect your decision.
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Stucco siding has often been the exterior material of choice, with its low-maintenance and long-lasting properties attaining almost mythic status. But damage caused by synthetic stucco has been the subject of hundreds of lawsuits, including one statewide class action suit in North Carolina. Manufacturers of synthetic stucco have denied that their product is defective and have blamed problems on the contractors who apply it.

Traditional stucco siding is known as cementitious and made of cement, sand, lime and water. The cement gives it strength and durability. Cementitious stucco siding is usually applied in a three-coat process: the first coat, called the "scratch" coat, is applied over water-resistant paper and metal lath, then scratched (hence the nickname) with a tool or rake. This scratching gives the surface enough roughness for the next coat (the "brown" coat) to easily adhere to. The "finish" coat then finishes the process, giving the exterior the stucco appearance most people are familiar with.

The synthetic form of stucco siding is called exterior insulation and finish system, or EIFS, and is made with fiberglass and acrylics. The EIFS process involves applying foam insulation directly to the exterior wall, then adding a water-resistant base coat infused with fiberglass mesh. The finish coat is acrylic.

A combination of both is available as well. In a two-coat system, the base is a fiberglass-infused cementitious coat with an acrylic finish coat. This can be done over a foam insulation layer as well.

Critics say the problem with EIFS stems from its greatest asset - it is impervious to water. The trouble is that when water does sneak in through a crack at a window or door, there is no way for it to escape. As a result, the wood framing underneath acts as a sponge. Bugs infest. The wood rots in San Diego, California.

EIFS systems have been used - primarily in industrial construction where the framing is steel - for about 30 years with no problems. The EIFS Industry Members Association in Tacoma, WA, says there's nothing inherently wrong with synthetic stucco siding, unless your contractor doesn't install it properly. There's a big battle with insurance carriers that wrote policies to cover the builders for construction liability. Although many carriers have reimbursed homeowners for the cost of EIFS removal, some have not.
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