I regularly read your column in the Free Press and am interested in your suggestions for dealing with a painted stucco problem. Several years ago (15 – 20) I took the advice of a paint store salesperson and painted the exterior stucco on my bungalow. I am unsure whether the paint was latex or alkyd. It has served well, however, in the last few years there’s been an increasing number of hairline cracks appearing on all the walls. In one or two places the paint has bubbled, cracked and can actually be picked off. I suspect it is begging for attention, but what to do?
Some 40-year-old homes in our neighbourhood have removed the original stucco and re-stuccoed while some have stuccoed over the existing. Others have applied the insulating, sprayed-on paint (Nisby’s) or applied vinyl or metal siding. I suppose that I could even repaint and hide the problem! I tend to favour the low maintenance solution of siding, but I would be interested in your preference if this were your house.
Well, you don’t have to wonder any longer about my preference, because your situation quite accurately describes my house, although mine is somewhat older. When I purchased the home approx. 15 years ago, the older stucco had been painted and was in fairly good condition. Over the years, many hairline cracks have appeared through the paint, which has peeled and come off in many areas to reveal previous paint jobs. To my wife’s dismay, I have yet to remedy the situation. My choice will be to recoat with an elastomeric paint, similar to the one you have seen on your neighbour’s homes.
My reason for this choice is to maintain the original style of the house, while choosing the most cost-effective method for beautification. Regular acrylic latex stucco paint will make a noticeable improvement in the appearance of the home, but will have a limited life expectancy. Your experience with a 15 – 20 year life span is quite unusual and more regular painting is normally required. Elastomeric paint, available at many commercial paint supply stores, is a heavy vinyl coating that can be applied by spray, roller or brush, similar to regular stucco paint. It is very breathable and will bridge hairline cracks much better than other coatings. It also has a much longer life expectancy and will look newly installed for many years to come. The claims of the insulating properties are questionable, but that is a topic for another discussion. The only downside is that the cost of the product is much higher than traditional acrylic latex stucco paint.
Re-stuccoing or replacing the stucco with vinyl siding is a viable option, but either will be much more costly than a new finish on the existing stucco. This should be chosen only if a new look is desired or if the existing stucco is in very deteriorated or damaged condition. I have seen older stucco re-dashed, without removing the old material, but this is not practical once the stucco has been painted. It would be difficult for the new stucco finish coat to adhere to the old paint. Complete removal and replacement is the best option, in this situation, but is normally done only when additional insulation is to be installed on the exterior walls to make the house more energy efficient.
Vinyl siding is a good product, with a good track record, but is often considered a less desirable alternative to stucco, wood, or brick veneer. It is easy to install on a new home, but is more difficult on an older stucco home. The old stucco will have to be completely removed or strapped with wood, to support the new siding. In this case, the old window trim will likely have to be built up on the exterior to accommodate the added thickness of the siding. Again, this is often installed when insulation is to be upgraded.
Whether traditional stucco paint or elastomeric coating is chosen, surface preparation of the current stucco is critical for proper adherence. Any loose or peeling paint will have to be completely removed before proceeding. If dirt and mildew is present on the walls, it will have to be fully washed off and dried prior to the next steps. Both of these items are normally addressed with a combination of elbow grease, wire brush and a power washer. Once this cleaning is complete, any small to moderate sized cracks may be sealed with flexible caulking, compatible with the finish coat. Small damaged areas of stucco can also be patched with pre-mixed patching compound, prior to proceeding. The next step is to apply a high quality primer, which can be rolled or brushed on prior to finish coating. The type of primer will vary, depending on the finish coat chosen and consultation with the paint supplier should yield the proper product.
Once the imperfections in the old stucco are patched and sealed with primer, the finish coat or coats can be applied. This is normally done with use of a heavy nap roller, specially designed for rough stucco surfaces, or spray equipment. As with most painting jobs, the surface preparation is the lion’s share of the work. If this task seems too difficult or time consuming for you to attempt by yourself, consultation with a reputable painting contractor will be the way to go. Knowing the size and scope of my own project that may well be my own choice, to keep harmony on the home front.