How Do I Choose the Best Stucco Products?

L. Perez-Peterson

Choosing the best stucco products is usually a matter of both understanding the specifics of your project or circumstances and knowing a little bit about the options that are out there. Stucco is generally a very forgiving material that can be used in a variety of circumstances, but certain treatments and applications are better in some settings than in others. This is particularly true if your desired application site is subject to any extreme environmental conditions. Traditional stucco is the most popular, but isn’t usually great in extremely wet conditions, such as near pools, in bathrooms, in boathouses, or on external walls in very rainy climates. The same is usually true of synthetic versions. Acrylic stucco is one of the best for moisture, but it isn’t always ideal for large projects since it can be quite costly. Cement stucco is another option, and is usually best for exposed brick or application over concrete siding. It has a rough texture that adheres very well to bumpy surfaces, but might be too thick for smooth interior walls. Doing a bit of research and talking to an expert if you’re not sure are usually the best ways to ensure that you choose the best product for your project.

Stucco is applied with a trowel.
Stucco is applied with a trowel.

Stucco Basics

Portland cement plaster, more commonly known as stucco, is a popular indoor and outdoor building material because of its low maintenance requirements, versatility, and flexibility. Stucco is breathable, and resistant to fire, mold, and rot when hardened and dried. It’s also color retentive, meaning it can be just about any color a person wants. There are four basic types of stucco — traditional, acrylic, cement, and synthetic — and choosing the right type depends on the project for which it will be used. Desired maintenance levels, design, cost and weather conditions where the product will be used all should be factored into a final choice.

Stucco walls that are porous may be susceptible to the growth of mold.
Stucco walls that are porous may be susceptible to the growth of mold.

Think About Your Project

The first thing you’ll want to do in most cases is get a firm sense of exactly how you intend to use the stucco. In addition to the basics of your project — for instance, use in covering the walls of an enclosed patio — you’ll want to measure the space to get precise dimensions, and learn a bit about the nature of the walls. If they’re made of wood or drywall, the best stucco may not be the same as if they were made of brick or stone.

Pros and Cons of Traditional Stucco

Traditional stucco material is durable, making it completely suitable for external home-facing applications. Depending on the homeowner’s needs, traditional stucco can be mixed in varying aggregate compositions and colors to create the desired color and texture on the outside of a home. One advantage of traditional stucco application is that, unlike paint, which typically lasts for less than a decade before it needs to be refreshed, stucco products frequently last more than 50 years before they dull in appearance. Traditional stucco can also maintain its color and strength in the most extreme of climates, from the heat of the desert to icy temperatures of places such as Alaska. Traditional stucco is often one of the least expensive options, but it can be somewhat porous and may not stand up well to extremely wet conditions.

Acrylic and Synthetic Options

Synthetic stucco products are known as exterior finish insulation systems (EFIS). Light in presence and composition, EFIS is a foam-based wall-cladding material that originated in the 1950s in Europe and became popular in North America in the mid-1980s. While some describe EFIS as something of a “blanket” for a house, it is porous and requires the use of a drainage system to reduce or eliminate moisture problems and prevent such issues as wood rot and mold development. While proper drainage can help ease some of the moisture problems, some people remain hesitant to use it on home exteriors and other areas that might be exposed to frequent moisture.

Acrylic stucco is usually the best option in these circumstances. Stucco made of acrylic is moisture proof and suitable for either flat or curved surfaces. It is weatherproof, too, so it might be the ideal solution for homes in areas with a high degree of moisture. At the same time, it is more expensive than traditional stucco, so some budget considerations also must be weighed in determining whether it is the best for your job.

When Cement Stucco May Be Best

Cement stucco is recommended when the job involves covering bricks, because it can be applied directly to the bricks rather than having to be applied to a mesh placed over the bricks. Some people use cement stucco products to cover an otherwise bare and bland concrete block foundation. The stucco can be left plain, simply creating a smoother finish to the look of the foundation, or it can be textured to take on any number of appearances. It also can be colored to better complement the rest of the home.

Traditional stucco is porous and should be avoided in wet climates.
Traditional stucco is porous and should be avoided in wet climates.

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