Stucco is a prevalent cladding material in the South and Southwest. Its popularity in these areas is because of the availability of raw materials, like sand; its lower cost; and its impact resistance during storms. However, its uniform look, design flexibility and low cost have generated interest in all areas of the U.S. and Canada.
As stucco gains popularity across the U.S., more contractors are considering expanding their businesses to include stucco installation. A few basic steps must be taken and understood before applying this cladding material.
Stucco has a reputation for being low-maintenance cladding. Stucco, in most cases, is a blend of portland cement, sand, water, fibers and special chemicals that produce a durable, impact-resistant, colorfast, flexible and cost-effective cladding for the residential and commercial markets.
There are two types of stucco: pre-blended and traditional stucco. When working with pre-blended stucco, a contractor will add water and sand at the jobsite. It comes with a manufacturer’s warranty and is quality controlled. Contractorsusing traditional stucco will mix all ingredients together at the site and may have no exact formula. Fibers and other additives are purchased separately. Usually contractors follow a “recipe” passed down from generations. With traditional stucco, there are no warranties, codes or standards.
Using pre-blended versus traditional stucco is a matter of choice.Larry White, plaster division manager of Western Partitions, Tigard, Ore., has been working with stucco for more than 25 years. “Pre-blended stucco mixes are a vast improvement over traditional stucco because it controls the sand and quantity mixture,” White says. “Eighty percent of the mix is sand, and the better quality of sand you have, the better quality mix you’ll have.”
White stresses pre-blended mixes are controlled and come with warranties, which are two benefits when installing stucco. He also emphasizes the key to any good stucco job is the installation. Any problems with stucco are because of what happens during installation, like openings not being flashed properly and resulting in leaks. No matter what type of cladding is used, installation is key.
Bill Rice, president of Commercial Plastering Inc., Bradenton, Fla., agrees. Rice has been in the stucco industry for more than 40 years and has installed pre-blended stucco since the mid-1980s. “If you install the system correctly, it will perform correctly,” Rice says. “Stucco is the outer skin of the building and if installed improperly, leads to cracking, which allows for water intrusion, which then leads to the failing of the outer wall and waterproofing systems on the house. This can lead to other issues, such as mold.”
To add stucco installation to your portfolio, apprenticeship training is recommended and available through the Falls Church, Va.-based Association of the Walls and Ceilings Industry; Walpole, Mass.-based Air Barrier Association of America; and other industry organizations, as well as from local trade associations. Local plaster and walls and ceilings chapters are also good places to learn. Distributors often conduct trainings when new products come out or there are updates or changes to products, as well as during times of new code requirements.
“Stucco is a skilled trade,” Rice adds. “It’s no different than being a plumber or electrician. It takes time to learn this.”
The basic tools are not expensive, according to White. You’ll need hammers and nails and the usual hand tools, screw guns and air staples to apply the lath. If you are involved in high production and more competitive bids, then you will want to invest in an array of pumps and spray equipment, which can get more costly. One area to look into is machine technology from manufacturers. Sam McCroskey, field superintendent at J&J Acoustics, San Jose, Calif., says, “A number of contractors start off small with a cement mixer and apply by hand.” He adds the application of all stucco has not changed much during his 27 years in the business, but the approach and products have changed.