Let’s talk about stucco cracks
Last week, my wife and I were putting our sons to bed and found a large damaged area of drywall on the wall. My first thought was that the boys had put a hole in the wall from rough housing. But, I looked closer and found that the wall was wet. The floor was also wet and the wood laminate was beginning to buckle and warp. Not something any of us like to see. My first thought was “oh great I have a plumbing leak”. But, I realized there is no plumbing in that area. Cross that off the list. Upon further investigation, I found some small cracks on the exterior stucco of our home just opposite of the wet area. Small cracks can lead to big problems. Especially somewhere as wet as Florida! Many people don’t realize that it only takes very small cracks to allow moisture intrusion. Which can then lead to bigger issues down the road.
So when should cracks in your stucco be repaired?
Stucco is after all a concrete product, which means it will crack at some point.
There are a few different types of cracks. They range in shape, size and meaning. Here are a few of the main types of cracks on your stucco and what they mean.
- Hair line cracks:
- This type of cracking is typical and will almost certainly occur. But, there is still a risk of moisture intrusion even from these tiny cracks. Consider using an elastomeric sealant to seal these cracks and then paint over to create another moisture barrier.
- “Spider” cracking:
- This is when the cracking spreads out like a spider web in all directions. This is typically caused by a poor initial installation of the stucco. This could eventually lead to stucco failure or the stucco coming loose at the home. A stucco contractor would be able to tell if the stucco is failing and if it needs to be repaired or re-applied.
- Pattern cracking:
- If the stucco is cracking in patterns, this again is most likely due to poor installation of the stucco or “lathe” underneath. Consider consulting a stucco contractor.
- Peeling stucco:
- Peeling or flaking stucco usually means the stucco already has moisture behind it and is failed or failing and will most likely need to be removed and replaced by a stucco contractor.
- “Stair-step” cracking:
- This type of cracking could be a sign of minor to major settlement, or could be a sign of shrinkage between blocks if the home is block construction. If the cracks are very wide, a masonry specialist could be consulted to determine if it is just shrinkage and can be repaired or “tuck-pointed” or if there is a structural issue.
- Lateral or structural cracking:
- Typically if a crack is wider on one side than the other, it means the structure is moving somehow and is almost always a sign of some sort of structural settlement. If the cracks are showing signs of displacement, consider hiring a structural engineer to determine if the home is continuing to settle over time. If the home settles too significantly, it could cause very large and expensive repairs later.
A few more tips on how to maintain stucco cracking and prevent bigger issues later on:
- Seal any cracks you see or hire a professional to seal those for you. Remember, even hairline cracks can allow moisture intrusion.
- Make sure your sprinkler systems aren’t spraying directly onto the home. This condition introduces moisture directly to areas that could have cracks. It can also wear down the stucco, actually causing cracks.
- Consider installing gutters at the lower eaves around the entire home if you do not have gutter already. Gutters carry storm water away from the home and distributes it safely away from the home.
- If you already have gutters, make sure to clean them at least twice a year. When debris builds up inside gutters, it causes them to overflow and it can flow backwards onto the stucco. Blocked gutters can also damage the gutters themselves due to rust or excessive weight.
- Do your own mini home inspection for your stucco once or twice a year, so that you know as soon as problems arise and you can fix it before it becomes a big issue.