Welcome to the AA Brite 24/7 Stucco Repair and Patching page.
After reading through each section you will know what type of stucco you have and most importantly you’ll have an idea of what it will look like after the cracks are filled and the problem areas are patched. By knowing what will happen and what “look” to expect after the work is complete you will be more satisfied with the choices you and the contractor, be it us or somebody else, make together.
Please be aware the information presented here is from an “after the fact” view point. I’m a licensed remodeling contractor in Tucson Arizona and our company specialty is painting and coating, so my experience is from a stucco patch and paint point of view and not that of a builder or new stucco application guy. I deal with patching and painting stucco which has typically aged at least five years in the desert sun, and not with the whys of how a particular structure was built or why a particular type or texture was used.
In the South West exterior stucco finishes come in several different types and styles and each has its advantages and disadvantages. But before reading the rest of the page please understand the following: Most stucco has a significant number of flaws or marks in it which in a perfect world wouldn’t be there. After reading the rest of this article and looking at the photographs you will never look at stucco walls the same way again.
The down side to knowing about stucco defects is you will notice the flaws much as a jeweler does when she looks at a diamond. The difference being you don’t need a magnifying glass to see the stucco flaws each time you come into or out of your home or office. The “character marks” were always there and obvious to people with the knowledge, and after reading this you will see them clearly.
For some people seeing the defects and variations is a new and never ending source of irritation. Knowing that all stucco looks different from various angles and knowing that making a perfectly blended patch is difficult in many situations, we are now ready to proceed to the section showing the various types of exterior stucco and what the patches look like.
1. Shadowing, The Most Important Concept
In order to understand stucco as a consumer, you must understand shadowing. If you don’t know about shadowing than eighty percent of the rest of stucco problems won’t make any sense. In a nutshell, even though most people think of stucco as flat, or almost flat it is in reality mountainous with hills, valleys, ridges, peaks, caves and overhangs. In many ways it’s like viewing the Colorado mountains from an airplane flying high above. Looking straight down from a high altitude the mountains don’t look very tall or appear to have much definition. As the plane gets lower and you look more towards the horizon (parallel) the mountains look taller and have more jagged features and detail. Looking at stucco is similar to this. And here’s the kicker. When the sun is shining almost parallel to the stucco wall and causes small bumps to cast long shadows, the variations from place to place on the stucco will look more uneven and less desirable.
A picture is worth a 1000 words.
Shadows minimized. Photo taken where the stucco grains cast short shadows. Notice the defect straight to the left from the upper left corner of the sign.
EXACT SAME AREA OF STUCCO, different viewing angle. Note how the different viewing angle makes the stucco seem rougher. The blotchiness of the sand pattern is now also much more apparent. The grains of sand of the stucco are casting longer shadows from this angle at this time of day. Ironically, this viewing angle has made the dent almost invisible. By stucco standards this wall was well done and unless you’re looking at it critically from this angle it looks good most of the time. (We didn’t paint this wall, this is at a gas station I use)
With the understanding that stucco looks different from different angles and always looks worse when viewed from an angle where shadows are long, everything else with regards to stucco patching and painting can now make sense.
The photo above is another example of a sanded stucco wall with a harsh viewing angle used – which is maximizing the “shadowing”. The acrylic in the premium paint makes the shadowing even more pronounced since it has some shine to it. More on that later. At a normal viewing angle the splotching above is not noticeable unless you are looking for it.
Glad this isn’t your home? The angle of the sunlight is making the worst shadowing possible. When the sun is in front of it, the defects are not quite as noticeable but are still easy to see. Someone did a really poor job aesthetically of patching the cracks on this stucco and if we were going to paint this home, it would not look much different after being painted. The defects are in the stucco. From a mechanical point of view these patches are fine and are keeping the water out when it rains.
No Perfect Match
Its quickly apparent from searching on the internet that stucco repair is not written about very much. Even determining the types of stucco finishes available is difficult, and there is a reason for this. Tim Carter the famous newspaper columnist and contractor, wrote in one of his columns “Patching stucco so that you don’t see the repaired area is as difficult as patching a hole in a piece of fabric using scrap from the original bolt of cloth. It is virtually impossible to do. A stucco mason can create an infinite amount of textures depending upon the materials used to create the stucco and the tools used to finish it. Blending the new texture with the original is a true art and craft. If you succeed in creating the illusion, go out and immediately purchase a lottery ticket!”
Though he conveys well the thought that patching stucco is difficult, for people with experience and patience a good looking (read not noticeable) stucco patch is possible in some situations.
In many other situations patches that can be seen but are not obvious to casual observers are also achievable. But unfortunately there are still situations where the choice is to live with the defects or re-stucco the entire exterior of the building.
The photo above is a typical example of what Mr. Carter was referring to. This is sharp sanded stucco with air voids. Getting a perfect patch on just the center area is not realistic.
Here’s a higher quality patch than the one pictured above it. There is a little shadowing but its not too bad.
This picture was taken at a local strip mall. A contracting buddy of mine painted it with a high grade paint. The paint job will last a long time and will look better as it ages as the sheen in the paint dies down. The photo was taken from the worst angle possible with the sun in a position to make the variations stand out. From straight on it looks normal to the public. I see it every time I pull into the bank .
2. Six types of exterior stucco
AA Brite 24/7 is located in Tucson Arizona, and we put local exterior stucco into one of six categories:
The six types are briefly described below. If you click on the name or the picture you will go to the page with more information on that particular type of stucco.
1) Smooth Stucco Texture
Advantages: Considered the most elegant looking by many people
Disadvantages: The walls almost always end up wavy with the framing and Styrofoam showing through. Cracks are difficult to repair and highly visible. Many of the cracks will be horizontal or vertical which means two things. A) The stucco isn’t the problem, something under the stucco is moving and causing the crack. And. B) The crack is coming back..
When well done, smooth stucco is often considered the most elegant looking. The mansion pictured on my main web page and below has a smooth stucco finish and it looks great. However, smooth stucco comes at a price. The smoother and flatter a surface the more it shows any defect or variation – and all walls have some waves and variations. Think of a shiny clean glass table with three grains of sand on it. The three grains of sand (read small defects) stand out so much because the table is smooth. It’s also the most difficult stucco to patch. Again think of trying to glue together a broken glass table without having any witness lines or scars, even after it’s painted. Though we repair it, it’s fairly difficult to do.
Well done original flat stucco will only require minor crack repairs. With well done stucco the building will not look like a zebra when the prep work is finished and it’s ready to be repainted since only a spot here or there was patched. As you slide down further in the quality of the original construction, the building will be more and more striped with repair work. When it looks like a zebra prior to painting, then some of the patch work is going to show. For cases like this there is only one other option and that’s to re-stucco the exterior – which can cost ten to thirty thousand dollars.
[ Updated July 2nd, 2020] For the past ten years or so I’ve had the smooth stucco information on my website. Since then I’ve yet to see a single flat stucco house that didn’t have a lot of cracks in it. My opinion has changed some. I believe flat stucco homes can look great from a distance but I don’t think one can stay looking great to a painter or anyone else with an eye for detail for over a year. They will crack, and if premium paint is used they will all look wavy. If you have or know of non-cracked flat stucco that’s over a few years old I’d love to hear from you and to see the house. I could write a book on this topic, but the number of flat stucco homes in my area is under one percent. If you need more information please call me]
The photo above is of a home that could have been built better. It appears the foam backing is moving under the stucco, and there are quite a few waves. If a like new finish is desired, then the correct answer is to entirely re-stucco the home. Since variations and defects are so visible on this stucco type, most builders avoid using it.
When cracks are perfectly horizontal or vertical this is also an indication the materials under the stucco are moving. Cracks don’t naturally occur in straight lines. Looking at this picture you can almost count the pieces of plywood and foam under the stucco – based on the way it’s cracking.
Sanded Stucco Texture
Advantages: Considered elegant looking and gives the home a soft feel.
Disadvantages: If there are air voids or the texture come out sharp it is difficult to patch.
Sanded stucco is much more common than smooth, and it’s a little more forgiving to work with. The texture created by the sand on the wall helps hide any waves or joints by camouflaging them. The key word being “helps”. Though it’s better than smooth from a repair point of view, it is still fairly difficult to patch without scars or spotting. Something working against whoever is doing the patching is the short height of the texture. Sanded stucco repairs are messed up by the inexperienced fairly frequently, with the most common mistake being caulk is applied directly to the crack and then left to dry as is. The resulting lines are called “scars” and the big ones look terrible! See Photo below of the homeowners repair.
As a side note and according to my better half, when the addition is finished at my home the existing exterior walls will be finished with a sanded stucco texture. We have adobe block now and she wants sanded stucco for its soft and elegant look. Stuccoing after the addition is complete will also give the appearance the house and additions were all built at the same time. But back to the main topic.
Depending on the quality of the material and the craftsmanship, sanded stucco has a number of different looks.
This is as good as it gets. There are almost no air bubbles and getting the paint to laminate and waterproof the surface is not a problem.
The stucco has quite a few open pores, and this is an intermediate level paint job as a result of the extra work required to minimize the shadowing. Shadowing is when you see darker colors of the open air pockets when looking at the stucco from the side.
An older stucco with small grains of sand. Notice how the texture is soft (not pointed or really lumpy). The crack is a minor problem and can be filled in without scarring prior to or during painting. Paint and caulk are similar materials and by forcing paint down into narrow cracks they will not return unless there is movement of the stucco.
Sprayed Cement Stucco Repair
For conversational purposes “sprayed cement stucco” is only concrete stucco which was left alone after spraying. Its texture could be compared to thousands upon thousands of miniature volcanoes which come to sharp points. This texture can be quickly sprayed on and its biggest advantage is the texture helps hide defects and variations of the concrete blocks it is usually sprayed over.
Advantages: Applies fast. Can be used to blend in new and old construction.
Disadvantages: Sharp texture. Texture varies in height and density over the building. Some patches are easy and some are difficult depending on the texture. Frequently has a lot of air bubbles. Being pure cement it also seems to crack quite a bit easier than stucco which was formulated for the purpose of covering a wall. This texture is usually really sharp and the form of the texture is a result of how thin or thick the concrete was when it was sprayed along with the distance from the wall and the air pressure. Frequently the density and height of the “mini volcanoes” changes significantly over the course of the building. This makes matching the texture difficult, and each repair might require a completely different look. The person doing the patching needs to mimic these “mini volcanoes” as closely as possible by controlling the variables. All of the sprayed concrete stucco homes I’ve seen have been older.
Spanish Lace Stucco Repair
If the stucco texture going on my home was my choice (it’s not), we would use Spanish lace for the numerous reasons shown below instead of picking Sanded.
Advantages: Cracks less than all other kinds. Is the best for hiding defects. Seems to be stronger than other types. A popular stucco for new construction. I don’t know the specific reason why but Spanish Lace is by far the most resistant to cracking. If a sanded and Spanish lace home are next to each other and were built at the same time the Spanish Lace will almost always have considerably less cracking on it after 10 years. I suspect the added depth of the texture makes it stronger, but this is only speculation. Cracks are also more difficult to see in the Spanish lace than in the sanded.
Disadvantages: Not many other than it is not considered to be as elegant looking as sanded or smooth.
Spanish Lace is probably the most common type of stucco in the US for good reasons: 1) Its the easiest stucco to apply. By that I mean its the easiest for the builder to apply while at the same time having happy customers. 2) It can be touched up by less skilled workers. 3) Scaring and variations are less visible 4) It cracks considerably less than the other three types.
This image of Spanish lace stucco is at a higher magnification. Notice the lack of air bubbles. In my experience this is by far the most durable stucco texture. Its also the easiest to get patchwork to blend in.
Tex Coating Stucco Repair
Advantages: Applies fast. Can be sprayed on over wood and pipes.
Disadvantages: To my knowledge it hasn’t been used in the past 20 years. It flakes off in large chunks. New patches could eventually fall off since the material it’s applied to was not intended to be stuccoed.
“Tex” is our name for a common, but no longer sold or used elastomeric stuccoing paint with sand in it.
I don’t know what the material was called twenty years ago but the generic terms I’ve heard used in Tucson are “Tough Tex” and “Dex Coat” both of which are currently registered trade names of existing products, so for conversational purposes and to keep myself out of court, from here on this 15 year old sanded sprayed on plastic coating will simply be referred to as “Tex”.
Whatever Tex is or was called years ago, it’s actually an elastomeric material (plastic) similar to roof coating or really thick paint with sand mixed in it. This sandy plastic liquid was quickly sprayed from a special sprayer onto the exterior walls, fascia, trim, pipes and wires of a wood or block home. The texturing process was completed in one day by a painter. The Tex application process was much less intensive and faster than other stucco application methods since the material was more or less a paint, and applied as such. Until it went out of favor 15 or 20 years ago, Tex was put on fast, stuck to everything and looked good when new. Hurray for Tex….. Until you get to the disadvantages.
A photo of a Tex coated home I was asked to bid on. This is typical of a home with a 20 year old Tex coating on it. At one time it looked great and now its turned into a giant headache for the homeowner.
Tex doesn’t get considerably thinner like paint as it ages, instead as the coating weathers and becomes stiffer and more brittle, it will loose its grip on the surface under it. Then large thick pieces start falling off. Getting a reasonable match of the texture is not terribly difficult.
The biggest short term problem is dealing with where the edge of the new patch meets the old tex. When the painter spreads out the new sanded compound, the plastic becomes double thick on the existing old portions of old tex near the edge of the patch, and “ringworm scars” are easily formed by this small area of double thick patch. These patches range from horrible looking to slightly noticeable depending on many variables.
The skill and patience of the person doing the patch has the largest effect how the patch looks when complete. In one exceptionally rare case I had a 70 year old woman show me a patch she did and it took me almost a minute to see the witness line. She worked in her spare time on the patch the size of a t-shirt. She told me it took her 30 hours to get the edges perfect. This shows it can be done if a person is willing to put the necessary man hours into it or to pay someone to do it. Most Tex patch jobs we’ve completed were actually “paint jobs” on rental homes, and patching the tex was secondary. Our rates have ranged from $1,200 to $4,000 on these jobs. The goal – so far – has always been to get the house patched and painted without spending much larger sums of money.
Most painting contractors shy away from tex repairs because the old tex continues to come off and they don’t want to be responsible for this. We not only repair tex, but we will warranty the work for two years. Before providing a quote I’ll carefully look at the tex and determine what the different avenues are for repair.
The following photos are from a job done almost two years ago. The first two photos were taken at the time we did the job and the last photo was taken recently.
A tex coated home with the first two patches applied. Notice the scars near the pieces of blue tape. These are previous repairs and the caulk lines are visibly raised up making scars.
During the repair process. As you can see over 19 different spots were patched. This is typical with Tex coats.
The job is finished and some of the patch work is visible. I wish the patches were not visible at all, but the ringworm scarring talked about earlier is happening here. The ringworm scars could be removed with LARGE amounts of additional labor. The problem is for the number of scars needing to be patched it is cheaper and much more cost effective to re-stucco the home than it is to patch each spot perfectly.
In this case the owner wanted his home to look as good as possible for the least amount of money. Which translates into basic Tex patching and painting. Re-stuccoing this small home would cost approximately $10,000, plus the cost of priming and painting. We patched all around the home and painted it for about $1500. In other words – Patch and paint $1500 or Re-stucco and paint $11,500. Whats important to me as the owner is you as the client understand what the job will look like when we are finished BEFORE we start. If we are in agreement prior to starting then life is good for both of us.
Advantages: Looks great and goes on fast. Is newer method.
Disadvantages: The very few that I’ve seen have lots of air bubbles when looked at closely, and when patched have to be painted four times. This is a close up view. From a distance it looks great and non-contractors wouldn’t normally notice the bubbles.
To my knowledge synthetic sprayed stuccos are produced by several different manufacturers. We don’t put it on new, so I’m unaware of all of the different properties or why certain types are used.
With regards to painting and patching, synthetic sprayed on stucco has an interesting set of characteristics.
Sad to say, but most new homes are painted with what we call a “piss coat” and with synthetic stucco like the kind shown here that’s a big deal. When a thin coat of paint is put on the stucco, it doesn’t fill up the pores or air voids. When stucco in this condition is patched, most of the voids are filled in and the texture looks different. The areas with a lot of pores and air voids will look darker and rougher since the shadows from the “caves” are showing.
If a area of sprayed on synthetic stucco is patched and painted it will look completely different than the surrounding area.
Synthetic stucco can be patched and made to look nice, doing so requires painting the entire home with a heavy coat of paint after the patching is complete. Painting after patching eliminates the two looks on one home shown in the photo above.
Once a home has been re-painted and most of the pores are filled in, future patching is much easier to do.
Variations Within the Categories
Within each of these categories there will be quite a bit of variation in workmanship, which affects the look and also the likelihood that patches can be applied without looking like patches. As another contractor I know says “Great original stucco workmanship is easy to patch and paint, poor workmanship is a pain forever more.”
3. Common Stucco Problems
Most common in sprayed on synthetic stucco. The key is to back roll on a heavy coat of paint.
We see this frequently. A homeowner or “painter” runs a bead of caulk on top of the stucco texture. We typically have to cut these out with a diamond saw.
Once you start looking for scaffold lines they are more common than you would expect. No amount of paint is going to get this to go away. If you can’t live with it, then the entire side would need to be re-stucco’ed.
Window & Corner Cracking
Almost all homes have this. Cracks love to start in sharp corners. Fortunately most of them can be repaired without too much trouble.
Filled In Texture
We don’t see this too often. There is so much paint on this stucco that the texture is starting to disappear.
Stem Wall Was Stucco’ed
I need to get a picture of this. Its where the stucco is applied down the wall, over the foundation and all the way to the dirt. In my opinion the foundation of the house should not have stucco texture put on it since the walls and foundation expand and contract at different rates. Stucco doesn’t stretch, it cracks. Different parts of a building moving at different speeds will cause the stucco to crack where the two surfaces meet. Of the few homes I’ve seen with the stucco on the foundation, all were cracked. We can repair it, but its coming back. Its just a question of how long.
I hope this page has been educational and entertaining for you to read.
Thank you for your time and for considering AA Brite 24/7 as a contractor to do your work.