Accuracy Assured Home Inspections, LLC
Serving Philadelphia County, Bucks County, Montgomery County, Chester County, and Delaware County in Pennsylvania
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Philadelphia Home Inspections

 

Stucco and EIFS Inspections

Why get a stucco inspection? 

Stucco siding is a very popular exterior cladding system used throughout the United States mainly due to it's ease of application and low installation costs. Stucco is primarily composed of 3 main ingredients which consist of Portland cement, sand, and water. Other components such as wire lathe, moisture barriers, flashings, corner beads, expansion and control joints are installed to make the system weatherproof. Proper installation of these components is essential to providing a weather resistant barrier to protect the building envelope from moisture intrusion.

Often times, the installation process is rushed in order to get a newly built home ready for market and essential details are either overlooked or installed incorrectly by unqualified tradesmen. This then creates problems that can and often does result in moisture gaining access behind the stucco cladding where it causes damage to the underlying structural materials and interior finished surfaces. This can also create conditions conducive of wood destroying insect infestations and mold growth inside the home.

Other problems can arise if the manufacturer's instructions are not adhered to during the installation process. One of the common problems that is seen is wide spread cracking in the surface because the proper recipe was not used or ratios were not precise when mixing the material. Too much or too little of one of the three main components can result in the mixture being too dry and porous or too wet which leads to shrinkage and cracking as the material dries. Also, installation during colder months can result in the mix freezing which causes numerous problems. Another installation error that is often seen is the applications of second and third coats applied before the previous layer has had sufficient time to cure. As the stucco material dries, it has a tendency to shrink and small cracks often develop. This is normal for base layers and sufficient time is required for the coat to stabilize and dry out enough to support the weight of addition layers. As the second and third coats are applied, these small cracks are filled in during the process so they do not progress to the visible finish coat. When this process is rushed and layers do not have sufficient time to dry, small cracks in the base layers are stressed by the additional weight before the first coat has had time to cure properly. The cracks then are telegraphed to the next layer and the next layer. This often results in large cracks developing on new installations within a couple of months.

You may be in the process of purchasing a new home and either your real estate agent or home inspector advised you that you should get a stucco inspection performed before signing the contract. You may already own a home and notice imperfections or your neighbors have had issues with their stucco home. Whatever the case, every stucco home should be regularly inspected for indication of moisture intrusion that can cause damage to the structure. Stucco remediation is not cheap! An average 3,000 square foot house can cost between $35,000 to $50,000 to simply remove and replace the stucco finish if there are a significant amount of defects observed. If there are underlying issues with the sheathing that needs to be replaced, the price can significantly increase to $75,000 to $100,000. Depending on the size of the house and the area of remediation needed, these numbers can increase drastically for bigger homes or homes with more damage. It is essential that stucco homes be evaluated using appropriate inspection techniques given the amount of defective stucco installation issues that have surfaced in this area over the last few years.


 

Stucco Inspection Process

Important Information Regarding Scheduling:

Stucco inspections are conducted according to the widely accepted ASTM E2128-01a Standard Guide for Evaluating Water Leakage of Building Walls and the Infraspection Institute Standard for Infrared Inspection of Building Envelopes and are very dependant on the weather conditions in order to obtain accurate results. Please keep this in mind if you are under a home inspection contingency deadline. These types of inspections are specialized and are not like a general home inspection which can be done rain or shine. Because of the limitations of this type of inspection, you may need to ask your real estate agent to file an extension depending on weather conditions until the stucco inspection can be performed properly. Exterior building envelope inspections are typically conducted during the Spring, Summer, and Fall months. Weather conditions are typically not conducive during the Winter in order to obtain the required temperature differentials needed or have sufficient drying time between rain or snow events. Check the weather forecasts to ensure that it will not be raining and there is sufficient temperature differences between daytime and sunset.

Because weather conditions play such a major roll with scheduling exterior building envelope inspections and the high volume of calls we receive for inspection appointments, there maybe a slight wait for an available appointment slot and favorable weather conditions. We typically rely on a 5 day weather forecast when scheduling appointments and cannot reliably schedule appointment times beyond that except during the Summer months when the weather conditions are very stable.

Weather Conditions that MUST be present:

  • Clear sunny skies the day of the inspection. It can not be overcast or cloudy. We rely on the sun to heat the exterior walls during the day and as the sun sets, wet sheathing materials will cool at a slower rate than dry materials. We look for these subtle temperature differentials with a thermal imaging camera after sunset.

  • Outside temperature must be above freezing. We need water in a liquid state in order to see where it is flowing.

  • 24 - 48 hour drying time required after rain events. Walls must be completely dry of any surface moisture. Any moisture trapped in the porous texture of the stucco finish can show as a false positive result.

  • Winds less than 12 miles per hour the day of the inspection. High winds cause rapid cooling of the surface and decreases the subtle temperature differentials we are looking for with thermal imaging.

When is the best time for a stucco or EIFS inspection?
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Step 1 - Visual Inspection

The first step in evaluating a stucco installation is to conduct a visual inspection of the exterior cladding system to determine if there are any installation defects or oversights that can present problems such as conditions conducive of moisture intrusion. This inspection is conducted during normal daylight hours when there is sufficient sunlight to see small imperfections on the surface such as hairline cracks, staining, or gaps at critical locations. Other details are also evaluated such as the presence of drainage plains, proper expansion and control joint placement, and the use of casing beads. High resolution photographs are taken during this process which are included in the inspection report. This portion of the inspection helps us identify problem areas where there may or may not be moisture accumulation behind the stucco finish.

Step 2 - Infrared Thermal Imaging Inspection

The second step in the process of evaluation the condition of stucco cladding is to conduct an infrared thermal imaging inspection focusing on problem areas that were identified during the visual inspection. The exterior of the home is viewed at multiple angles using an infrared thermal imaging camera to detect thermal variations on the surface that can indicate areas of potential moisture accumulation under the stucco cladding system. This portion of the inspection is conducted after sunset and when weather conditions are favorable for obtaining reliable data. Ideally, infrared thermal imaging is conducted no less than 24 hours after a rainfall to ensure the stucco surface is dry and when temperature differences between daytime and night are at least 15° Fahrenheit.

Infrared thermal imaging allows us to see areas where there are temperature variations on the surface that are caused by trapped moisture behind the stucco cladding. As the stucco cladding system warms under direct sunlight, the moisture trapped behind will also warm. After sunset and there is no more solar loading from the sun, the stucco and water will cool at different rates. After a period of time, when the stucco cladding is viewed with an infrared thermal imaging camera, the wet areas will appear cooler than normal stucco. Infrared thermal images are captured and included in the stucco inspection report to show the areas of concern so that verification of moisture levels can be conducted at a later time.

It is essential that infrared thermal imaging be used to guide the inspector for any type of invasive moisture meter readings or to allow a qualified stucco repair contractor to see the square footage of potential remediation areas. There are many so called "Stucco Inspectors" out there that do not conduct this step simply because they do not possess the equipment or know how to perform the work. They often want to go straight to conducting invasive moisture meter readings without any type of guidance where to drill and test. This is nothing more than playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey in our opinion and can result in missing significant issues that may be present only several inches away. Random drilling can quickly turn a home into Swiss cheese if performed by one of these contractors.

Visual Inspection Conducted During Daylight  Infrared Thermal Imaging Inspection Conducted After Sunset 
 
This image was taken during daylight hours as part of the visual inspection. Notice the staining on the stucco cladding. Areas of cracking can be seen under the window.  This is a thermal image taken of the same area after sunset. The stucco has reached a stable temperature after solar loading. Notice the dark blue area which depicts a cooler area next to the window. This area is highly suspect of having elevated moisture levels. It is in an area away from the visible cracks and not where you would expect to find moisture inside this wall. Infrared Thermal Images can guide the inspector where to take invasive moisture meter readings to verify the moisture content in this location. 

Step 3 - Invasive Moisture Meter Readings

The third step for the process is to conduct invasive moisture meter readings in areas where infrared thermal imaging has identified areas of suspected moisture behind the stucco cladding. This step is sometimes skipped by home buyer in the decision making process based on the information that is gathered during the visual and infrared thermal imaging inspections. Moisture meter readings are critical to verifying information gathered during the two previous steps. Areas can not be confirmed as being wet without moisture meter readings because infrared thermal imaging is only reading surface temperatures and is only used as a guide to areas that are suspected of elevated moisture content.

Homeowners who are pursuing litigation against contractors should not skip this step in the inspection process.

The process  of obtaining moisture meter readings requires that small 1/4" holes be drilled in the stucco finish in areas where there is elevated moisture suspected. A calibrated moisture meter is used with 6" long probes to take readings at the level of the sheathing to determine if moisture has passed through the weather resistant barrier installed under the stucco. Moisture meter readings are recorded and photographs of the locations are taken to be included in the stucco inspection report. After readings have been obtained, the holes are injected with caulking to seal them and prevent moisture from entering and causing any further damage related to invasive inspection methods. Special care is taken to ensure holes are completely filled. Whenever possible, we always try to use color matching caulk so that inspection locations are not readily visible. Occasionally, stucco finishes can be heavily stained due to algae growth or other reasons. In these instances, we do our best to make sure that the test holes are not noticeable.

Stucco Inspection Report

After all the information is compiled, the final report is written which includes the findings of the visual inspection, infrared thermal imaging inspection, and moisture meter readings. Some clients are undecided if they want to purchase a home or not because issues were identified in the stucco system during the home inspection. We realize that some homeowners will not agree to let a buyer hire someone to drill holes in the home they are trying to sell. For these clients, we can prepare the written report after the infrared thermal imaging inspection has been completed. The final report typically takes several days to prepare depending on the amount of defects that are discovered and potential moisture areas observed. High resolution photographs and thermograms are included in the report so you can see exactly what the inspector sees during these inspections. Many clients can make an informed decision at this point whether to purchase the home or determine if remediation is within the budget. For homeowners who are pursuing litigation against contractors or developers for faulty installations, the final report helps reinforce cases by providing documented proof of incorrect installations and the problems they have caused.

Pricing

Pricing for stucco and EIFS inspections varies based on the size of the home and percentage of coverage. Because we do not know the extent of any damage that maybe present, we charge for the first two steps of the process which are typically conducted on the same day. After the thermal images are reviewed and the initial inspection report is generated, if warranted, we come out to the property on another day to conduct the invasive moisture meter readings which are billed out separately.

Pricing ranges between $1,000 - $2,000 for the visual inspection and thermal imaging depending on the size and percentage of coverage.

If invasive moisture meter readings are recommended after mapping out the moisture patterns, we bill this step of the inspection process separately. Price for invasive moisture meter readings are $250.00 for the first hour and $125.00 each additional hour after. Pricing does not include any specialized scaffolding or lifts that maybe required to access areas that cannot be reached by a standard 28 foot extension ladder.

If calling for a quote, please have the square footage and a rough estimate of how many walls are covered with stucco or EIFS handy in order to get an accurate price.


Consumer Warning!!!

With recent news articles and media reporting about stucco issues in our area, often times information is not completely researched before a story goes to publication or is aired on television. It has come to our attention that because of the increased awareness of the issues that defective stucco can cause to a structure and the effect of the value of a home, there has been a sudden increase in the amount of "Certified Stucco Inspectors" that have emerged out of nowhere overnight. These are what we call Predatory Inspectors who rely on incorrect or incomplete information distributed to the general public. Because stucco inspections are not regulated by ANY government or professional organization, there are no minimum standards that can be enforced to ensure you as a consumer are hiring someone who is actually qualified to perform a competent inspection utilizing the necessary tools and methodology properly.

People often put a lot of weight on the word "Certified" when shopping for a service provider without thinking of what the title actually means. It's often assumed that because someone uses the term "Certified" to describe themselves, that this means that they have had sufficient training in a particular subject to be considered as having the required working knowledge of the subject in order to provided complete and accurate information. Theoretically, this is what is intended by the title, however over the years the term has become diluted by agencies offering instant certifications with minimal training that hasn't been verified by independent third parties. In other words, the title "Certified" is only as good as the organization that is issuing it. Any organization or person for that matter can issue a certification to anyone it chooses. Many of the training organizations out there simply require that you pay for a course, listen or read materials that they present which may or may not be entirely correct, and pass a test or quiz with a minimal score set very low to enable almost anyone to pass based on the information that was presented. It's as simple as that! Some of these training courses are so outdated, the information is no longer applicable to modern times.

We are well aware of one organization out there that issues certifications as a stucco inspector. This organization is primarily a membership driven company where it's main goal is to enroll new members by offering a correspondence course in stucco inspection which has not been updated in many many years. The information presented in the course is extremely minimalistic and does not encompass modern construction standards and methods, materials, or inspection methodology and tools. Their Standards of Practice only requires a visual inspection which does not tell the condition of the underlying sheathing which is the intent of a stucco inspection. It is recommended that caution be exercised when reviewing credentials of inspectors claiming to be Certified Stucco Inspectors without knowing a little about the organization issuing the certification.

We are also aware of several new inspection companies in our area that advertise stucco inspections and claim they offer a visual inspection and proceed directly to invasive moisture meter readings without conducting ANY thermal imaging beforehand. It is often stated that they drill under every window and door and sometimes in the center of cracks larger than some arbitrary measurement they created. This is not a recommended approach to stucco inspections as unnecessary drilling compromises the weather resistant barrier behind the stucco which protects the sheathing. Again, this is worth repeating. This is not a recommended approach to stucco inspections! What these so called inspectors fail to realize is that all stucco will eventually crack and cracks can be either meaningless or significant enough for concern. The presence of a crack does not mean that water is gaining entry and causing damage to the underlying substrate. What they also fail to realize is that the point of moisture intrusion often does not mean the point of damage. Water will migrate across the surface of the weather resistant barrier, sometimes for several feet before it finds an area where it can pass through and be absorbed by the porous sheathing underneath. The only way to detect this is to map out the moisture patterns with a thermal imaging camera under optimum conditions in order to know where to drill. Be extremely cautious of any company that tells you they are going to play pin the tail on the donkey with your home.