Have you ever seen stucco walls that peel and flake around the foundation or where the building meets the earth? That is what contractors would call “stucco below grade,” which is the opposite of “above grade” and worse than “near grade.” In other words, any stucco system that is installed below grade is like a failing grade on an exam. You don’t want that happen, but sometimes you won’t know that you have stucco below grade until it is too late.
Today we will explain stucco below grade in detail so you can learn why it’s problematic and what can be done to improve the situation.
What Does Stucco Below Grade Mean?
When stucco is installed, it should be above grade, allowing for a 6-8 inch gap between the stucco and soil. Below grade is the opposite. It is the result of stucco being installed below the place where the building’s foundation meets the soil. If your house rests on concrete, there should be about 2 inches between the stucco and the concrete foundation. When the minimum distances between stucco and ground are not met, serious issues begin to arise.
Why Would Anyone Use Stucco Below Grade?
In most cases, EIFS systems and traditional stucco is installed below grade for aesthetic purposes. Rather than have the EIFS or stucco start a few inches above the earth, as per many recommendations or requirements set forth by building codes, the coats or layers are applied to meet or exceed beneath the ground to create continuity. Of course, while this does look nice and smooth in the end, the issues that arise are far more costly and troubling. In the end, the appeal is not worth your time or money.
The only time stucco below grade would be allowed is if the soil is more like desert sand, where there is little moisture beneath the surface. That said, for many regions of North America, the soil is much more rich and loamy, meaning that additional drainage measures would be required to reinforce the wood or foam of the stucco system.
Why Is Stucco Below Grade A Problem?
Whether you have a traditional 3-coat stucco application or an EIFS system, stucco below grade poses many risks. When installed properly these systems rarely have issues functioning as intended, but when stucco is below grade, the function fails. In fact, stucco below grade is one of the largest reasons for structural damage or failure in buildings with stucco or EIFS systems.
In 1999, the National Association of Home Builders Research Center studied the effect of stucco below grade on homes throughout the United States. What they found is the below-grade installation allows water to enter EIFS systems.
Water is a huge problem when it gets into the internal structure and starts causes deterioration in the substrate. Too much moisture will even hinder the wicking effect of an EIFS system. Moreover, if you have any foam below grade, water will settle inside and evaporate far too slowly while hastening rot.
Stucco and EIFS systems are designed to breathe, but when the stucco is below grade, the waterproofing properties fail, as does moisture management. You don’t want that to happen to your home.
Another problem that arises with stucco below grade is pests. Termites and ants are notorious for boring into EIFS foam and through weakened stucco coats to get into the wooden structure. This creates an issue that is undetectable until it has advanced into something extremely serious.
Finding Damage From Stucco Below Grade
Think your home is below grade and damaged because of it? Take a walk around the perimeter of your residence and look for the signs of failing stucco. You should already have an understanding of what stucco in great condition looks like, so any problems should be easily detectable. If you are unsure, keep your eyes out for the following symptoms of stucco below grade:
- Cracking and crumbling of the stucco exterior
- Peeling paint
- Mold and mildew growth on the surface of the stucco and around the foundation of your house
- Signs of decay and rot in the foundation, such as water in the basement, water damage, and pest invasion
Be sure to document any sign of issues with the stucco then send a query and the images to a local home contractor. A professional group is going to be needed for a full inspection.
How Can Stucco Below Grade Be Repaired?
In the event your home has stucco below grade, you will have to make an appointment with a professional contractor that knows how to perform stucco restoration or repair. Depending on the extent of the damage, the job could require a number of steps from fixing any structural damages to chipping away the stucco, coating, sealing, cleaning and more. However, since every case is different, it is difficult to say what would need to be done until you have received a personal consultation.
In short, stucco below grade is when the stucco extends below the foundation. If you see the signs of this around your home, it is time to call a professional stucco company to help you before the problem spreads.
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