ANCHOR: On the outside, they look beautiful. Imaginative designs with detail, color and shine are the hallmarks of a synthetic stucco home.
ANCHOR: But for thousands of homeowners all over the country, beauty is only skin deep. Moisture trapped behind these sleek walls is rotting many of these homes from the inside out. Our Money and Real Estate Expert Ilyce Glink is here with an inside look at a problem thousands of Chicagoans don’t even know they have.
ILYCE: More than 25,000 homeowners in Chicagoland and hundreds of thousands nationwide own synthetic stucco homes. What many homeowners are now discovering is that synthetic stucco, if applied incorrectly and not maintained to the nth degree, can cause tremendous damage to the interior structure of a home.
Homeowners are scared of damage they can’t see and can’t stop. So scared, that of the dozens of homeowners we contacted, no one wanted to talk to us on camera because of the stigma that’s being attached to synthetic stucco homes.
THIS ISN’T THE “HAPPILY EVER AFTER” THESE ST. CHARLES HOMEOWNERS HAD IMAGINED. THEY SAY THEIR 4-YEAR OLD, 4,000 SQUARE FOOT HOUSE IS SOAKED — ON THE INSIDE! MOISTURE IS CAUGHT BETWEEN THE WALLS AND THE SYNTHETIC STUCCO, ROTTING THE WOOD FRAMING AND SEEPING INTO THE FLOORS. THEIR ATTORNEY SAYS THE WHOLE MESS HAS RENDERED THE HOUSE ALMOST UNFIT TO LIVE IN.
SOUNDBITE 1 JIM ZAHN/ARCHITECT AND ATTORNEY/SABO & ZAHN
“It’s not a pleasant situation to live in your own home and be sneezing every time you’re in the house and as soon as you leave your own home, you recover and when you come back you start sneezing and your eyes water.”
JIM ZAHN REPRESENTS SEVERAL HOMEOWNERS WHO ARE SUING THEIR CONTRACTOR AND THE SYNTHETIC STUCCO MANUFACTURER. MANY ARE FACING TENS OF THOUSANDS IN DAMAGES. OTHERS MIGHT HAVE TO TEAR OFF THE OUTSIDE LAYER OF THEIR HOMES AND REPLACE IT, OR EVEN TEAR DOWN THE HOUSE ENTIRELY.
ONE OF THE LARGEST SYNTHETIC STUCCO MANUFACTURERS RECENTLY SETTLED A NATIONAL CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT FOR 20-MILLION DOLLARS! SEVERAL CASES ARE STILL PENDING IN TENNESSEE. ALL THE PROBLEMS HAVE SCARED GEORGIA HOMEOWNERS. JUST 3 PERCENT OF HOMES WERE BUILT WITH SYNTHETIC STUCCO. THERE LAST YEAR, DOWN FROM 26 PERCENT IN 1996. LAST YEAR, CHICAGO OUTLAWED ONE FORM OF SYNTHETIC STUCCO ALTOGETHER. THINGS ARE SO BAD, SEVERAL MAJOR MANUFACTURERS SAY THEY WON’T MAKE THE STUFF ANYMORE.
BUT TO REALLY UNDERSTAND WHY HOMEOWNERS ARE UPSET, IT HELPS TO UNDERSTAND HOW THE WATER GETS TRAPPED INSIDE THE HOUSE
FIRST, WOOD SHEATHING IS NAILED TO THE WOOD FRAMING SYSTEM THAT SUPPORTS THE HOME. A PANEL OF EXPANDED POLYSTYRENE FOAM INSULATION — THE STUFF COFFEE CUPS ARE MADE OUT OF — IS GLUED ONTO THE WOOD SUBSTRATE. A BASE COAT OF SYNTHETIC STUCCO IS TROWLED OVER THE FOAM INSULATION PANELS. A GLASS FIBER REINFORCING MESH IS IMBEDDED IN THE BASE COAT. FINALLY, A FINISH COAT IS TROWLED OVER THE BASE COAT. TOGETHER, THE BASE COAT, MESH AND FINISH COAT OF THE SYNTHETIC STUCCO ADDS UP TO ONLY 1/8 TO 1/4-INCH THICK.
THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF SYNTHETIC STUCCO SYSTEMS: THE WATER BARRIER SYSTEM AND THE WATER DRAINAGE SYSTEM. THE DRAINAGE SYSTEM ALLOWS WATER THAT GETS IN TO DRAIN RIGHT THROUGH TO THE GROUND AND AWAY FROM THE HOUSE. THE WATER BARRIER SYSTEM IS SUPPOSED TO PREVENT WATER FROM GETTING BEHIND THE SYNTHETIC STUCCO. UNFORTUNATELY, JUST THE OPPOSITE IS HAPPENING.
SOUNDBITE 2 CLIFF KAPSON/HOME INSPECTOR
“What sets the barrier system apart is that it’s unforgiving. It’s a face-sealed system and if there are breaches in the integrity of that barrier, that will allow water in, whether that is a leaky window or flashing that’s not sealed properly, water is going to get in and if it gets in, there is no place for it to go.”
THAT’S A BIG PROBLEM BECAUSE WHEN WATER MIXES WITH WOOD, THE RESULTS CAN BE CATASTROPHIC.
SOUNDBITE 3 JIM ZAHN/ARCHITECT AND ATTORNEY/SABO & ZAHN
“It starts to rot and decay the wood framing system. For instance, it starts to create mold. It starts to smell, and creates all sorts of problems. It helps promote insect infestation.”
ALTHOUGH SYNTHETIC STUCCO MANUFACTURERS ADMIT WATER GETS TRAPPED AND CAN CAUSE PROBLEMS, THEY SAY IT ISN’T THEIR FAULT. THEY POINT TO SHODDY BUILDING PRACTICES AND CONTRACTORS WHO SLAP UP MORE HOMES THAN THEY SHOULD IN ORDER TO CASH IN ON THE CURRENT BUILDING BOOM.
SOUNDBITE 5: JOHN MANDIGO/SYNTHETIC STUCCO DISTRIBUTOR
“Did they put in flashings? Did they do the detailing? Was it in a residential situation? Did they have a design architect help detail that house and write specifications, or was it done on a napkin and put up by an unqualified builder?
BUT SYNTHETIC STUCCO IS TRICKY STUFF.
SOUNDBITE 7 JIM ZAHN/ARCHITECT AND ATTORNEY/SABO & ZAHN “The system is designed like a Swiss watch. It has to be installed in perfect weather conditions. It has to be installed in a perfect manner by unskilled people. It has to be maintained to an extent that is far greater than anyone would reasonably expect.”
“While everyone agrees water is getting into some homes, manufacturers say the problem is poor construction practices while the contractors say synthetic stucco is inherently flawed. Either way, homeowners are getting stuck with the bill.
SOUNDBITE 8 JIM ZAHN/ARCHITECT AND ATTORNEY/SABO & ZAHN
“In my opinion, companies are not standing by the product. They’re more interested in selling the product and pointing the finger at everyone else that’s responsible for the failure. If it’s not the installer, then it’s the homeowner who failed to maintain his home in an ordinary condition.”
ILYCE: Maintenance clearly plays a more important role with synthetic stucco than any other kind of cladding. Tomorrow we’ll look at what a homeowner can do to keep his synthetic stucco in as good condition as possible.
The settlement website is www.stuccosettlement.com.
Published: Feb 28, 2001