If you own a stucco home in Pennsylvania, you have good reason to be concerned. Stucco wall rot is a devastating issue in many houses around the state, costing thousands in repairs, lowering home values, and causing frustration for countless homeowners. In this article, we are going to talk about the nature of this wall rot epidemic, how it starts, how to detect it, and what can be done to prevent and repair it.
The term “wall rot” refers to the disintegration of the building materials that make up the external walls of a home. In the case of stucco homes, it occurs when moisture gets trapped behind stucco without a means of escape. The moisture develops into mold and begins to cause the materials behind the stucco to decay. This includes the OSB, turning it into what some inspectors call “oatmeal.” As the issue progresses, the insulation can become exposed and be affected. The rot spreads throughout the walls and can continue until the 2x4s that form the backbone of the structure begin to rot. Once the supporting materials begin to rot and disintegrate, the walls lose their structural integrity and can even begin to buckle. Then the rot begins to make its way to the interior walls.
How Wall Rot Starts
Not only is wall rot a nasty surprise for a homeowner, but it requires remediation that can run into the thousands of dollars. This has left many wondering how this problem starts. It begins with just a little bit of moisture.
When installed properly, stucco itself is waterproof, and waterproof sheeting, such as asphalt paper, further protect stucco from water intrusion. However, problems begin in areas such as window or door openings, places where the roof does not extend beyond the stucco wall, or the point at which the roof intersects with the stucco wall. If flashing and waterproof materials are not properly implemented in these situations, water can make its way behind even the most waterproof stucco.
Who Is to Blame
It is estimated that 95% of the cases of wall rot in the Pennsylvania area can be traced back to faulty installation. Inexperienced or disreputable contractors are to blame, and the result is an epidemic of wall rot. In some cases, homeowners may be at fault for not properly maintaining the stucco, but that is not usually the case for serious wall rot.
Preventing Wall Rot
There are two keys to preventing wall rot. The first involves the proper installation of flashing and waterproof paper in keys areas such as windows, doors, and wall-roof intersections. The goal is to prevent water intrusion behind the stucco and is a first step toward preventing wall rot.
The second key is a bit more complicated and involves the method used to install the stucco. It is very important that an air gap, also known as a ventilation gap or rain screen gap, be included behind the stucco. This is sometimes called a drainage matrix, and is a permanent gap that not only provides a way for moisture to evaporate but makes it possible for the moisture to escape from between the walls. That way, if any moisture makes its way behind the waterproof stucco, it will not have an opportunity to start the process of rot and mold.
Detecting Wall Rot
Many people see wall rot as a silent, secretive destroyer, consuming your walls form the inside out and devouring them undetected. There are ways to spot wall rot problems before they get out of hand, however. The first is to notice any areas of discoloration around openings for windows and doors. A common sign of developing problems is a discolored area near the bottom corner of a window. Also, notice if your home has developed a musty smell or if the flooring near the baseboards of outer walls is wet or damp.
You can also hire an inspector to check your home for wall rot if you have any concerns. The sooner the wall rot is detected, the easier it will be to remediate.
Remediation of Wall Rot
Remediation will vary according to the severity of the wall rot. At minimum, it will require the installation of stucco and in a worst case involves the replacement of the materials used in the external walls of your home and the reinstallation of windows and doors. Again, the sooner it is detected, the easier it is to repair.
Do You Have Wall Rot?
If you suspect that your stucco home may be suffering from wall rot, experts recommend that you bring in an inspector as soon as possible to evaluate your home for damage. If everything turns out all right, then you have nothing to worry about; if evidence of problems are found, then you are on the right track to putting a stop to the wall rot before it spreads further.
There are reputable companies that perform quality stucco remediation, including proper use of flashing around key areas and installation of a drainage matrix to prevent moisture from collecting behind the walls. If you do have wall rot, it can be fixed.