Stucco homes stand out. Whether you’re just looking around the neighborhood or seriously shopping for a new home, you’ll notice these houses, with their attractively seamless walls and subtle colors. As one of the oldest building materials around, stucco gets plenty of attention, both good and bad. What’s it really all about?

What is stucco?
Stucco is a wall coating similar to plaster. In fact “plaster siding” is another name for stucco. Although it’s used mostly to cover frame construction on the outside, you will occasionally see stucco finishes for interior walls, as well.

For exterior stucco, the traditional application includes up to 4 layers — the dash (base) coat, scratch coat, brown coat, and finish coat — although newer methods require only 1 or 2 coats.

Each coat is formed of the same substances:
— Portland cement
— Hydrated lime
— Fine builder’s sand
— Water
— Fiber, if greater strength is desired
— Polymers, where increased flexibility is needed

However, the amount of each ingredient varies with the type of coat. Mineral oxide pigment may be added to the finish coat, for colored stucco homes. Synthetic stucco is also available, but some home improvement professionals say this material leads to increased moisture problems.

Interior stucco finishes come as special premeasured, powdered mixes. Just add water and spray the mixture on.

Advantages of stucco homes
Durability. Stucco is resistant to fire, rot, mold, impact, and termite infestation. Depending on local climate conditions, the finish on stucco homes can last as long as 100 years.

Sustainability. The ingredients for stucco finishes are easily obtained from local, sustainable sources.

Sound resistance. Stucco siding buffers sound coming from outside your home — a major advantage if you live near a busy street.

Color retention. The long lasting pigment blended into stucco finishes will eliminate the need to repaint your house every few years.

Texture. Stuccos finishes can be applied in your choice of texture to give your home a unique, seamless look.

Disadvantages of stucco homes
Labor-intensive installation. Applying stucco finishes is a specialized job for a skilled contractor. This makes labor costs somewhat higher than with other methods of siding.
Porosity. Stucco homes are prone to water retention — leading eventually to water damage — if the surface is not applied by an expert and properly maintained. If you’re interested in a stucco house for sale, have it checked out by a home inspector experienced in dealing with stucco.

Inflexibility. Traditionally, stucco has a reputation for lack of resilience. It is prone to cracking in regions where soil shifts cause stucco homes to settle. However, recently, this problem has been resolved by the addition of polymers to the stucco mix.

Maintenance of stucco finishes
Stucco does need a certain amount of maintenance to keep it in good shape. Fortunately, this is quite simple and can easily be tackled as a DIY project. Just follow these steps:
— Inspect stucco finishes frequently.
— Fill any holes or cracks as quickly as possible so they don’t worsen. Use masonry-compatible caulking.
— Although stucco homes may be cleaned with a garden hose, avoid pressure washing; the strong spray can seriously damage the surface.

How to paint a stucco wall
“How do you paint a stucco wall?” is really a trick question. The best answer is: “You shouldn’t.”

New stucco installations do not need to be painted. Instead, mix pigment — and colorful aggregate, if you like — into the finish coat. The resulting color will continue to look great for years, while still allowing the stucco to breathe.

If you’d like to change the hue, apply a thin “fog coat” of Portland cement, water, and pigment.

Once stucco has been painted, you’ve got a problem on your hands. You will not be able to reapply stucco over the paint, or even make minor repairs unless you remove the paint.

To remove paint from stucco, you will need to sandblast it off. Then cover the surface with a new coat of stucco.

— Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.