Vertical cracks every two feet

Hi Reggie,

Just came across your site and have a question I was hoping you might be able to answer and give me some guidance about next steps...

I live in NY (Long Island) and rebuilt my home within the last year. I tore it down to the foundation. I decided to Stucco the house, but before doing so I asked my contractor who was doing the work about cracking. He said that stucco has a tendency to crack over time and you'll need to stay after it which I accepted at face-value. As a background, the original house had been built in 1930 and the original stucco was still on the house. However, when we began the renovation it was apparent that the whole house was rotted and in most cases it was the stucco that was supporting the home.

In any event, we opted to tear it down (but leave the original foundation which was inspected and deemed to be fine) and rebuild it and use stucco on the outside. We opted for the Three-Coat Portland Cement Stucco. The Stucco work began in mid-November the year before last and was completed in Feb last year and my concern was whether the temperature would become an issue. I was told by the contractor as long as the temperature doesn't drop below 40 degrees he can work. He used heaters during the day in January but not at night. He also used the Tyvek Stucco Wrap.

In mid-January, I began to notice a few cracks running vertically in the Stucco and the contractor told me, "Well, I told you would get some cracks" and when I pressed him that I would not expect to see cracking so soon he said don't worry about it. Once you get through all the four seasons you can thoroseal it to which I explained that I'm paying $40k to have him put the color on so I don't need to paint. I did not press him after that. In April, I began to see some more cracking and I called the stucco supplier who sent someone out to take a look and he said you should only see a little bit as the weather warms up but also questioned whether the lathe was self-furring and installed appropriately. He also chipped away at a very small section to see the thickness of the cement which he said was adequate. So, I waited...

In November, it was apparent that the cracking was happening all over the house. Vertical Cracks were occurring almost 2 feet part from just above the foundation and stretching to the roof so I called my contractor and told him. His answer was "I told you it would crack, the house is settling and it's normal. Just thoroseal it". He has refused to come back and acknowledge any responsibility. I then called an engineer who told me there is no evidence of any settling and he recommend a Stucco Contractor who he trusts to come by and take a look. His person looked at the house for about 90 minutes and concluded that the contractor probably did not use self-furring lathe, there was discoloration from frost, and based on pictures which I had taken during the construction indicated that the lathe was not installed horizontally and overlaid properly in many places which would be consistent with cracking approximately every 2 feet. In addition he felt that the mix was not mortar cement, but instead masonry cement. He claimed he was not interested in anything other than trying to help me out. He wasn't interested in selling me the job. In fact, all of his work is out in the Hampton's about 50 miles from me. His opinion was that this was bad workmanship and I need to chase the contractor and begin a lawsuit to recover the costs of tearing it down and re-doing it properly. He felt that I run a risk of water getting into those cracks and causing damage to the inside walls. My biggest immediate concern was that.

I subsequently called back the manufacturer's rep who initially saw the house in April. This time he told me there was something definitely wrong and provided me with a written report of possible causes including incorrect installation and failure to use self-furring lathe and/or the appropriate cement mix. He conceded that the proper way to remedy this is to tear it down and redo-it, and the contractor should be held liable.

Besides having to spend alot of money to re-do this in the event I cannot recover money from the contractor, in your opinion do you feel I need to do this sooner rather than later because of potential water damage or is this a cosmetic issue which I can hold off on undertaking until I cannot afford to re-do it?

I 'd be interested to hear your thoughts and be more interested in your guidance on next steps.

What is apparently wrong here is the metal lath was put on vertically, instead of horizontally. This isn't too bad a condition. The real problem is the metal lath wasn't overlapped, or wasn't overlapped far enough. Possibly the metal lath wasn't self furring, or the laps, that is the overlapped area, was samshed down too tight to the wall. There should be enough space behind the lath to allow mortar to squish through. Where the lath is overlapped, the mortar should squish through both sheets at least a little.

There is really no complete remedy without tearing everything off a starting over.

Sometimes people paint over excessively cracked stucco with elastomeric paint to bridge the cracks with a rubbery coating.

You probably can leave it like it is without large concerns of water infiltration, seeing how there is tarpaper or housewrap behind the wall. Water runs downhill. It just looks terrible.

Now you see why I write about good lathing techniques. I can't change the world if nobody reads this.

Thanks for writing.