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Crumbling Walls Creating A Stir

Real Estate News From Around The World....... April 2, 1999 - CONSUMER NEWS

If you were among the thousands who watched a recent Sunday night episode of "Dateline NBC", you may have caught an eye-opening report called "Is your home crumbling around you?" I can see how this report can create quite a stir in both new home buyers as well as new home builder's minds. It will, no doubt, prompt buyers to ask questions about the type of stucco being used on homes they may be interested in, and builders to re-examine some of their building products' representations from the manufacturer.

The stucco referred to in this program is a synthetic type with the trade name of "EIFS", or Exterior Insulating and Finish Systems. Although EIFS costs about the same as brick or wood sidings (no reference was made to its price comparison with real, or cement stucco), the manufacturer touts it as a 'lightweight, low maintenance exterior that provides an easy insulation system for a home."

It is this easy insulation system, however, that seems to be at the root of this investigation. Brought to the attention of "Dateline" by homeowners in a traditionally wet geographical area (Vancouver, and Wilmington, N.C.), the complaint was that their synthetic stucco-faced exterior walls apparently contained rotting wood from the material's inability to drain moisture.

The program then decided to test homes in areas of traditionally more moderate rainfall, to see if the same testing results would occur. A special probe was used to penetrate the wall of a three-year-old synthetic stucco home in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Great Falls, VA. Evidently the same rotten results were determined.

The manufacturer was clearly in denial throughout the entire program, blaming the rotted timbers on improperly installed windows, leaky roofs, and shoddy construction practices.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), representing over 60,000 home builders nation wide, told Dateline that synthetic stucco, even if it meticulously applied and maintained, "Isn't compatible with the existing wood frame construction methods in the United States." They went on to say that homes with synthetic stucco "develops moisture intrusion problems even when properly constructed according to industry standards"

If you are a recent buyer of a home with a stucco exterior and are not sure what type was used, call your new home builder for clarification. If you decide to get the house inspected or tested for moisture within the walls as this program demonstrated , and the results are positive, you may have a structural warranty issue with your builder. (Many states require a 10-year warranty on structure for their newly built homes)

If you are shopping for a new home, ask questions about the type of stucco being used and how it is "wrapped". Some builders go the extra mile (beyond industry standards and exceeding pre-set codes) to ensure their new homes' structural integrity. This lessens their likelihood of structural defect litigation, and creates "raving fans" by constantly trying to "raise the bar" by which new homes are being built. Programs such as this "Dateline" report can bring apparent deficiencies such as those mentioned with synthetic stucco to light, and may effect needed change.

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