Stucco and old houses: a good investment?

By: Shannon Dauphin Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips

One of the most beautiful homes I have ever seen is covered in stucco. In fact, part of the beauty of the house comes from the way the stucco looks in the evening light. Though some might complain that stucco looks bland and flat from a distance and shows its true beauty only when you get close to it, something about this particular house catches the light, making the stucco seem to change colors throughout the day.

Sure, it's a fortunate trick of the light. But it is enough to make me look at stucco in a different way.

Is stucco the right choice for you?

There are numerous advantages to stucco, especially the price. A traditional building material made of natural elements, the durability and ease of maintenance makes it a budget-friendly option. Stucco rarely needs painting, but if you do choose to change the color of your house, there are plenty of good masonry paints on the market that work very well and have proven to be durable.

Stucco has the reputation for being a great sound barrier, blocking out the noise from the neighborhood with thick walls. Those walls also help keep energy costs down by keeping your house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

But one of the biggest draws might be the do-it-yourself nature. Those who own old houses usually became part of the handy brigade rather quickly, and they learn to handle even some hefty household repairs on their own. For those who have earned their right to be called a handyman (or handywoman!), the ease of applying stucco makes the repairs look like a piece of cake.

If you fall in love with a house covered in stucco, great! You just might have the perfect exterior material to work with for years to come. But before you sign on that dotted line and make that stucco yours -- or before you decide to put a brand-new covering on your old house -- consider the problems stucco might have.

Does that old house have a stucco problem?

Many old houses run into stucco problems over the years. Either the stucco develops cracks and looks unsightly, or those cracks get bad enough to allow water in, which can lead to a whole new host of problems. Stucco is quite durable, and can last for decades with minimal maintenance. But once problems arise, fixing them quickly is the key to stopping the issues before they become too much to handle.

The problem with older stucco houses is the uncertainty of what kind of substrate was used, what kind of problems occurred in the past and how they were repaired. While many old house owners are more than happy to keep good records of things that happened to their home during the time they lived there, some are -- well, not so honest. Since stucco can often be repaired by the homeowner, it is entirely possible that many problems were simply hidden away with another good layer of stucco.

This is where a great home inspector comes in. A home inspector that has a long history of dealing with old houses has probably seen it all, and it's likely he or she can tell you what modifications might have been made to the stucco, as well any repairs that might need to be done when you purchase the property.

Stucco can be absolutely gorgeous -- so gorgeous, in fact that it turns into a selling point for the house. But as with all things in the world of old houses, make sure your investment is a good one before you put your money down.