The Stucco lawsuits claim that home builders and contractors have improperly been installing stucco on homes, which is causing the stucco to eventually crack and water damage to occur.
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What is Stucco
Stucco is a form of plaster made from lime, sand, and water that has been used in building construction for thousands of years. Examples have been found in archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. In ancient Rome and Greece, it was used primarily for decorative purposes, and even for creating sculptures. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was favored by the upper classes for decorating walls because of its “aristocratic” look.
The use of stucco fell out of favor during the 1920s, although its use continued well into the 1950s, usually for interiors. Today, stucco is used primarily for exteriors. Modern stucco is made with Portland cement as well as the traditional ingredients. In addition, some manufacturers and contractors add ingredients such as fibers and acrylics in order to make the material stronger and more flexible.
Properly made and applied, stucco offers excellent protection from damage due to moisture. However, if certain procedures are not followed and the contractor fails to mix the stucco properly, it can mean disaster for the homeowner. This is what has happened in dozens of cases in wetter regions of the country, where errors during construction allowed water to penetrate the surface, causing the underlying wood to rot away.
What Causes Stucco to Fail
According to a case study of homes in Florida from the American Institute of Architects and the National Institute of Building Sciences, stucco has frequently been applied directly over concrete block wall construction, commonly in thicknesses of a quarter-inch or less (building codes specify thicknesses of between five-eighths and three-quarters of an inch). Normally, exterior stucco requires reinforcement or some type of lath for support; however, this was not done in numerous cases. While the intention is to create a waterproof seal, this barrier begins to fail with age.
Stucco also shrinks as it cures, resulting in what is known as “microcracking.” For this reason, there needs to be expansion joints installed in the form of a lattice so as to relieve the stresses caused by this phenomenon. When stucco is applied directly to the substrate (the outer walls themselves), the microcracking can grow into larger fissures that allow water penetration. Although stucco is often painted and treated with sealants in order to improve its waterproofing properties, these coatings can also crack after several years of weather exposure.
Who Is Responsible When Stucco Fails
A number of home builders have been identified as having built substandard dwellings. One of these is Toll Brothers, which touts itself as “America's Luxury Home Builder.” According to the company's most recent annual report, its liability for stucco-related damage currently amounts to nearly $209 million, in addition to $115.5 million for “non-stucco” related water intrusion.
A representative for Toll Brothers informed a news station that they have “worked diligently to address water intrusion issues,” and that their customers “enjoy the full protection and the right to make claims under the longest warranty in our industry” – which is ten years.
Unfortunately for Toll Brothers' customers, much of the damage has occurred in homes that are older than that. Because of that, these homeowners are receiving letters, informing them that their claims “exceed all warranties that were carried out...as well as any statutory periods within which claims must be made.”
Another home builder being implicated in this unfolding disaster is Pulte Homes, which “has stated its willingness to take the necessary actions to address their homes' issues.” However, the company is blaming consumers taking legal action for delays in making repairs.
In Florida, contractors have been denying repair claims, and have been telling homeowners that stucco cracks are either “within tolerance” or are part of “standard homeowner maintenance,” and that they should just apply caulk and repaint the surface periodically. Recent judgments have been entered against KB Homes and D.R. Horton; however, hundreds of lawsuits are still pending against home builders and developers as the state's Attorney General continues to investigate the issue.
Video: What is Causing Stucco Water Damage and What Legal Action can be Pursued
Is Your Home Affected? If So, What Can You Do?
Unfortunately, water damage is not often apparent until it comes to light in the course of a professional inspection – by which time, the homeowner may be facing repair and rehabilitation costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The stucco must be removed and in most cases, the entire substrate must be replaced.
Alan Garfinkel of the Florida Community Associate Professionals recommends that homeowners have their building's stucco inspected within nine years of occupancy. One reason is that Florida's Statute of Repose runs ten years from the time the owner actually takes possession of the property, or is issued a certificate of occupancy, whichever is later. In the case of a community association (condominiums), the statute of repose runs four years from the time a new board is elected.
Garfinkel also recommends that homeowners get assistance from qualified, experienced engineers and attorneys who can work together to document the claim, giving those impacted the best chance to recover losses.