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Synthetic Stucco (EIFS) Vs. Traditional Stucco

Posted by JanL on August 27, 2018

Stucco siding is a popular and attractive finish that is found on many modern and earlier built homes. Both traditional stucco and synthetic stucco, also known as Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS), have a host of benefits in addition to the appealing aesthetics of these exterior wall treatments. Before purchasing a home with either EIFS or traditional stucco, it is important to understand the pros and cons of each method, as well as to have a proper inspection completed. A thorough certified inspection of the property’s exterior wall treatment will ensure the finish is intact and that there are no issues hidden beneath the stucco or EIFS.

Stucco is a beautiful and popular way to finish the exterior of a home. Many homeowners are faced with a choice between traditional stucco and modern EIFS or synthetic stucco.

What is the difference between EIFS and traditional stucco?

Traditional stucco has been used for decades and is composed of Portland cement, sand, lime, and water. This mixture is applied wet to the exterior of a building over a lath base or mesh in two or three coats, which then harden into a dense and solid finish. Often traditional stucco is coated with an acrylic-polymer finish to help protect against cracking. EIFS stucco is a relatively new siding method that became popular in the 80s and looks quite similar to traditional stucco. EIFS is a multilayered finish which combines a layer of insulation, typically in the form of a foam insulation board, and a base coat which is usually composed of an acrylic or polymer-based cement material and is reinforced with a glass mesh. These layers are finally covered with a textured finish to protect the inner layers and gives EIFS the stucco-like appearance.

How can you tell the difference between EIFS and traditional stucco?

At first glance, traditional stucco and EIFS are almost identical, making it difficult to tell them apart through a quick visual inspection, however, there are a few simple ways to quickly determine which material is utilized. Pressing on the exterior can help distinguish between EIFS and traditional stucco. Synthetic stucco will feel a bit soft and sound hollow when tapped. Traditional stucco will feel hard, brittle, and not give when pushed on, and will sound solid when tapped. Additionally, if there is a hole in the exterior, such as for light fixture or vent, you may be able to see the layering of the material. If the layering is visible, the presence of wire mesh indicates stucco while a foam core signals it is synthetic stucco.

What are the pros and cons of EIFS and traditional stucco?

Both traditional stucco and EIFS are very versatile and come in a variety of styles and colors that can be customized to each homeowners’ taste. Additionally, both methods offer an effective barrier against sound as well as fire protection. While EIFS and traditional stucco have much in common, each exterior wall treatment comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.


Due to the multi-layered composition of EIFS stucco and the inclusion of insulation in the design, this method offers a more energy efficient option, keeping cool air in during the summer and heated air in during the winter. Additionally, the material is more flexible enabling homeowners to include additional design elements in the exterior like keystones, cornerstones, or other decorative accents. While there are many positive traits of EIFS, one of the largest concerns with this method is its proclivity for absorbing moisture. The layers in EIFS do not breathe, allowing moisture to become trapped and cause severe damage, including wood rot and mold growth.

Traditional Stucco

Traditional stucco is praised for its overall strength, resistance to the elements, and the fact that it is less likely to absorb water, which can cause permanent damage to buildings. Additionally, traditional stucco is usually a bit less expensive than EIFS. While this finish is generally stronger than EIFS, traditional stucco can be more prone to small cracks due to the comparative rigidity of the material and is less flexible for design.

What are the different types of inspections that can be performed on exterior wall treatments?

There are three typical inspection methods that can be performed on exterior wall treatments to determine their condition. The first and least invasive method is a simple visual inspection that will provide a general overview of the health of a building’s exterior. Inspectors performing a visual inspection of stucco will point out any areas of concern on the exterior and recommend further inspection if there are visible signs of damage. If signs of water damage are present, the next step would be to perform interior moisture mapping, conducted using infrared thermography. The interior of the stucco system is examined around windows and doors without penetrating the exterior. If moisture is detected through interior moisture mapping, a comprehensive exterior stucco inspection must be completed. This inspection aims to pinpoint where and how the stucco system is failing, and determine how it may be repaired. For this complete inspection, a small probe will be used to investigate the exterior behind the stucco system without completely removing pieces of the stucco. Probes provide an accurate reading of moisture, as well as test the building material to see if it has been affected by moisture damage. After the inspection is completed, the hole through which the probe was inserted will be filled with caulking that matches the original color.

Contact me for more details!

Traditional and synthetic stucco exterior wall treatments are great decorative finishes that also have a number of functional benefits. Although these methods are both aesthetically pleasing and functional, a proper inspection must be conducted before buying a property with this finish to ensure there is no moisture damage. Unresolved moisture damage hiding beneath a stucco exterior is not only detrimental to the value of a property but also potentially hazardous to the owner’s health, highlighting the need to complete a thorough inspection before purchase.

I am well versed in the Colorado real estate market and can use my experience and expertise to support clients through each step of the buying process, including inspection. Contact me today to discuss your Summit County real estate needs.