By: Herb Nordmeyer
We hear a lot of talk about one-coat stucco. It is less expensive than three-coat stucco. But is it as good as three-coat stucco? The answer is a definite “Maybe.” Then the serious question is asked, How can I achieve a quality one-coat stucco job?
One-coat stucco’s are not listed in the International Building Code or in other building codes, but are authorized by evaluation reports. If a one-coat stucco does not have an evaluation report issued by an official evaluation service, then it cannot be used where code-approved three-coat stucco is specified. Obtaining an evaluation report is not cheap. Often up to $100,000 is spent on testing before the report is issued. The evaluation report is a statement by code engineers that they have studied testing data and that the product being rated meets the intent of the code if it is used in a specific manner. If a one-coat stucco is going to be used on the house that you are having built, you should ask the contractor for a copy of the evaluation report. After you have read the report, ask the contractor to explain different parts of the evaluation report. When I read an evaluation report, the word obfuscate comes unbidden into my mind. There is no intent to obfuscate, but the engineers have tried to cover all eventualities with precise language.
If a one-coat stucco is applied according to the terms of the evaluation report, a user can assume that it will function as well as a three-coat stucco will function. Sometimes, in order to save money, or because the applicator has not carefully studied the terms of the evaluation report, an applicator may not follow all of the terms of the evaluation report. In such cases, problems can develop. By having the contractor explain the report to you, you are ensuring that s/he has read the report. By showing an interest, the contractor knows that you are monitoring the job, so s/he will ensure that the crew is more diligent than they otherwise might be.
Many failures occur around window penetrations when adequate care is not used to join two dissimilar materials. Insist that the window opening be wrapped according to the window manufacturer’s instructions and that after the stucco is applied the interface between the window and the stucco be sealed with backer rod and a good quality sealant, not a $0.79 tube caulk.
The evaluation reports do not specify the top coating for one-coat stuccos. All stuccos need to be protected. Some applicators have mistakenly assumed that a diluted coating of latex paint provides adequate protection. This is not the case. Most one-coat stuccos need to cure for at least seven days, and some for as long as 28 days, before an acrylic finish coat will permanently bond to them. Don’t rush the contractor. By delaying, he is giving you a permanent finish. Most one-coat manufacturers have a warranty program that is tied to using one or more of the finish coats that they produce. If the one-coat stucco that your contractor has selected does not have a manufacturer-furnished finish coat, then as a minimum, it should be finish coated with two coats of elastomeric paint for a total dry thickness of 12-mil. An acrylic texture coat is an acceptable substitute.
Get involved, so your contractor knows that you are interested in a quality job and that you and he both understand what the evaluation report requires. Then you can expect to obtain a quality job.
Herb Nordmeyer, author of The Stucco Book-The Basics
By Sylvia Scheid
I was fortunate to be able to visit with Herb Nordmeyer as he was beginning this series of books about stucco. To some small degree I am proud of the fact that I actually encouraged him to share his knowledge on the subject gained from his career and several generations before him.
While visiting with Herb in San Antonio Texas, I got a first hand perspective of the different types of stucco. While he and I toured the Alamo, I felt very fortunate to be perhaps the only one to hear about the correct and incorrect upkeep of this beautiful structure. By simply glancing at the stucco, Herb recited the exact problems and types of material that were used to repair the cracks– one problem being that cementitious stucco had replaced the original earthen plaster.
After Herb and I finished the most interesting and informational hour-long tour of the Alamo, we scuttled downtown. At random intervals I would notice Herb was not by my side. After looking around, I usually found him examining a portion of stucco on the side of a building. When I walked up to Herb, he would start to explain what the angle of the crack in the stucco meant. Or what mix the stucco was made of. He always did this with a humorous and educational twist. It is these types of facts and tidbits that are included in this wonderful stucco book. Herb has accomplished writing the most informative series about stucco and plaster that has ever been published. If you’re interested in how to stucco, how to mix stucco or even learn some of the history of stucco, this book will become the very best tool in your toolkit.
The Stucco Book – The Basics is the first of an interesting series about stucco. The next book is about the forensics of stucco. In it, the reader will learn the difference between the horizontal crack and the vertical crack– and the many other details of what you need to know to create healthy stucco. The final book in this series teaches the art of stucco. From faux stones, to theme park work, to stuccoing on straw, or even to giant dinosaurs, Herb reveals the details that will help the reader grow his creative stuccoing skills.
Read more about the stucco book…
~Buy it now~
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A new earthbag building guide has just been completed by Owen Geiger of the Geiger Research Institute. This is the most compete Earthbag Building Guide that we have read. It is a complete “soup to nuts” step by step guide. The book does a great job of detailing all the steps necessary to prepare for and build your own earthbag home. We give this book our strong endorsement for anyone considering earthbag construction.
Earthbag building is more than a passing hobby for Owen Ingley; it’s is his passion. Through his educational nonprofit, Plenitud Initiativas, he teaches people how to build their own earthbag home out of dirt, plastic, barbed wire, and plaster. These simple, inexpensive products are the main materials used in earthbag construction, one of the fastest-growing natural building techniques in the world.
At Mortarsprayer.com we are often blessed by meeting interesting customers that are doing exceptional things with our tools, building an earthbag home retreat to be used in a three year long retreat is one of the examples. Ben Christian is one of those wonderful people. He recently traveled to the United States from Australia to help build strawbale and earthbag homes and prepare for a three year long Retreat for Peace. Here is a story of his passion and commitment:
The story of how one earthbag home got started:
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to seek enlightenment at a yoga and meditation retreat center… a chance to study with an American teacher who learned everything he knew from rare Tibetan manuscripts. He was the only teacher with this kind of knowledge, and it was the only time… and the only place… this would ever happen. Ben could not pass it up. With a short timeline nipping at his heels, he sold everything he owned so he could attend.
Ben is from the old school, though, and believes when a teacher gives him a job to do, he does what the teacher asks. He hit the floor running, in search of others who had built straw bale cabins. They helped draw up plans and gave him advice, but much of what he learned was on-the-job training. Conditions were very difficult: it was the middle of summer, very hot, and it was difficult to get materials to the site. The terrain was mountainous, there were no roads, no electricity, and the cabin had to be constructed in an environmentally friendly manner.
Another straw bale cabin on the retreat had been in progress for 5 years, and was still not done. (Shown on the left) In fact, when Ben found out that the plasterwork by itself was a 3-month job, he went online to find something faster. He found expensive systems requiring heavy machinery and plaster pumps, . He continued searching until he came across Mortarsprayer.com, where he discovered the stucco sprayer an inexpensive tool that could be used with his 5 1/2 horse power gas compressor. After discussing the sprayer with owner Nolan Scheid, Ben bought one on the spot. Actually, he bought two on the spot: one for completing the cabin, and one to take home to Australia. As a testament to the sprayer’s minimal size and weight, it was carried home in a guitar case.
Building the homes had challenges. Ben was used to metric measurements, and of course there were local permit requirements and government agencies. Luckily, some of the staff members were accustomed to working on those issues. They took the burden off his back, submitted the plans, and dealt with local government agencies.
Ben stayed in the US as long as possible to work on the cabin. There were no helpers, no money, his U.S. visa was expiring, and he had a prior commitment in Australia. In the end, he was not able to finish the project before he left, so it was handed over to a local contractor for completion.
During Ben’s five years at the retreat, he became committed to building an Australian retreat center on his own property, but family illness has postponed the completion of that project. At the moment, his goal is to finish the earth bag cabin that was started earlier, which is a series of round cylinders joined by hallways, as seen in these photos. Since meditation requires touching the ground, the meditation room floor is made of rammed earth, but the living area has a wood floor.
This cabin will have a circular kitchen on one wall in the living area and a heater, and it will be used for longer retreats. However, it is the last one to be built for now. There is also a large earth bag building for the caretakers, with one central room with two rooms off to the side. The inside is plastered, but the outside is not yet finished.
Sometimes the bags are filled by people in their spare time, then sewn shut and transported to the site. It is far easier to transport these modules than to transport trucks filled with dirt, especially since there are no roads in some areas. For this cabin, however, the bags were filled directly at the site with excavated dirt. Another reason for sewing the ends shut, which is not usually done with polypropylene bags, is because when the bags are lifted up onto the wall, the ends will release dirt if left open.
Earth bag construction has been used in various forms worldwide, often with polypropylene bags and barbed wire to hold the slippery layers together. However, a few limitations in this case excluded the use of synthetic bags. For one thing, they are not available in Australia, but they also do not fit in with Ben’s goal of environmentally friendly materials. These cabins are built with biodegradable jute bags from Bangladesh, which are about 1’ x 3’ x 4” thick and can be easily filled by one person. The rough surfaces are held together by the weight of the bags, with no barbed wire needed between the layers.
It has taken 5 month to get to the stage shown in the photos, with crews that have ranged from one person to 5 or more. There is no road, so everything must be done with a shovel and wheelbarrow, walking up to the site. This is a very isolated location, but when Ben needs help, he contacts students who fly in from all over the world.
There are also a few yurts on the property, which have been used for short retreats. One is connected to a small earth bag dome, but it is not really suitable for long retreats. For one thing, the goal is silence, but there is a wind noise factor with the fabric. The second issue is lack of insulation, meaning they are hot in summer and cold in winter.
For potential earth bag builders, Ben has a helpful hint for spraying mortar. First, make sure the bags are laid with the seam facing out, because it is more difficult to smooth the seams on the inside. Next, cover the whole outside with wire mesh, such as a fine chicken wire or similar material that has about a 3/4” mesh. It may seem like a lot of trouble, and it is not quicker, but it is cheaper because it reduces the amount of plaster used, and eliminates carrying sand and other materials up the hillside.
Ben has only one change he would make to future earth bag cabins. These structures are very difficult to heat; he tried a very expensive heater, but it did not even take the chill off. Next time, he will place hot water heating coils in the floor and walls. That is basically the only change he would make in constructing an earth bag cabin, because they are incredibly peaceful inside. In fact, he says, it is so quiet one cannot even hear the rain or wind.
Sometime in the future 3-year retreats will be hosted in the earthbag home, but it will be quite a while. None are planned at this time. For now, Ben’s time is balanced between completing his earth bag cabins already under construction on his property, spending time with family, and illustrating Buddhist text.
To learn more about the retreat for peace please visit their website, retreat4peace.org
Another amazing EarthBag Building workshop is upon us.
Earthen hand construction offers natural building classes. These include EarthBag construction, natural plastering and passive solar design. July 23-26, EarthenHand in Portland Oregon will host the first of several workshops this summer. This workshop will use the newest kind of mesh Earthbags which EarthenHand have found to be superior of others they have tried. This workshop will also include an introduction to Passive Annual Heat Storage combined with earthbag buildings. This amazing method allows the earth surrounding the house to absorb summer heat for use during the winter. read more →
Finally, we added a Stucco, Mortar and Concrete Blog to the website to help get the word out about new stucco, mortar and other articles pertaining to concrete as well as other announcements like new products.
At the same time we decided to open up comments on the all our previously published articles in the Projects, Highlights and Advice section.
Last but not least we refurbished all the store pages to make it easier to browse our stucco, mortar and plaster spraying tools.