Tag Archives: stucco

I’m Not a Plasterer, but Stucco’s Done!

This stucco job is pretty big considering that I’m supposed to be averaging a project a day. But not only were there 2 more coats but there was prep in between, so that means we’re looking at Projects 14 through 17 now.

I had left tar paper lapped over the weep screeds and stuff and now trimmed it back so it doesn’t show anymore. And on to the brown coat. This coat is supposed to be thinner than the scratch coat and give a relatively smooth, even surface for the finish coat.

So how’d we do? Well, I didn’t get any pictures of the brown coat. Oops. But a few things to know. I worked really hard to get the surface flat and smooth but couldn’t make it completely free of knife marks. I floated it too close to the surface around the corner bead and then floated the finish coat right over all the metal and made the imperfect, handmade corner I said I had wanted anyway (tell me what you think about that). It dried my hands out like crazy and on the finish coat I gave in and wore gloves.

We got a rough start with the finish coat and for a bit my dad doubted if we’d finish. I started to float it onto the walls and it fell right off. So I ran out for Quikrete Acrylic Fortifier. If you’re going to try this at home, DEFINITELY USE THIS STUFF. Not only did the finish coat stick better but it was more workable, easier to mix and spread evenly. We were finally doing well with it! Phew!

Also, my dad made a big sacrifice for this. He put his Eagles game on AM radio instead of the TV.

Now with this final coat, I decided to do a sand finish, which means that once the stucco is solid but still soft you rub the surface with a rubber float, basically a really stiff sponge, and water, until the sand comes to the surface and it gets a rougher texture. As an added bonus, I could scrape the cement slurry out of the float and work it into the most obvious of my knife marks. This got me a relatively consistent surface even if it isn’t perfectly flat.

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And to me this is all TOTALLY FINE. After all, before I started my crippling fear was that it would be too perfect and my house would look like a McMansion. And remember how I said having the weep screed installed level drew attention to the crazy slope of my concrete yard? Well, now you can see what I meant:

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I have a plan. The city offers subsidies for improving stormwater management by ripping out concrete like this and replacing it with permeable pavers. So I’ll do that. And while it’s out I’m going to wrap the space below the stucco with cellular PVC. Since that stuff is basically inert I can bury it and make the house look clean across the ground. But for now I’m satisfied.

And since we’re close enough to “after” to guess what it looks like, let’s go back to “before.”

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And the industrial chic exposed sheathing look that I had going on for 2 years. Now I’m extra disgruntled about the ripped-out beadboard up there. The Irishman insisted we had to make sure the joists went all the way through… even though we already knew they did. (Also, I asked this before and we won’t have an answer ever but why did they put the textured plywood siding over nice beadboard??)

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Phew, Scratch Coat’s Done

Current 30 Projects in 30 Days count is 9. First I finally finished nailing the lath up to the house (Project 6). Between the casings, the tar paper, and the lath, the stucco prep took over 2 months. (Recycled photo but you get the idea.)

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And here it is with the stucco up (Project 7)! You’ll notice that some stucco is scratched and some isn’t in this photo. What we did after our lunch break was still too soft to scratch, so we took a break while it was setting up. The scratch coat is the first of 3 coats that are required for traditional (read:Twentieth Century) hard coat stucco. If I do the rest of the house myself, I will float only the second 2 coats right onto the old stucco and (thank God!) skip the lath.

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It’s funny because for what a big deal this is I don’t have that much to say. One thing is I was better at floating stucco onto the wall at the end of the day than at the beginning. Another is that my hands are dry. And most important, having exposed plywood sheathing on the back of the house was a worry and might have made the back of the house compete with my real source of future joy, restoring the front.

Speaking of which, we did one small thing to the front. I’ve had this nice mailbox sitting on my living room floor since my birthday in March, and you may have noticed that my 30 projects tend to revolve around finishing all the unfinished things that are stacked up around the edges of the living room. Alternate title for this challenge: #FreeTheCorners! Anyways, here’s the new mailbox. It doesn’t look TOO out of place on my scuzzy house, does it?

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And for reference, here’s the old one. Only downside is I’ll have shitty takout menus stuffed into my railings now because the new mailbox is too nice for a Circular Free Property sticker. I’ll stick one to the glass on my front door, but not until I spruce it up next month. More on that later.

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And I installed the third clothes bar in my closet. I re-purposed old clothes bars everywhere else and when I ran out, just did without on the right side and filled it up with junk. Now it will be easier to install baseboards in the closet because I can empty the lower bar on the left side and work without emptying the closet.

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So, will I make #30ProjectsIn30Days? Last update I was 2 days behind if my goal were a project a day. Today I still am! I think that’s a good thing.

My Dad Provided Common Sense Again

Like I said before, I want the stucco to wrap around the corner where the downspout hides the ugly control joint. But there’s a problem. The cast iron pipe connecting my downspout to the sewer angles in toward the house so the top is right up against it. It’s original to the house (1890’s) and not in good shape. Ask me why I have a can of Bondo in the basement. But in until I can replace it, it’s in the way of the stucco.

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At first I thought I’d just stucco up to it and repair the missing patch later. But this could get rust stains in my stucco and the patch may not be done right and could crack. So I thought maybe I could rig some kind of temporary plaster stop and leave a gap around the pipe. The metal trim would all be in place but no plaster on it. Then my dad thought of the solution that should have been obvious. Cut it off with the Sawzall. The problem? His sawzall is kinda old and battery powered, and the batteries weren’t holding up to the rigors of this job.

We decided that I’d go to Sears and buy more, even though that meant a trip to Jersey. And it wound up being a 2 Home Depot trip day because the Irishman was outside and he told us we were using the wrong kind of blades. When I came back with the right blade, it worked so well we didn’t need the new batteries.

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You can see that the stucco was , ahem, a little crude behind the pipe. And let’s not talk about the more recent work just to the left that I won’t be coating over this year. The Irishman told me the previous owner hired crackheads from the street whenever he needed work done. But we were able to patch the tar paper properly. Meaning 6 inch laps on vertical seams and 2 inches horizontal. I recut the weep screed since the old one was damaged from being wedged in behind the pipe. And we put in a longer downspout. The old one was damaged anyway. It’s a much better fit now!

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But it’ll still be a tight squeeze once the stucco is in place. I’ll probably have to crimp the downspout in a little bit more.

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Now one more thing – you might have noticed that I installed corner bead after I said I didn’t want it. Historic stucco had hand finished corners and was less perfect looking, but the corner bead does provide structural benefits. Corners can be prone to spalling, and this extra steel prevents that. And really, I don’t have truly traditional stucco, which would have been a coating applied to solid masonry that the owner would repair as needed forever. Modern stucco is cladding and we expect it to hold together without a lot of maintenance. Hopefully with the job I’ve done I’ll be good for 75-100 years.

Planning… Stucco?

So I’ve had a pattern. Do project, burn out, take time off, start 2 new projects. I was around that point in the cycle 2 weeks ago and, well, it was pretty obvious that sooner or later I need to finish painting the kitchen cabinets, get the knobs on, and get glass in the doors. So I took down the ones that the Irishman never painted on the back sides. Incidentally, he skipped all the ones that are the hardest to pop on and off.

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And he convinced me that I need to stucco around the patio door this year. I’ve had plywood sheathing exposed to the elements (under an overhang at least) for 2 years now. So after lining one side of the dining area with cabinet doors I filled ┬áthe other with stucco materials. Also PVC trim boards for casing around the patio door.

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And then I got food poisoning. (And I don’t know what from but I probably cooked it myself.)

So here’s the plan. First off, the old plan was to have the whole rear of the house stuccoed at once. The new plan is to defer the air shaft area indefinitely…

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And do it like everyone else did and just redo the part that I can see for now. As in, new stucco on the plywood and the stucco that got this lovely green paint.

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Now, stucco terrifies me. Because there are some stucco houses I love.

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But there are others that are McMansions. Also, modern stucco is supposed to have ugly control joints so it doesn’t crack. I’m definitely going to need a couple because the stucco around the back door will be installed as a veneer over paint and plywood while the rest of the house (to be stuccoed later) can get it right onto the masonry, the old fashioned way.

So here’s what I’m thinking. I’ll install the new stucco with one horizontal control joint right around the top of the first floor. And I’ll wrap the corner and put the control joint right behind the downspout where you can’t see it. Because inside corners are bad, this means that when I go back and stucco the rest there will be a really long skinny strip of stucco that wraps the corner from the siding (the trim is PVC) to behind the downspout. Then the rest of the back inside the air shaft can hopefully get one seamless coat. Back to this photo again, the little bit of brick that’s showing behind the downspout is where the joint will be. (Note: I’m pretty sure the back of these houses are all a low grade of brick that needs to be stuccoed.)

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Then there’s the small matter of texture. What I’ve noticed about old stucco is that it’s not as perfectly flat and often has a heavier texture than new stucco. That house I showed above? The walls seem to have heft. New stucco more often than not looks like a card house.

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But the Crooked House is not Tudor. It’s not Cotswold Revival, Colonial Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, or arts and crafts. It’s a very modest late Victorian, a period when I don’t think stucco was particularly popular. And the back has no architectural style at all really. I’m going to do the walls in a fairly smooth sand finish. That’s basically the plainest stucco finish and it was popular before my house was built and after. It’s also the easiest to do. And I’m skipping the corner bead. I’ll chip off some of the old bad repairs to let the wall be semi-flat, then I’ll just let the corners be a bit rounded off.

 

4 Year Anniversary Tour – The Exterior

I haven’t done anything to the front yet, but the plan is to restore it as close as possible to its original appearance. I’ll restore the original brick and marble, eliminate the plague of aluminum siding and awnings, restore or replicate the original wood trim, install wood windows (new or old). You can read more about this process here, here, here, and here.

Let’s pretend this other house is my after, though I plan to 2-tone the cornice and not have white paint on the marble.

The back started off in this grim state. The big square bay was wood framed with very crudely applied modern stucco. The rest is load-bearing brick protected with a thin layer of older stucco. Plus, rusty plumbing stack, rusty downspout, and tangle of cables.

But it got worse quickly when I started enlarging the back bedroom window and discovered how poorly the stucco was installed on that bay. Under it were 3 layers of asphalt siding, and these were damp! If you look carefully at the closeup of the bay, they installed flashing like corner molding, so it channels water INTO the wall. Then below this was the original siding, some of it rotten, nailed right to the studs. So fun times, off it came.

So this was a nice sized extra project when I was already in the middle of that back bedroom. I got the rotten clapboards replaced with new plywood sheathing and all of it wrapped in tar paper and let it go. And then came the polar vortex, the downspout froze solid and I had icicles inside! What a pleasant surprise for the day insulation was supposed to get blown in.

So when it came time to side it we overdesigned it absurdly. Lots of tar paper, flashing, indestructible cellular PVC trim sealed to the brick with silicone (to be eventually embedded into new stucco), and a 3/4″ air gap behind the siding that’s vented so if water does get in, it should stay on the outside of the tar paper. The wood strips are marine grade for nailing the siding into.

Speaking of siding, I was too snobby for vinyl even on a barely visible spot on the rear second floor, so I used HardiPlank. This is almost as nice looking as wood and more durable. The wider siding is not period correct but I figured it was less to install and my parents might want to use my leftovers. I had already committed to white trim and painted the siding a color that I learned is Wedgwood blue, not navy. The beadboard underneath is light blue to try to make this closed in urban space look cheery.

 

And here’s what it looks like now. The original stucco was in lousy shape and I was on a budget, so where I altered old window openings we filled them with whatever and I’ll have it all stuccoed later. You can also see that the patio door job involved ripping off some of the beadboard. I’ve been lazy lately but maybe I can get it fixed this year. Also, sorry Ross, but yes my ceiling fan has a light.

When this is all done, the plan is to have trim around the patio doors just like the windows above, have the stucco white or very light grey to reflect as much light into the living room as possible, and most importantly, I want a texture that looks like it belongs on an old house. What texture I get doesn’t much matter. The back of this house has no architectural style to speak of. It just needs to look old. The idea of a McMansion stucco texture on my house is enough to give me night sweats.