As a professional commercial and residential stucco contractor, we often get asked about the differences between synthetic stucco vs traditional stucco.

Synthetic stucco is made with acrylic or polymer cement based material, while traditional stucco is a mixture of Portland cement, lime, and sand. Traditional stucco does not bond well to other synthetic surfaces such as paint, while synthetic stucco’s acrylic components improve the bonding and longevity of repairs.

In this article, we’ll break down the key differences between each type of stucco, including the pros and cons of going with synthetic stucco compared to traditional stucco.

As experts in synthetic stucco installation, restoration, and repair, we firmly believe that synthetic stucco is superior to traditional stucco as a building material for your home’s exterior. We particularly like the STO Synthetic stucco products, as they carry a stucco-restoration specific line.

However, there are some considerations when it comes to choosing traditional stucco versus synthetic stucco that you should be aware of.

Regardless of whether you go with synthetic or traditional stucco, always be sure to hire a licensed stucco contractor to do the work.

Traditional Stucco: A Time-Tested Classic

Exterior image of a residential property covered with traditional stucco, showcasing its timeless beauty and durability

Traditional stucco, often referred to as cement stucco or hard coat stucco, stands as one of the most ancient and revered building materials in construction history. A concoction of sand, cement, lime, and water, this blend creates a robust and dense finish when applied to the exterior of structures. This application process is meticulous, often involving several layers spread over a wire or mesh lath. This layering technique, combined with the inherent qualities of the stucco mixture, endows the material with its notable strength and structural integrity.

Advantages of Traditional Stucco:

Durability: One of the standout features of traditional stucco is its resilience. This isn’t a material that wears out quickly. When applied correctly, traditional stucco can endure for decades, if not centuries, withstanding the relentless onslaught of sun, rain, wind, and even snow. This longevity makes it a favorite for buildings in a variety of climates. In terms of hard coat stucco vs EIFS, both materials are fairly durable.

Natural Look: There’s an organic, earthy quality to traditional stucco that has endeared it to builders and homeowners for generations. Its textured surface exudes a rustic charm, offering a warmth and character that’s often hard to replicate with other materials. Whether you’re aiming for a Mediterranean flair or a Southwestern vibe, traditional stucco seamlessly fits the bill.

Fire Resistant: Safety is paramount in home construction, and stucco brings an added layer of protection. Being non-combustible, traditional stucco acts as a fire barrier, potentially slowing the spread of flames. This property can be a significant advantage, especially in areas prone to wildfires or where homes are closely spaced.

Customizable: While stucco’s natural hue is undeniably attractive, it’s not a one-size-fits-all material. Traditional stucco can be mixed with pigments, allowing homeowners to choose from a broad palette of colors. Whether you’re looking for a muted beige, a vibrant terra cotta, or any shade in between, stucco can be tailored to mirror your aesthetic vision.

Disadvantages of Traditional Stucco:

Time-Consuming Installation: Patience is crucial when it comes to traditional stucco installation. The layer-by-layer approach ensures the material’s strength, but it also means waiting for each layer to dry before the next can be applied. This drying process can be lengthy, especially in humid conditions, making stucco installation a more protracted affair compared to other siding options.

Potential for Cracking: Like all things, traditional stucco isn’t without its vulnerabilities. Over the years, especially if exposed to significant temperature fluctuations or physical impacts, stucco can develop cracks. These cracks aren’t just cosmetic concerns; they can be gateways for moisture, potentially leading to more significant structural issues if not addressed promptly. Regular maintenance and periodic inspections can help in early detection and mitigation of such issues.

Synthetic Stucco: A Modern Alternative

Exterior view of a modern residential property enhanced with synthetic stucco siding, illustrating the use of synthetic stucco in modern architecture

Also known as EIFS or Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS), synthetic stucco is a much newer product and has different properties than traditional stucco. Stucco and EIFS are both popular for exterior coatings in the US Southwest.

Synthetic stucco represents a significant leap in building material technology. EIFS vs stucco made the old fashioned way offers various advantages that make it superior to traditional stucco. Unlike its traditional counterpart which has been in use for centuries, EIFS is a relatively new entrant, having gained popularity over the past few decades. Synthetic stucco includes an acrylic component that makes it resistant to fluctuations in temperature and moisture levels. As a multi-layered exterior finish, it integrates several components: an insulation board firmly affixed to the building’s exterior, a reinforcing mesh layer to provide added strength, and a final textured finish coat crafted from acrylic polymers to give the desired appearance. 

Advantages of Synthetic Stucco:

Insulation: At the heart of EIFS lies its insulation board, which offers a dual benefit. Not only does it provide structural support, but its insulating properties are remarkable. For homeowners, this translates into a more energy-efficient home, potentially leading to significant savings on heating and cooling bills. In a world increasingly conscious of energy consumption, this feature is a significant plus.

Flexibility: One of the intrinsic properties of EIFS is its flexibility. Unlike traditional stucco which can be rigid and prone to cracking, the pliable nature of EIFS allows it to adapt to minor structural shifts. This adaptability can reduce the chances of surface cracks, ensuring the finish remains intact for longer.

Versatility: EIFS is a chameleon in the world of exterior finishes. With the right techniques, it can be made to resemble a plethora of finishes, be it the rustic charm of traditional stucco, the elegance of stone, or the solidity of brick. This versatility grants architects and homeowners a wide canvas to paint their aesthetic visions.

Water Resistance: Properly installed exterior insulation and finish acts as a formidable barrier against moisture. Its design ensures a watertight seal, effectively preventing moisture from infiltrating the underlying structure. This can be especially beneficial in regions prone to heavy rainfall or humidity.

Disadvantages of Synthetic Stucco:

Moisture Concerns: While EIFS is designed to repel water, improper installation can spell trouble. If not correctly sealed or if it sustains damage, water can find its way behind the system. This can lead to a host of issues, from mold growth, which poses health risks, to structural damages that can compromise the building’s integrity. Insulation and finish system EIFS stucco needs to be installed by an experienced, licensed contractor to get the maximum benefit.

Durability Concerns: While EIFS is robust, it isn’t invincible. It can be more prone to dents, punctures, or surface damage, especially when compared to the ruggedness of traditional stucco. This necessitates periodic inspections to ensure the system remains uncompromised.

Perception: Aesthetics are subjective, and while many appreciate the sleek finish of EIFS, purists might feel it lacks the authenticity and character of traditional stucco. This perception can influence decisions, especially when aiming for a specific architectural vibe.

Synthetic Stucco vs Traditional Stucco Appearance

The natural, earthy texture of traditional stucco has garnered appreciation for generations.  However, synthetic stucco offers more flexibility in mimicking various finishes, including stone or brick, but some argue it lacks the authenticity of its traditional counterpart. When considering traditional stucco vs acrylic stucco options, note that an experienced stucco contractor can work to match the finish for a wide variety of looks.

Traditional Stucco vs Synthetic Stucco Performance

Performance-wise, traditional stucco boasts impressive durability. It’s crafted to withstand harsh environmental conditions and the test of time. Its non-combustible nature also means it offers fire resistance, an invaluable safety feature. Synthetic stucco, with its insulation properties, provides energy efficiency but requires careful installation to avoid moisture-related issues.

A building exterior covered with traditional stucco illustrating the comparison between traditional stucco vs synthetic stucco for appearance and performance

Cost of Synthetic Stucco vs Traditional Stucco

While the initial cost for traditional stucco can be higher due to its labor-intensive installation process, its longevity can offer cost savings in the long run. Regular maintenance can prevent potential cracks and ensure it remains in pristine condition for years. Synthetic stucco, while potentially more cost-effective initially, may incur additional costs if not installed correctly, leading to moisture problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does synthetic stucco last?

Synthetic stucco can last anywhere from 30-50 years or longer when properly maintained.

Is acrylic stucco better than regular stucco?

In our opinion, yes, acrylic stucco is a better product than traditional stucco from a durability, appearance, and performance standpoint.

How to tell the difference between traditional and synthetic stucco?

Traditional stucco can have a slightly different finished texture than synthetic stucco, and must also be painted. Synthetic stucco offers a smooth, cleaner finish and has the color integrated within the stucco itself, although it can also be painted with an exterior coat.

Is synthetic stucco better than stucco?

Synthetic stucco, often called EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems), offers enhanced insulation and versatility in design compared to traditional stucco. However, traditional stucco tends to be more durable and resistant to impact. The choice between traditional stucco vs synthetic stucco depends on specific needs and environmental conditions.

Making the Right Stucco Choice for Your Home

Both traditional and synthetic stucco have their merits. The best choice for your home will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

  • Climate Considerations: In wetter climates, proper installation is crucial for EIFS to avoid moisture issues. Traditional stucco might be a safer bet in such conditions.
  • Aesthetic Preferences: If you desire a particular look or texture, one type might be more suitable than the other.
  • Budget Constraints: EIFS can sometimes be more cost-effective, especially when considering potential energy savings.

In any case, it’s essential to hire a professional with experience in the type of stucco you choose. Proper installation is key to ensuring the longevity and beauty of the finish.

Get Expert Assistance with Your Stucco Needs

In need of top-notch synthetic stucco services in Tucson? Whether it’s repair, installation, or stucco restoration, our team is here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out for a complimentary estimate or to use our online quotation form. We’re committed to providing the best stucco solutions for your home.

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