What is Stucco Siding?

Stucco is considered an upscale, tried and true exterior siding. For thousands of years, plaster stucco has clad and decorated buildings. The ancients of Greece and Rome, India and China, Egypt and Mesopotamia, all had their spin on stucco. Fast forward to the 21st century where traditional stucco is still a very popular siding choice – so popular that a synthetic stucco is also available.

Traditional stucco is composed of Portland cement, lime, sand, and water – natural materials that will last for decades if well-maintained. Although a thin single layer can be appropriate for certain applications, classic stucco is three layers. The first layer, which creates adhesion to the underlying lath, is the scratch coat; the second is the leveling coat; and the third, which allows for the specific texture desired, is the finishing coat. Traditional stucco can be finished in a multitude of textures, from elegant and smooth to a finish embedded with shells.

What is EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish System)?

Although it’s designed to look like traditional stucco, Exterior Insulation and Finish System, or EIFS, is a synthetic product. It consists of a polymer-acrylic mix of styrofoam-based stucco that is sprayed onto a base of fiberglass mesh and foam board insulation. Synthetic stucco isn’t as durable as plaster stucco but has better insulation properties. Although it doesn’t develop hairline cracks like traditional stucco, it’s vulnerable to high impacts like hail, woodpeckers, and errant baseballs. The original EIFS product had a tendency to trap moisture if water seeped in, especially around windows or door frames. As a result, it was difficult for some homeowners to get insurance on a home sided with EIFS. Because of problems with the original product, the EIFS industry has developed an improved exterior finish and drainage mat with weep holes that allow water to escape. EIFS typically costs up to five times as much as traditional stucco siding.

The untrained eye usually can’t tell the difference between traditional stucco and EIFS. If you want to know whether a building is sided with traditional stucco or synthetic, tap the surface. Traditional stucco sounds solid when it’s tapped because it’s hard. Synthetic stucco sounds hollow because it’s soft. You may even be able to press your thumb very slightly into the synthetic surface, something you absolutely won’t be able to do with traditional rock-hard plaster stucco. Also, you may notice long hairline cracks in traditional stucco while EIFS typically only shows small hairline cracks, usually around window openings.

Benefits of Traditional Stucco Siding 

When you choose traditional stucco siding, you gain a number of benefits over other siding materials. So exactly what makes traditional plaster stucco a good choice for your home and why has it been so popular for thousands of years?

  • Cost. Although other siding materials such as vinyl or aluminum are cheaper to install than stucco, over the long run stucco is more cost-effective. Stucco can cost almost 60% more than vinyl or aluminum siding, but over the long term, it can be cheaper because of its long lifespan. 
  • Energy-efficient. With stucco you get an extra layer of insulation, making your home more energy-efficient. With an R-value of .20, stucco insulates from both warm and cool air, making it easier to maintain the temperature inside. This is one reason why stucco is so popular in the Southwest and other hot climates around the world. 
  • Porous. Traditional stucco allows moisture to move freely in and out of the wall, making it a great choice for moist climates.
  • Stands up well to the elements. In addition to its energy efficiency, stucco stands up well to weather, wind, and debris. 
  • Fire retardant. Stucco is fire-retardant. If a fire threatens your home or building, the stucco can resist fire for up to an hour.
  • Natural repellant. Stucco naturally repels mildew, mold, and insects. However, if cracks and holes are left unrepaired, water can enter and cause mildew, algae, or mold to develop. Overall, stucco resists weather, fire, and insects better than all siding types except brick.
  • Quiet. A stucco exterior helps silence outside noise. If the neighbors throw noisy parties, or you live near an airport, you’ll notice a house sided with stucco is much quieter inside than a house sided with aluminum or vinyl.
  • Low maintenance. Stucco requires less maintenance than wood and fiber cement siding. Typical maintenance includes regular cleaning to remove surface dust, dirt, and pollen. Traditional stucco will eventually get small cracks but they’re easy to repair.
  • Custom colors. Pigments can be added to the Portland cement to create beautiful and unique custom colors. But don’t paint the stucco finish. Paint interferes with the natural porous nature of stucco.
  • Esthetics. Stucco can enhance a home’s architectural features. The almost unlimited choice of finishes can give a home flair and a unique appearance. Before it dries, murals, mosaics, and one-of-a-kind designs can be carved into the stucco. 
  • Durability. Stucco is a tough material and if properly maintained, it can last, on average, up to 50 years. If it’s installed and maintained correctly, it can last as long as 100 years. Typically, vinyl and aluminum siding have a lifespan of 20-30 years and fiber cement can be expected to last 30-50 years.
  • Budget-friendly. When compared to stone, brick, most woods, and metals, traditional stucco siding costs less. The materials that go into traditional stucco don’t need to be processed and are readily available.

Benefits of EIFS Stucco Siding

Take a look at the following benefits of synthetic EIFS stucco siding:

  • Energy-efficient. EIFS has an R-value of between 4 and 5.6 – much higher than traditional stucco. The six EIFS layers include:
    • An optional water-resistant barrier that covers the building’s substrate.
    • An adhesive that attaches the insulation board to the supporting structure.
    • Foam insulation board, which is secured to the exterior substrate surface.
    • Basecoat which is an acrylic or polymer-based cement product, applied over the insulation board.
    • Glass fiber reinforcement mesh, which is embedded in the base coat material for added reinforcement.
    • The finish coat, which is protective and decorative.
  • Fire Resistant. Like plaster stucco, EIFS is fire resistant.
  • Lightweight. EIFS is 80% lighter than traditional stucco.
  • Less prone to cracking than traditional stucco.
  • Resistant to strong winds (although not as resistant as traditional stucco to impact damage like hail).
  • Esthetics. EIFS is beautiful; the untrained eye can’t tell the difference between traditional stucco and synthetic.

Note: EIFS doesn’t breathe like traditional stucco. If moisture becomes trapped behind the layers, it can’t escape. Be sure all openings or gaps in window or door frames are sealed so moisture can’t enter, and keep gutters clean and positioned so they drain away from the siding. 

A Stucco Siding Tip

EIFS must be installed by a professional and traditional stucco installation is a very challenging DIY project. Over the long haul, you’ll actually save money when pros install the stucco siding. CLAD Siding will help you find licensed and insured stucco siding contractors near you who are experienced and reputable. The expert installation will provide a long-lasting result, ensuring your home maintains beauty and value.


If you’ve decided that stucco siding is the right choice for your home, let CLAD Siding quickly put you in touch with top-rated stucco contractors who are licensed, insured, and true pros. Quotes are fast and free. Get yours now!