EIFS Synthetic Stucco vs. Traditional Hard Coat

By HomeAdvisor

Updated May 19, 2021

Traditional stucco exterior of home Southern California
© KathyDewar/Getty Images

Traditional stucco, also known as hard coat, and Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS) synthetic stucco have a similar appearance that adds an attractive finish to your home’s exterior. But although they look alike, they have differing properties. For example, traditional hard coat contains Portland cement, lime and sand. It’s applied directly onto concrete or masonry in up to three coats and dries to a rock-like finish. EIFS, on the other hand, is acrylic and applied in multiple layers over exterior sheathing such as plywood or polystyrene.

On This Page:

  1. What’s the Difference Between EIFS and Stucco?
    1. EIFS
    2. Traditional Stucco
  2. Stucco vs. Synthetic Stucco: Pros and Cons
  3. Stucco vs. Synthetic Stucco: Which Is Better?
    1. Cost
    2. Maintenance
    3. Durability
    4. Ease of Cleaning
    5. Environmental Friendliness
  4. Synthetic Stucco vs. Hard Coat: Which is Best?
    1. For Hot Climates
    2. For Cold Climates
  5. Stucco vs. EIFS vs. Other Materials
    1. Acrylic Siding
    2. Concrete Siding
    3. Wood Siding

What’s the Difference Between EIFS and Stucco?

EIFS and traditional hard coat stucco look similar but have some key differences that may influence your choice.


left/bottom: Synthetic Stucco (© ColeCom/Getty Images)
right/top: Traditional Stucco (© George Pachantouris/Getty Images)

Synthetic Stucco (EIFS)

EIFS is an acrylic product that installers apply to an under-panel, such as an insulation board, plyboard, polystyrene sheet or other exterior sheathing. It’s more flexible than traditional stucco and consists of a moisture barrier, foam insulation, cement basecoat, reinforcing fiberglass mesh and an acrylic finish. Synthetic stucco is 80% lighter than traditional hard coat and more durable because it contains fiberglass.

Traditional Stucco

Traditional stucco siding is a natural mix containing Portland cement, finely ground limestone, sand and water. You apply this finish straight onto the building over a reinforcing base mesh, without additional panels or sheathing. It can be used on exterior and interior walls and ceilings. While it’s heavier than its synthetic counterpart, it’s easier to apply and repair.

Stucco vs. Synthetic Stucco: Pros and Cons

Synthetic Stucco (EIFS)

Pros

  • Insulating properties: R-value (a rating of how much heat a material prevents entering or exiting a property) between 4 and 5.6
  • Less prone to cracking and crumbling due to thermal expansion or shifting foundations
  • Fiberglass layer increases durability
  • 80% lighter than hard coat stucco


Cons

  • More complex and time-consuming installation process
  • Not suitable for DIY installation
  • More expensive than traditional stucco
  • Difficult to customize


Traditional Stucco

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Cures rapidly
  • Easy to repair
  • Less likely to absorb water


Cons

  • Heavy. Weighs 10lbs per sq. ft.
  • Prone to cracking over time
  • Susceptible to buckling in extremely hot weather


Stucco vs. Synthetic Stucco: Which Is Better?

Both hard coat and EIFS stucco are fire-resistant and provide an attractive finish to your property, but differ in some of the most important criteria.

Cost

Most Affordable: Traditional Stucco

Cost is a major influencing factor when you’re planning any home renovation project. To work out the average cost of siding, you’ll need to know your home’s exterior square footage.

Traditional Stucco

Stucco costs $7 to $9 per square foot installed, with materials costing between $5 and $6 per square foot and labor costing $2 to $3 per square foot.

Synthetic Stucco (EIFS)

With installation, EIFS costs between $7 and $12. The materials cost between $3 and $5 per square foot and labor costs $4 to $7.

Maintenance

Easiest Maintenance: Synthetic Stucco (EIFS)

Before you make a big decision like traditional stucco vs. EIFS, it’s important to understand how much maintenance is involved. There are pros and cons to both.

Traditional Stucco:

  • Clean regularly
  • Avoid painting, as this seals the pores and causes long-term maintenance problems
  • Avoid letting sprinkler systems spray onto the stucco
  • Perform regular inspections to check for any damage

Synthetic Stucco (EIFS):

  • Clean regularly
  • Inspect regularly to check for cracks. Pay close attention to corners and seams
  • Always inspect for damage after storms
  • Do not drill into EIFS. This creates a weak spot that can let rain seep in

Durability

Most Durable: Synthetic Stucco (EIFS)

If you’re planning to invest in your home’s exterior, it’s important that the finish lasts, keeps looking its best, and protects the bricks and mortar beneath.

Traditional Stucco:

  • Extremely durable
  • Resistant to fire, rot and mold
  • Resistant to termite infestation
  • Resistant to moisture damage
  • Resistant to impact damage

Synthetic Stucco (EIFS):

  • Extremely durable
  • Strong enough to withstand hurricane-strength wind
  • More prone to water absorption and damage than traditional stucco
  • Slightly less resistant to impact damage

Ease of Cleaning

Easiest Cleaning: Tie

It’s important to keep your home’s exterior clean, and your siding should make this as easy as possible.

Traditional Stucco:

  • Needs thorough cleaning once a year
  • Time-consuming but reasonably easy process
  • Inexpensive materials: use a concentrated water-based cleaner
  • Avoid power washers. These can damage the stucco and let water seep in

Synthetic Stucco (EIFS):

  • Double-check whether your EIFS warranty has any cleaning specifications. If so, stick to them so you don’t accidentally void your warranty
  • Use non-acidic cleaners
  • Use diluted bleach for stubborn dirt

Environmental Friendliness

Greenist Product: Tie

If you’re planning on applying new stucco or repairing an existing coating, you have the opportunity to make an environmentally friendly siding choice.

Traditional Stucco:

  • Natural materials
  • Energy efficient
  • Recyclable
  • Minimal manufacturing
  • Strong, long-lasting product

Synthetic Stucco (EIFS):

  • Slightly more energy efficient
  • Contains natural and synthetic materials
  • Water-based adhesive and finishes
  • Strong, long-lasting product

Hard coat stucco exterior of house
© Oliver Childs/Getty Images

Synthetic Stucco vs. Hard Coat: Which Is Best?

Your local climate can impact the best stucco choice for your property. While EIFS and hard coat are both resilient and long-lasting, each performs best in differing conditions.

For Hot Climates

Traditional hard coat is a smart choice for hot climates. It doesn’t shrink or expand with temperature fluctuations, so it’s less likely to crack. Traditional stucco also won’t melt or warp in extreme temperatures and is fire-resistant, and it performs well in humid conditions.

For Cold Climates

Both traditional stucco and EIFS can withstand cold climates. However, because EIFS is slightly more energy-efficient and better at insulating, it’s the best choice in colder locations.

Stucco vs. EIFS vs. Other Materials

When comparing siding materials, stucco and EIFS are just two of many exterior finishes. You may find another option, such as traditional wooden siding, is better suited to your home and budget. If you’re still unsure which is the best choice for your property, contact a local home exterior professional to discuss your options.

vs. Acrylic Siding

Acrylic siding is made of PVC plastic resin boards. It’s treated to resist mildew, rot and chipping. Acrylic siding is cost-effective, easy to install and available in many colors. However, it can warp and melt in hot climates.

vs. Concrete Siding

Concrete siding, also known as fiber cement siding, is a good choice for Earth-conscious homeowners because it’s made of natural, sustainable materials: wood pulp and Portland cement. Like traditional stucco, concrete siding is non-combustible.

vs. Wood Siding

Wooden siding is a popular choice for homeowners who want a traditional look. While there are many suitable wood varieties, cedar and redwood are common because they’re resistant to decay. Wood siding is quick and easy to install, and it’s simple to replace a damaged board. Wood is renewable and biodegradable, so if it’s sustainably sourced, it’s an environmentally-friendly choice.

Ready to start your stucco siding installation?

7 Comments

  1. Jordan, September 10:

    Hello , I have a 1750 sq. ft. house , how much would I be looking at to stucco the house , house has siding on it now . Thanks

  2. Johnny rhoades, October 6:

    My home is stucco now but it needs lots of repairs to the stucco due to hail and high winds. Mostly war would and tare. What would be the easyst way to fix it and where can I get some of this product. My house is is around 1600 square thanks

  3. HomeAdvisor, October 12:

    Hi Johnny. Consider consulting our Cost Guide for Stucco Repair information and prices, or this guide with some small tips on stucco repair. Consulting a professional may be the best way to get the information you need specific to your home.

  4. James Hurley, July 5:

    Hi, almost 40 years on the tools and 28 years (and counting) as a stucco contractor. EIFS (Synthetic Stucco) actually absorbs less water that C/S (Conventional Stucco) when applied correctly. The issues that arised with EIFS and moisture problems were because of application errors, omitted flashings/sealant joints etc. We do both systems so we are unbiased in our professional opinion based on experience. The other issue with EIFS was the impact factor, it is more easily damaged as the thickness of the coatings are approx 3/16″ to 1/4″ with EPS foam backing. Woodpeckers loved it as it reminded them of pecking on a rotted tree, the best solution to prevent such damage is to apply a layer of 20oz heavy duty reinforce fiberglass mesh designed for hi-impact situations, this is then followed up with the standard 4.5 oz mesh as required by the EIFS industry. Bottom line, both systems perform wonderfully when properly installed by professionals.

  5. Anthony in Albuquerque, July 28:

    Can synthetic stucco be applied over traditional stucco for a whole home re-stucco job?
    Thanks

  6. Brian Williams, July 27:

    My Idaho home has an EIFS stucco exterior that is 25 years old. The outer stucco coating has peeled off along the bottom 1-1 1/2 inches of the walls in numerous places revealing the asbestos and inner metal core enclosing styrofoam. Is there something available to patch this with? Is there a risk of water absorption if it is not sealed? Thank you

  7. NH, August 10:

    Can traditional stucco, if I add a new layer of twisted chicken wire, be put on top of synthetic stucco. I currently have synthetic and hate it. I want traditional stucco. Thanks

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