Synthetic vs Traditional Stucco Siding

Traditional stucco siding has been used in homes for generations. Around the 1950s, a synthetic stucco siding began to replace traditional stucco in some homes. Also called Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS), synthetic stucco siding can be a terrific alternative, but there are benefits to each.

The Basics

Traditional stucco siding is made from Portland cement, sand, lime, and water. This mixture is applied in three coats over a lath base, or a piece of mesh, and often coated with an expansive acrylic-polymer finish to deter cracking. Synthetic stucco siding, on the other hand, is multilayered. There is a foam insulation board (typically polystyrene), a coat of the synthetic stucco, fiberglass mesh, and then a top coat.

How Can You Tell the Difference?

If you have stucco walls and are unsure whether they are traditional or synthetic, it’s no surprise. They two look almost identical. The way to see is to simply push on the wall. Traditional stucco will be rigid, while the synthetic will be a bit softer. Also, if there is a light fixture, vent, or other hole in the wall (hopefully not made by your child), you will be able to see the layering. If there is wire mesh, it is stucco, if there is foam core, it is synthetic.

Benefits to Synthetic Stucco Siding (EIFS)

Synthetic stucco siding was developed in postwar Europe as a way to patch walls. When builders realized how energy efficient the material was, it was soon used as an alternative to traditional stucco. Because of this, in the 1970s energy crisis it became widely popular. Because of the multiple layering, EIFS is a better insulator than traditional stucco siding. It is also more flexible, allowing ornate keystones, cornerstones and other accents that traditional stucco previously could not hold. And unlike poorly installed traditional stucco, synthetic stucco does not yellow or fade, which occasionally forces homeowners to paint over their stucco.

Benefits to Traditional Stucco Siding

The benefits of traditional stucco come in wetter conditions, as it is less likely to absorb water (and be damaged by it) than synthetic stucco siding. Similarly, synthetic stucco is a lighter material. Traditional stucco siding will hold up better to dings, hail, and woodpeckers. And while EIFS is more energy efficient, it is a small matter of degree. Both will be fire resistant, a great barrier to sound and the elements, and both come in a variety of styles and colors.

EIFS is slightly more expensive but the difference in cost is minimal. The benefits of each are best weighed for your own personal need. If you live in a wet area, or have children who like to hit golf balls against your home’s walls, you might consider traditional stucco. If you want to use stucco for ornate design, or are concerned about energy efficiency, you might consider synthetic. If all of the above are true—well, you’ve got to make your own decision of priority.

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6 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

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