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Northeast Los Angeles: Stucco Versus Wood Homes

By Expert Author: Tracy King

For fortunate homeowners lucky enough to own a classic old wood bungalow or Craftsman house with real wood exteriors in neighborhoods like Pasadena and Altadena, stuccoing is never the answer for your worn wood siding or weathered window frames.

In recent years, many areas of Northeast Los Angeles have experienced an increase of interest from homebuyers. Pasadena real estate and Altadena real estate have been booming for years, as well as other “hot” areas such as Echo Park, Eagle Rock and Highland Park.

The Northeast LA area is notable for these late-19th-Century homes, architecturally significant for their craftsmanship and excellent materials. As buyers are moving into the increasingly gentrified Highland Park, Eagle Rock Altadena and Pasadena neighborhoods, they often face a similar question: What is the cheapest and easiest way to refresh this rundown century-old house? Though you might be tempted to modernize the look of your house, the original wood exterior is fundamental to the vintage character of the house. Stuccoing over old wood will not update the house's appearance; it will only conceal one of its most beautiful assets. Properly maintained wood siding will bring up the resale value of any home and beautify the neighborhood considerably.

Some homebuyers might choose to stucco over wood to save the work of having to repaint the house again and again. This is a common misconception about stucco. In addition to the expense of stuccoing your home, you will have to paint the stucco just as frequently as wood. Cracks will form in your stucco, and you will have to reseal them. Ultimately it's not cheaper or easier to deal with a stucco exterior in comparison to a wood exterior.

It's a myth that stucco is an inexpensive way to insulate a home. Actually, stucco does a poor job, and insulating your attic has been proven to be the cheaper and more effective option. The cost of a professional stucco job will run $6 to $8 per square foot, costing a homeowner at least as much, and possibly up to five times the expense of having the antique wood siding restored, especially in Highland Park where most of the wood exteriors are still in good condition.

Another commonly believed myth is that stucco will prevent rot and help preserve the original wood exterior beneath it. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Stuccoing over the wood would prevent it from breathing, which actually encourages deterioration. A new coat of paint or stain is the most effective preservative for your home's wood exterior.

Fixing a tattered real-wood exterior with a do-it-yourself stucco job may look like a cheap and easy solution for a new homeowner. The result, though, is simply that: cheap. Stuccoing requires a sturdy layer of metal lath to be attached to the wood paneling. This kind of skill is usually left to a contracted professional. Left to an amateur, the results can get ugly. Common stuccoing mistakes include improper plywood sheathing installation, improper selection of lath by weight and style for each span of application, and improper installation of flashing and sealants at all possible points of water entry. Faulty construction can result in premature cracking in the stucco, structural deterioration, and sometimes stucco separation, chipping and peeling off.

Ultimately, preserving the wood exterior is invaluable to your home. The quality of materials and craftsmanship simply cannot be duplicated today. Stucco will only detract from the value and integrity of your home, as it loses the history that gives it character and charm.

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