Stucco and EIFS homes may not be the best for the Houston climate. Here are some concerns with these wall coverings.
As more people are beginning to realize that they are having issues with stucco or EIFS exterior coverings, I have seen an increase in using masonry coverings. These can be a truly striking feature on a home. However, if you are not careful, they can also have the same problems that stucco and EIFS have.
Any wall exposed to the elements needs to have a way for moisture to come out of it, and it needs to be kept above the foundation. Our friends the termites love to have hidden paths into our homes. By having the masonry covering come down to the ground to cover that unsightly foundation, you have accomplished two things: 1) created a perfect hiding place for termites to move up into your home; and 2) allow moisture to migrate to your wood framing. In the past, the code called for at least 4 inches of foundation to be exposed for masonry veneers, but I heard that this has been change to 6 inches. Weepholes or screens at the bottom of exterior coverings like stucco, EIFS, or the fake stone work covers helps the moisture behind the walls to seep out. This has been the biggest problem for exterior sidings: the lack of a means for moisture to escape. As long as the means is present, these wall coverings can work well with no problems to the framing.
Why do I choose to write this post? I have seen an increase of builders covering their foundations on homes, not leaving the 4 inch gap. I read an article this month from a builder who instructed other contractors to do the same. You see, a builder will construct a home to your tastes, and if the public complains about an unsightly foundation, the builder will cover it up. The builder might not even know that he just caused a problem. In a reversal of fortune, some affordable homes are built better than luxury/custom homes, simply because the buyers do not make many special requests. One study showed that affordable housing (housing under $135,000) is built to better energy efficiency standards than other housing.
The best course of action for builders is to educate their clients on what can happen if a home is built the way that they want it, and for those people considering building your own home to educate themselves first before making requests. In the end when you sell the home, you will just have a nasty old inspector like me pointing out your beautiful flaws.
Update: This post caused some controversy for me when it was first published. I was contacted by a few people who felt that I was being harsh, and that this practice was acceptable. I did recently find that a correction was published to the original article. The author admitted not mentioning the gap was a mistake. He writes that he is using a technique that I find questionable. He is digging out the soil to the required exposure, then he backfills with rock and a black tube drain. In this way, the water issue should be dealt with. The problem remains that insects have a covered entry route into the home. He also wrote that he is including the srceen at the base for moisture behind the wall to escape.