These are pictures of our house. This house was built in 1998 by Dennis Godshall of Harleysville, PA. The house was not quite 7 years old when these were taken. We started to suspect we had a problem because the rooms inside developed a musty smell - we traced the smell to around the electrical outlets, so we knew it was something inside the walls. We could not see any leaks, but a moisture meter did detect moisture in the walls at multiple spots. You can see that due to multiple construction defects (including defective stucco, incorrect window installation, and improper grading), the house was literally rotting to pieces beneath an exterior that appeared to be fine. Not even our contractor expected the damage to be as extensive as what they found.
This photo album will document the before, during, and after pictures of the repair process. Note that we start the story with lots of background - if you're just after the gory details, skip to picture 15. You can page through the pictures using the "Next" or "Show All" links on the left side below this message.
Please feel free to sign the guestbook or add comments to the pictures. If you'd like to email me privately, you may do so at firstname.lastname@example.org
Date(s): September 30, 2005. 31 - 60 of 410 Total. 26802 Visits.
31 Rim Joist From Basement This is a random shot of the rim joist taken from the basement. This was covered by batt insulation, which we pulled down. You can see some staining and mildew. This is not in one of the corners that is the most rotten - actually, this is near the front porch on a side of the house we haven't even started yet. Joy.
32 Typical Window Installation Here is a shot showing you how the windows were "flashed" with 30lb felt. The top trim board on this window was all rotten - it's no wonder. All of the water that was absorbed by the stucco just dumped right down into it. Where's the j-bead/plaster stop? Where's the head flashing? Again, a couple cents worth of metal could have prevented this disaster...
33 Or could it? All this rot can't be pinned only on the windows, though. On all the walls we opened up, there is more rot at the corners of the wall than there is under the windows. Why? Well, maybe all these cracks have something to do with it. We caulked these cracks in June, just to keep the water out while we waited for our contractor to come. Until then, they had been wide open. (Remember, our home inspector said the cracks were superficial and nothing to worry about...)
A construction defects engineer (Hi Glenn!) told us that even a very minute crack can suck in amazing amounts of water. And we had LOTS of cracks...especially in the corners. See? "Wet, swollen OSB will cause more stucco cracks, worse..." View Comments...
34 More cracks This is the kind of cracking evident in all the corners. This isn't even in one of the "smelly" rooms. Hopefully, because this is the southwest exposure, the sun will have helped to dry things out and it won't be as rotten as the others.
35 One more crack shot This is the window next to the corner in the last 2 pictures. Again, note the astonishing number of cracks. Perhaps the cement in the stucco was mixed or applied wrong, or not given long enough to cure? Note that there are no expansion joints to allow for stucco movement, so some cracking was inevitable. There's no weep screed either - so no way for water to drain once it gets trapped back there.
On a happier note, the window at the bottom is level with the foundation and those vents are coming through the rim joist. Finally, a spot with proper grading. Let's hope this rim joist is in slightly better shape!
36 Monday 10/3/05 - A New Week Begins... And lots is happening. We've repaired some of the worst rot (rim joists, corner studs). We've removed wet/damaged insulation. And we've wiped down the studs with bleach and cleaner to kill the mold.
37 Laundry Room Window Repairs On the left side of the porch, things are looking better. Thanks to Dave, Ken, Ray and their trusty sawzalls, we have new corner studs, rim joists, and sills in the original rotten corner from picture # 16.
38 Another view of our new corner... All that and only one nail pop inside. Thank goodness for 2x6 studs.
39 Dining Room Window Studs Here's the window from pictures 23 & 24. These are the studs after scrubbing them with bleach. The studs around the window will be replaced. We had to order 2 new window frames from Andersen today (at a cost of $550!) because this one and the one around the corner (yet to be revealed in an upcoming picture) are too far gone to save.
40 Northeast Corner The new wood is on the left, in case you couldn't tell (ha ha). We will be replacing the other one tomorrow.
41 Behind the 2nd story ribbon board ... ...lies a whole bunch of nasty subfloor. (See picture 25 for the "Before" picture.) This would be a royal pain to get out of there, and it seems more or less structurally ok, so we're gonna hit it with the bleach bucket and carry on our merry way.
Oh, and the subfloor is the first sign of plywood we've seen so far. It didn't fare any better than the OSB. Hey, never let it be said that we aren't equal opportunity rotters around here.
42 Moving around the corner... ...to the front of the house, we have more rotten sheathing. And, as an extra bonus, more rotten studs. And 2 rotten rim joists...and a rotten window frame...
This photo album is going to get real repetitive, real fast.
43 First floor front corner window Note the spongified trim. This can't be good.... "No flshing above the trim or window." View Comments...
44 ...And it isn't.... Doesn't look any better than the side window.
I'm sensing a theorem here: Spongy trim = No studs + rotten frame = $$$$$ "Wood trim should be considered "sacrificial"..." View Comments...
45 Front corner rim joist Looks...well...the same as the other rim joist around the corner. Rotten.
Oh, and it's buried but good in the dirt too.
46 Under the front window I had to crawl behind the bushes like some sort of nature photographer to get this shot. Note - the OSB immediately under the window is in perfect shape. The rest of it is disintegrated. What that means? I have no idea. "No moisture barrier under the bottom nail fin nor a s..." "The less rotted OSB can be due to extra drying from m..." "There was, acutally, a moisture barrier--but it was i..." View Comments...
47 Rake Wall Mystery - Another clue? Remember the mysterious line of rot behind the scaffolding. Well, behind the line of rot was.... "Could it be the tarpaper had holes in it due to the B..." View Comments...
48 Our first bit of moldy drywall Now...immediately on the other side of this wall is the tile master bedroom shower. Note that they tiled over regular drywall - this is not green board or cement board. The tile covers the floor, walls, and ceiling of the shower and appears to be in fine shape. Note that the mold is only at the top (ceiling of the shower) and works its way down the wall a little bit.
Any ideas where this water is coming from? The OSB here was too far gone to tell whether the rot came from the inside or the outside, but I have to wonder if the shower doesn't have something to do with this, since it's the only moldy drywall we've found so far. Could water be escaping through the tile into the drywall (and then all the way out through the insulation and OSB)? Or did the moisture that entered the wall cavity from the outside simly condense more on the tile wall (perhaps because it because it couldn't dry to the inside due to the tile?) Anybody want to venture a guess? "Tiles are a vapor barrier. Wet stucco will try to dry..." "Grout lines are permeable. So is mortar bed or thin s..." View Comments...
49 Cross Section of the Stucco I thought I'd post some pictures of the stucco. This is the stucco in the front NE corner of the house, under the dining room window. I don't see 3 distinct coats. There is 15 lb felt and wire lath. The stucco is about 1/2" thick, as you can see by the ruler. Shouldn't it be thicker?
(UPDATE - Spring 2009 - I have since learned that according to the building code that was in effect when the house was built (CABO), 3-coat stucco must be a minimum of 3/4" thick. Oops.) "Not according to the onecoat er reports!! If the use..." "Actually, this photo does not show stucco 1/2-inch th..." View Comments...
50 Another view of the same section of stucco You can sort of see the layers here, I guess....
51 Another stucco cross section This is a cross section of the stucco on the wall next to the outside shower. Again, looks kind of thin to me, but I am no stucco expert.
52 It's Wednesday, 10/5, and we're making progress It's supposed to pour later this week, so the contractors are trying to get stuff weatherproofed beforehand. Here we've got new sheathing up on the rake wall peak and on the family room east wall. Those 2 holes up there are going to vent the master bathroom fans - they were randomly shoved into the soffit at the right side of this picture. Now they'll have proper vents.
53 Sheathing near laundry room window This is the original corner that began this photo album. Notice the attractive patchwork quilt effect. It just adds to the historic look of the house, right? (And that musty smell? hey, might as well have the old-house smell to go along with the old-house look!)
Here we left the bottom part of the wall open for a bit longer, to dry out the rim joist. We'll be putting pressure treated plywood back on the bottom 2 feet all the way around the house.
54 By the end of the day We had felt paper on the peak.
It's all good....
55 Family Room West Wall They did tear off the family room west wall today. It was discolored, but not rotten.
Looks like our theory is going to hold - where the sun exposure is better, the damage will be less. We hope.
56 Family Room West Wall Closeup You can see the discoloration here. Inside the house, directly below that light fixture is an electrical outlet that really smells musty. I'm a little worried because there doesn't appear to be that much damage to the sheathing, so where is the odor coming from? They'll be pulling the bottom couple feet of sheathing to replace it with PT plywood, so we'll get to check out the rim joist - maybe there's problems inside that aren't apparent from here. "it went up wet" View Comments...
57 Since there's not too much new... to show you, I thought I'd post some random pictures for your perusal. Remember the bit about the stucco thickness yesterday? Well up at the top of this wall (where the good sheathing is) the stucco is at least 1/4" thicker than lower down the wall (where the rot is). Coincidence?
58 Closeup of Thicker Stucco Don't know if you can really tell from the picture, but from the ground, you can look up and see that it is much thicker at the top, and slopes in getting thinner as it goes down toward the rotten wood. "I would be willing to be the paper had holes in it du..." "Thicker stucco may be only one part of the equation. ..." View Comments...
59 More cracks This is the front NE corner. Note the amount of cracking above the rot. I really do think that the water was coming in the cracks and just couldn't find its way back out.
I don't think I mentioned yet that this stucco was painted when the house was built. The building specs say "vinyl paint" but the builder told me it was regular latex paint. At any rate, people in the know have told me that painting stucco does not allow it to breathe, so water that comes in can't evaporate back out. "Between the top trim by the soffit and the stucco. If..." View Comments...
60 More cracks This is the front NE corner wall. I'd be willing to bet all the sheathing underneath this will be a wreck. We'll find out soon enough....
Don't stop now - there's lots more if you just click the "Next 30" button below.
I am so sorry for what you experienced. As we shop for a home, we've seen insides of houses that look spectacular at the same time water has destroyed their (criminally crappy) stucco exteriors. We're lucky to have a very good inspector. I wish everyone had such a good inspector. - Twix, Wed, 30 Oct 2013 11:15AM
I found your site/blog researching copper roofs etc. After looking at every picture, even though it's your house, I want to kill myself! LOL. Oh my word, I don't know how you survived it all. Thankfully it does seem to have a happy ending. Cheers. - Patrick K, Sat, 7 Sep 2013 4:49PM
First off, thank you for your documentation! I hope this stays up forever. It's the best documentation I've ever seen for stucco houses!
My wife and I purchased a stucco house in 2009 after looking at 50+ other houses. The house was built in 2000 and it met everything we wanted. Slightly before we purchased our front-loading washer & drier we noticed a musky sewage smell. I think that has to do with the drainage. We've also noticed a distinct musky/mildewy smell in the main foyer of the house in the in-between seasons like you mentioned. We however run the HVAC fan all the time. This is the only area of the house we smell it.
I'm going to try your outlet test and PRAY I don't smell anything. If I do, I think my heart & stomach will sink even more than it already has while reading your article. I have noticed some cracks in the stucco, but never thought anything of it. Now I'm terrified! We were looking at moving in the next year, but this will land us here permanently for a long time if this same damage has occurred.
It appears badstucco's site is in disarray these days. Like it was forgotten.
Well, I could blame my heartburn on the pizza I ate tonight -- but I think it has more to do with reading your story. Oy!
I came across this site while looking up information on leaks via stucco. My wife and I bought a house in DC one hour before the 2011 earthquake struck and 4 days before Hurricane Irene. Needless to say, there was a lot of leakage and damage. And after spending $$$ on various roof "fixes" I still have a leaking kitchen ceiling. Your site made me realize things could be worse. Ha! All the best to you! -Neil - Neil, Fri, 12 Jul 2013 7:30PM
Please don't take down this site - ever. I have a similar problem, but I live in a condo. After years of fighting with the HOA about whose is responsible for the structural defects, I sued. Basically, I was suing my neighbors, so I wasn't the most popular gal around. In fact, I was physically threatened by three neighbors. I paid about $300,000 for legal, engineering and mold experts. Repairs were finally made, but the next rainy season, there was more water intrusion. More repairs, more water intrusion. That continued for four years. I now live without a kitchen, walls, flooring, cabinetry, etc. My place still smells like mold. All of the tie downs, nails and electrical boxes attached to the studs are rusted. Why did I stay and fight? I wanted to preserve my credit and not have a foreclosure on my record. The $300,000 was paid in small amounts over a long period of time. Each month, I was told that we were closer to a solution - just another $10K here and there. Obviously, I should have walked away and let the bank foreclose. Your website is amazing and informative. I don't feel alone anymore. Enjoy your new home. - Nikki, Thu, 11 Apr 2013 10:46PM
Perhaps you already addressed this, but have you looked into suing the builder? I am not a big proponent of suing people (despite my profession!) but it seems fair that your builder should share this burden. In the end there may be reasons you cannot sue (like a statute of limitations)or recover anything, but I hope you have at least considered it. I feel your pain! - Mary Ann Leichty, Sun, 10 Jun 2012 12:02AM
Thank you for your very informative documentation and taking the time to do so to help others. I just rented a home which we thought was a perfect chance for more room and space to combine families, and the musty smell is driving me crazy. Thanks to your time and attention in relaying your experience, we now know what to look for before we spend money on professionals to look further.
I just happened upon your site as we are just starting our nightmare. Our problem was brought to light by termites. The house is 100% EIFS clad and we're not sure of the extent of damage yet. My wife and I are originally from lower Bucks so we're re very familiar with your area as we still get up that way often to visit family. We now live in Virginia Beach, Va.. We have been in this house for 17years (new when we moved in) before the problem was brought to light. I certainly feel your pain and hope the ache has dulled. - John A Smith, Sat, 19 May 2012 2:24PM
You are a strong woman! Thanks for sharing your story....we have recently moved into a 7 year old house that has a musty smell. I am praying that we do not have a situation as bad as yours was. - Lindsay, Fri, 24 Feb 2012 2:22AM
Just found this site while I was looking for information about bad smells coming from odour damage. I didn't expect to stay so long, then I started reading and thought what a great job you did documenting everything and explaining everything, and especially *understanding* everything that they'd done wrong. I thought of posting to say you're pretty amazing and intelligent. Then I kept reading and the saga kept unfolding until I learned at the end that you are also a beautiful person who decided not to sue an innocent despite having legal recourse to go ahead. I'm sorry that being a smart and kind person hasn't made you more lucky with your house, and the financial and health problems it has caused you. Best regards from Canada - Jon W - Jon W, Sat, 17 Sep 2011 6:43PM