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Caring for Your Exterior Concrete and Stucco Restoration

Caring for Your Exterior

 Southern Florida's homeowner associations may not have to deal with much in the  way of snow and ice when it comes to protecting and repairing their concrete  and stucco surfaces, but they certainly aren't off the hook just because  blizzards don't often happen in the Sunbelt.  

 Tough as they may look, concrete and stucco exteriors need regular care and  maintenance. Failing to maintain and repair them can result in unsightly  conditions, reduced value, and costly repairs down the road.  

 Concrete Facts

 Concrete and stucco have been used as building materials for hundreds of years,  says Mike Rhodes, owner of Homestead Paving in Miami. Conventional or  non-structural concrete is used for sidewalks, curbs, and pavements. Anything  that is vertical, or spans across columns, is structural concrete, and is  composed of different base materials suited for the particular job being done.  

 By contrast, stucco is a surface treatment that is applied wet to a building's  exterior (often over an underlying concrete structure) and hardens to a very  dense solid. It is used as decorative coating for walls and ceilings and as a  sculptural and artistic material in architecture.  

 According to Colin Meneely, president of the Southeast Florida chapter of the  International Concrete Repair Institute (ICRI) in Pompano Beach, there are a  multitude of additives and coatings available to help both materials remain  sound and stand up to the elements, including specialized anti-corrosion  coatings for reinforcement bars and corrosion inhibitors that can be added  directly to the concrete mixture at the plant. “There are also thousands of coatings that can be applied to the concrete after  it has been placed to enhance the performance, appearance, and life span,” he says. “A design professional should always be consulted to determine the proper product  for the application.”  

 “We usually don’t have any problems with freezing and thawing in South Florida,” says Gerard Moulzolf, vice president and branch manager for American  Engineering Testing Inc. in Bonita Springs and one of the directors of ICRI. “So concrete strength and durability are not as critical as say, in Minnesota.”  

 That said, there are still certain specifications structural concrete and  similar materials must meet in order to be fit for construction purposes.  According to Diep Tu, director of engineering for the Florida Concrete & Products Association in Orlando, house or condo building foundations are  typically made of 3,500 PSI concrete, while for pavements that support traffic,  the industry recommends 4,000 PSI, notes. “Anything beyond 4,000 PSI would get into structural concrete,” he says.  

 Either way, according to Rhodes, “Maintenance starts at the construction stage. If you don’t get it right at construction, you can’t do a lot about maintenance later on. Once it starts to break up, you have to  replace it.”  

 Keeping it Together

 As in most cases, your association's first line of defense against bigger  concrete and/or stucco-related problems is its own maintenance staff. According  to Raymond O'Steen, owner of O'Steen & Company, a general contractor in Miami, “Traditional cementitious stucco needs to be pressure-cleaned or sandblasted,  with any loose material removed and any faults, cracks or openings repaired  with a similar material. Then it should be sealed, primed and waterproofed. For  exterior surfaces, waterproofing is really the key—much more so than painting. Paint is the lowest level of protection available  for an exterior masonry stucco finish. Water migrates through paint finishes—it's not waterproof. Water that does make it through stucco finishes is very  deteriorating. At minimum, coating and general appearance inspection should be  done about every 24 months.”  

 According to Mariann Gerwig of Carousel Development & Restoration Inc. in Delray Beach, “There are some signs of deterioration that can be found by a simple visual  inspection performed by maintenance personnel and managers. Outward signs  include rust spots, cracks, exposed reinforcing bars, loose concrete and  falling concrete or stucco.” Any new cracks should be noted during regular inspections. See how the cracks  compare over time. Some may not open up further or continue to deteriorate  visibly but that does not mean they can be ignored, adds Rhodes. “Once cracks start to develop the surfaces will break up eventually.”  

 And sometimes the problem goes much deeper—and isn't as apparent to the casual observer. “When moisture penetrates the concrete, it causes the rebar to rust,” Gerwig says. “As rebar rusts, it expands up to seven times its original thickness and exerts a  force of over 10,000 psi that causes large cracks. Seemingly insignificant  problems on a building’s surface may be outward indications of much more serious problems beneath that  can only be determined by a qualified, experienced structural engineer.” Gerwig suggest that HOAs bring in a licensed structural engineer to perform an  in-depth inspection of their buildings every few years.  

 And keep track of what you find, advises Tu. “Keeping good inspection records will allow the owner or management team to take  care of potential problems before it becomes an expensive item,” he says. “Our recommendation is for owners and management organizations to budget a  certain amount annually [for concrete repairs], do a visual inspection, and  perhaps benchmark and see how quickly an area deteriorates to come up with  their own maintenance program.”  

 If a problem exists that is beyond the capability of your staff to repair, it's  time to call in the specialists. Generally, that involves first a structural  engineer who will do a deep inspection of the problem – as well as the surrounding structure—to get a full picture of the situation and what will be needed to correct it. As  with any project big or small, choosing the right professional for the job is  crucial, says Gerwig. “It is important that the engineer recognizes his/her responsibility to the  association, but also that he or she has a track record of dealing fairly and  honestly with restoration contractors, and has a staff adequate to provide  timely inspections and meetings as required without causing delays.”  

 The chosen engineer will survey the building and provide an estimated budget for  the work based on estimated quantities of repairs. They will then prepare and  administer a bid package to solicit bids for the estimated scope of work to  qualified contractors. According to Gerwig, they will also provide signed and  sealed specifications required for the permit, direct the contractor where to  make the repairs and mark those areas, inspect the repairs as they are being  carried out, as well as after the repair is completed. The engineer also issues  inspection letters and issues a final inspection letter to the building  department stating that all work was completed as specified.  

 “While the engineer’s opinions are important,” says Gerwig, “it is ultimately the board of directors who hire—and must get along with - the contractor. The board of directors should review  each of the contractor’s complete and detailed bids. Analysis of the bids should be predicated not only  on price but also on the reputation, financial strength and a successful  history of [similar projects].”  

 If your structural concrete or exterior stucco is in need of care, the pros  agree that any contractor your HOA hires should be an American Concrete  Institute Certified Flatwork Finisher. These finishers offer concrete  construction knowledge, skills, and equipment to get the job done right, as  well as guidelines. ICRI standards are written into all specifications. “Look to see how long a contractor has been in business, and possibly look at  similar, recent jobs they have completed,” says Tu.  

 Getting Quality

 Like with anything else, there are good contractors and bad ones, and in this  day and age when condo and co-op communities are so focused on the bottom line,  it may be tempting to go the cheap route. Unfortunately, that approach can wind  up costing you.  

 “Structural concrete restoration is a unique area of construction that has become  more common in Florida as buildings begin to age,” says Gerwig. “This is a very specialized area of construction that requires special equipment,  materials, processes and procedures, and management. Not only is the work  specialized, but the contracts, billing formats, and warranties that apply in  general construction simply do not work very well for concrete restoration  projects. Over the years, the cooperation of community association boards of  directors, managers, general contractors, structural engineers, and  construction attorneys has resulted in a body of documents, contracts, and  specifications that are commonly used today in concrete restoration.”  

 The pros also suggest that if budgeting is a concern (and when is it not?) your  contractor may be able to develop a maintenance plan to get the necessary work  done while staying within budget. Some may be willing to prioritize phases of  the project and do them on a sectional basis, bit by bit. The key to success in  an approach like this is maintaining a good business relationship with a good  contractor. Assuming you’re happy with the work, continuing with the same contractor will keep the level  of work – and prices - consistent. It also means the contractor will be familiar with  your particular property, which is always an advantage.  

 Tough as they may seem, concrete and stucco have their vulnerabilities – taking the time to care for them and invest in their protection will not only  extend the useful life of these materials, but it will save your association  money and hassle down the road.   

 Hannah Fons is associate editor of The South Florida Cooperator. Editorial  Assistant Maggie Puniewska contributed to this article.

 

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Comments

  • Plaster and stucco are in gearnel finishes for concrete or concrete block walls. Plaster is cementisious material with a base of sand or talc applied by hand for a smooth finish. Stucco is a more rustic or rough surface applied to the surface of the wall by a spray from a compressor, but sometimes stucco is made by hand. Stucco is used to cover great areas in a fast time or to cover imperfections in the wall.The term plaster can also be used for interior gypsum board walls. The joints and corners of the partitions made of lightweight studs and gypsum board panels are finished with gypsum plaster.I hope this can help.