Restoring Expectations and Driving Industry Change

Gavin Semrow, founder of Ai Restoration, is partnering with Dörken to help aid in the remediation process and educate building professionals on the dangers of improper stucco and manufactured stone cladding installation.

Stucco and manufactured stone veneers have been used for decades in the building industry. These claddings were once viewed as a high-end, very aesthetically pleasing cladding systems that were suitable for keeping water out long term.

Without the right underlying system, these cladding materials can cause water leaks and uncontrolled moisture, which leads to mold, wall rot, and decay. This eventually affects the aesthetics and structural integrity of a home if left untreated. Having been actively involved in the remediation industry for the past 23 years, Gavin has seen firsthand how invasive and devastating failing stucco, manufactured stone, and siding are to homeowners, home buyers, and building professionals alike.

Gavin has spent over three decades mastering all facets of residential construction. As founder of Ai Restoration, his focus is solving concerns related to water intrusion in building envelopes. Gavin has built Ai Restoration on a foundation of excellence, always striving to inspire and empower his employees to stay passionate and proactive, and provide the highest-quality craftsmanship. He is constantly educating himself and his employees on the latest technology and training courses related to constructing high-performance exterior building envelopes.

Stucco Failure Capital

For most people, a house will be their biggest financial investment. Home ownership is the very symbol of achieving the American dream. In 2010, Pennsylvania was named the stucco failure capital of the United States. This crisis is devastating homeowners all over the area. They can’t sell their homes and they can’t afford to fix them. As a result, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has since introduced Regular Session 2019-2020 House Bill 879. The bi-partisan legislation aims to protect consumers and provide recourse to address building practices that have allowed for construction failures, including stucco failure.

Even more alarming, experts say that this damage can’t be seen in 80-90% of cases – meaning homeowners are unaware of the issues that may be hiding within their walls. And with roughly 90,000 new single-family homes constructed in Southeastern Pennsylvania since 2001, the extent of the damage in the region may not yet be fully realized. For most, this issue and the associated repair costs have left them completely blindsided and in need of cost-effective solutions. “Repairs can cost anywhere from $50,000 – $400,000 per household,” said Gavin. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that there are continued issues with application techniques, and the industry needs to come together. We need to create a system that will make our buildings better, to specify the right system made up of the right products, and we need to follow up to ensure proper installation. It’s the only way we can prevent future issues with these types of cladding.”

As this issue escalates, Gavin knows that there is much to be done to repair what was once the second most popular siding choice in the United States.

Before remediation with visible ‘stucco tears’, a clear sign that moisture has started to create damage to the home.

The Struggles with Stucco and Manufactured Stone

One of the biggest challenges that builders are facing is how to limit the dampness that can move through a wall from the outside, while managing moisture that originates from the inside of a wall. Without proper ventilation and drainage, moisture can accumulate between the water-resistive barrier and cladding of a building.

For highly absorbent reservoir claddings like stucco and manufactured stone, these challenges become even greater. Improper building with these materials can be a serious drawback, affecting not only homeowners and their properties – but also the credibility of builders and contractors down the line.

Gavin noted, “From what I have seen in just the last couple of years, builders are really struggling with the impact the stucco and stone veneer issues are having on them. One particular builder from Montgomery County was sued by the State Attorney General’s Office. As a result, he has since filed for bankruptcy.”

Another challenge that needs to be addressed is the building process overall. Gavin is seeing a trend within the industry, where building contracts have grown, deadlines have gotten tighter, and more subcontractors are coming onboard. The bad news is, in many cases, the more hands involved in the build, the higher the chance that things can get overlooked.

“The industry has gotten away from just a few contractors building a home, to a large number of different subcontractors building a home,” continued Gavin. “With this approach, small parts of the exterior building system are overlooked, leaving everyone pointing fingers at one another. By specifying an effective system made up of the right products and proper installation, you’ll have a better build.”

Creating Initiatives to Inspire Change

To raise awareness on this issue in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Ai Restoration will be part of two half-day building remediation forums staged at Delaware Valley University in Bucks County this spring. These forums are meant to address the growing stucco and siding issue that has affected homes in Bucks County and the surrounding areas for more than 20 years. One forum will be directed toward building professionals, while the other will be directed to homeowners, buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals.

“Our goal is to have experts from the remediation industry address the current stucco and siding failure concerns that are occurring in Southeastern Pennsylvania,” said Gavin. Lawyers, home inspectors, builders, manufacturers, and other industry experts will also be involved, providing their insights and resources for all who attend.

Gavin feels hopeful that through education, new technologies, and ideas, solutions can be brought forth.  “We want to help and do our part to provide valuable and effective solutions for homeowners, contractors, and builders,” he stated.

These remediation forums are just one initiative that Gavin and Ai Restoration are taking on to help the construction industry and those in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Remediation Process

According to Gavin, when it comes to stucco and siding repair or replacement costs, the range varies based on the size and age of the home, how early the problem has been identified, and whether the homeowner is looking for a quick fix or a longer-term solution to their problem. This will determine the degree of the remediation applied to the home. Some building repair cases may only need maintenance while, unfortunately, many need full replacement of the exterior cladding along with the installation of a water/moisture/air barrier for all-important water and air tightness, as well as an improved rainscreen membrane made of a special High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) that will provide ventilation and drainage.

Interestingly, 95 percent of home wall rot today can be traced back to incorrect product selection, improper installation, and lack of maintenance. But Gavin stresses the importance of not generalizing because variables are always different. “Builders are not always to blame – we now have new technology, smarter products, and better building techniques that weren’t known 10 years ago.”

2-in-1 Solution for Builders and Contractors

Through education on emerging technology and new products like DELTA®-DRY & LATH, builders are able to build to higher standards.

The new DELTA®-DRY & LATH gives you all the benefits of DELTA®-DRY, but also includes a fiberglass lath to create a one-step moisture control and lath system. Using DELTA®-DRY & LATH means installers no longer require a metal lath, which allows them to save time and effort. Plus, the alkali-resistant glass is not affected by chemicals and will not corrode.

DELTA®-DRY, one of Dörken’s moisture-protection products, is designed to help protect structures from moisture, weather, and mold. A dual-chambered ventilated rainscreen, DELTA®-DRY stops wet and dampness from moving through the wall from the outside and works to remove any moisture in the wall that originates from inside the home. Made from a semi-rigid, heavy-duty polyethylene membrane, DELTA®-DRY is the first of its kind to dry and drain and can’t be penetrated by air or moisture.

DELTA®-STUCCO & STONE can be used when installing stucco or stone veneer and includes a pre-installed mortar screen.

“A major benefit of using these products is that we’re creating a building envelope that is protective and preventative,” said Gavin. The DELTA®-DRY and DELTA®-STUCCO & STONE membranes are designed to provide exceptional ventilation and drainage and protect against moisture and dampness. DELTA®-DRY & LATH is a great new addition that’s quick and easy to install, dramatically reduces risk, and provides superior drainage and ventilation through the air gap on either side of the membrane.

“Ai Restoration uses DELTA®-DRY on every stucco and stone veneer job we do. We have seen the science behind how this product works, but more importantly, we have seen in the field that this product truly works.”

Gavin’s Outlook on the Future

What advice does Gavin have for those looking to find a proactive approach to better building? He recommends looking at the science behind the problem and the fix. Don’t look at just a single component to try and solve this catastrophic problem.

“We need to look at the science behind the problem and the fix, but we also need to listen to the experience of the experts in the remediation industry that are seeing firsthand the causes and solutions of stucco and siding failures. Add these two components together and we now have a proactive approach to better building.”

There is still a lot of work to be done before homeowners and professionals can feel a sense of relief, but the good news is that there are experts like Gavin and Ai Restoration who are ready and willing to do what they can to make stucco and manufactured stone into a viable choice for builders once again.

Completed remediation project.