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What is Stucco?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Stucco is a type of finishing plaster that is commonly used on the exterior of buildings, and has been used in construction for centuries in various forms. While it can also be used inside, specially designed interior plasters have replaced it for interior use in most regions. In ancient times, interior stucco would be made by mixing marble dust, lime, and water to create a smooth plaster which could be molded into elaborate scenes and painted. Spanish, Greek, and Mission style architecture all prominently feature stucco, which helps to reflect heat and keep homes cool.

A variety of materials can be used to make stucco. Traditional material uses lime, a substance made by baking limestone in kilns so that it calcifies, along with with sand and water. These elements are mixed into a paste which can be troweled onto a surface or molded, as used to be common with interior stucco. Stucco made in this fashion is durable, strong, and heavy. Because lime is somewhat soluble, cracks in the plaster will fix themselves, as the lime will drip to fill them if moistened. More commonly today, stucco uses finely ground Portland Cement, sand, and water, which results in a less durable form that easily cracks.

Stucco can be applied to a framework like chicken wire or wood, or it can be plastered over bricks and masonry, as long as they are roughened beforehand. Classically, this plaster is white, as can be seen in Spanish and Greek architecture. It can also be colored with the addition of pigments, as was done on ranch houses in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Once applied, stucco can be scraped smooth or textured with a tool or the introduction of rocks or vegetable matter.

Classical stucco is usually sturdy for the lifetime of the house. Synthetic and cheap replacements, however, are not. Stucco houses sometimes experience issues with rot in the underlying wood or cracking. For this reason, a home made with this material should be carefully inspected before purchase. If a new home is being built out of stucco, it is cost effective to spend more on high quality material so that the home does not have to be repaired later in life. Especially in hot regions, it is an excellent building material because it helps to regulate temperatures when the home is built right.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By OeKc05 — On Apr 18, 2012

I like the look of stucco exterior walls dotted with pebbles. The small stones make the structure seem more sturdy, even if it really isn't.

The library in my town has this kind of walls, and they are called “pebble dash stucco.” The walls look like almost like a driveway. They are light yellow and full of small stones, resembling the driveway paved with gravel inside of a concrete frame.

Having a stucco wall full of pebbles seems like it would make the wall more susceptible to cracks, though. The more indentations that have been made in the plaster, the more chances there are for water to do damage.

By wavy58 — On Apr 17, 2012

I have a friend who moved to Arizona a couple of years ago, and he now owns a stucco home. When he first moved there, he lived in an apartment, and he had a lot of trouble adjusting to the hot climate.

His coworkers had been telling him about stucco and how it kept their houses so much cooler than the outdoor temperature. They all raved about it as a building material, and my friend decided to invest in a stucco home.

It was more expensive than many other types of homes in the area, but you get what you pay for. His house is made of good quality stucco, and it keeps him cool in the desert climate.

By Oceana — On Apr 16, 2012

@seag47 – I have seen some stucco exterior walls that look smooth from a distance, and you can only detect the roughness when you get right upon them. They have the appearance of marble. Most of them are in the yellow to orange range, and the colors fade and swirl into each other like on a marble counter top.

I'm not quite sure what gives the stucco the different colors, but to me, it is definitely more interesting than a wall painted a solid color or brick. It has an almost artistic look to it. When I get my own home, I intend to get one with a stucco exterior.

By seag47 — On Apr 16, 2012

@anon128916 – The stucco I have seen on the walls inside of Mexican restaurants is very lumpy on purpose. It sort of looks like a bowl of chili has been tossed onto the wall, except that it is all one solid color.

There are other stucco finishes that have a smoother surface, but there is always a rough look about them. Even if you smooth out the stucco with a flat scraper, you will still have variations. You will have some raised areas and some slightly lower areas.

Though it might not sound like it, stucco is attractive. Because the imperfections are intentional, they work to make the surface stylish.

By anon128916 — On Nov 21, 2010

what does stucco look like?

By anon29233 — On Mar 29, 2009

How can I safely attach a window box to a stucco wall? Is there such a thing as a 'stucco wall bolt?

Thank you

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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