Saving Your Precious Books and Photos from Water Damage

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Water damage incidents usually catch home owners by surprise, leaving them feeling helpless and simply not knowing where to start. Right away it seems they face a number of tough questions. Should I call a professional water damage restoration service? Is my property and/or family’s health at risk? Can any of this even be saved?

The hardest of these questions for many people may be the last one. Family pictures and precious heirlooms can and do become damaged during these incidents and these items are often the hardest to replace and the toughest to lose. The key though, to saving these items is to act as quickly as possible. While taking all of your photos and books to a professional restoration company is always the best option, there are some things the homeowner can do to at least start the process while they wait for the cavalry to arrive.

Time is of the Essence

If a property owner is going to attempt to salvage their water damaged photos and books on their own, they must act quickly. Mould and mildew can begin growing in as little as 48 hours and once it does, restoration becomes far more difficult.

The first thing that should be done is to remove all of the items from the water and to lightly rinse them with clean water. After rinsing is complete, books and photos can be lightly shaken to help speed the drying process. Books should then be placed in a plastic bag and put in the freezer. This plastic bag should not be vacuum-sealed though because it will inhibit the drying process. The freezer will continue to suck the moisture out of the book completely, but the length of time to do so could vary. Books that are long or thick in length could take up to a couple of weeks to dry. While this may seem inconvenient, it could save the quality of the book entirely.

Preserving Your Photos 

Photos are admittedly significantly more difficult to save than books. They often become stuck together once they become wet, or they can even become stuck to the frames in which they were kept and the inks may begin to run rather quickly, distorting the image.

The best way to separate a photo from another photo, or from its frame, is to soak it in warm water and apply light pressure. This warm water will help aid in the separation process, and will reduce the damage to the photo. Photos that have come into contact with water are in a very volatile state. If a photo is still clear, a picture of the photo should be snapped (with your phone is fine) in case the quality continues to deteriorate (really, it’s better than nothing should everything not go to plan) but as far as possible you should avoid coming in contact with the image side of a photograph.

Once photos have been separated they can be placed  in plastic bags in the freezer. The freezer bags should not be vacuum-sealed and multiple photos can be placed in a bag with wax paper in between. The freezer will suck moisture out of the photos, but they will need to be laid out for final drying. Photos should be laid out flat on a surface that is not in direct sunlight. Fans and dehumidifiers can also be used to aid in this final drying step. You can use weights to help prevent curling of their photos as they finish drying.

While there are no guarantees when dealing with water damaged books and photos, these methods have worked for many and if you are then able to hand off the work to a pro once they arrive the chances that your precious items can be saved is even higher.

Common Sense Tips for Staying Safe in Summer Storms

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Although summer brings sunny skies and soaring temperatures it also brings summer storms, especially in the ‘dog days’ of August. And these storms can – as many of us know first hand – be pretty nasty. As water and fire damage restoration experts we know all too well the damage they can do to homes and commercial buildings. Flooding, fire and more can result from just a single short but violent summer storm, and often there was very little a property’s owners could have done to prevent it it.

But there can be more than just a threat to buildings during a summer storm. Lightning and flash floods injure dozens of Canadians every summer. And while you may have thought of what you would do to help safeguard your home during a summer storm, and even know who to call if something does go wrong do you know what you should be doing to protect yourself? Here are some simple, common sense ways to reduce your risk.

Summer Storm Safety Indoors

Avoid Water and Wires – If lightning strikes a building, the electrical charge it creates can quickly surge through both electrical wiring and water pipes. Essentially this means that you could get shocked if you happen to be in contact with running water OR using any device that is plugged into ‘the mains’.

To be safe, stay away from microwaves, toasters, landline phones and other plugged in gadgets until the storm has passed. And don’t do anything that involves using the tap, even washing the dishes.

Wait for Quiet Skies – Even after the pouring rain stops, it’s usually best to stay inside for a a while longer, even if you are keen to get outside to check for any property damage that may have occurred. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the storm itself, so just because the rain is gone may not mean the danger is just yet.

You can fairly accurately gauge your distance from a storm by the sound of thunder, which usually doesn’t travel more than 10 miles. If you can hear it, you are still at risk. Stay put until the skies are silent again even if the rain stopped a while ago.

Summer Storm Safety Outdoors

Skip Shaky Shelter – If you are caught outside in an open area during a storm – a park perhaps – it’s very tempting to take cover under a picnic shelter or maybe in golf cart. However, in open-sided structures with no conductors to channel strikes, a lightning bolt’s path of least resistance to the ground could be you. Instead keep moving towards proper shelter as quickly and calmly as you can. Better still, when the weather forecast calls for a storm take notice, and plan your outdoor activities for a different time.

Steer Clear of Trees – Lightning often connects with trees simply because trees are tall. If struck, a tree conducts potentially deadly current into the ground and can even explode from the bolt’s extreme heat. Add in gale-force winds that can snap large branches, and the result is serious danger. Be smart and give trees a wide berth.

Don’t Touch that Dial – It’s not just a myth; sitting inside a vehicle is safer than being outdoors during a storm, but not because of the rubber tires. The car’s metal body protects you by conducting electricity around the passenger cabin and into the ground. But, for this reason, you should avoid contact with any metal components in the vehicle , such as door handles or the radio dial.

Avoid the Puddles –  As you have probably seen on TV if not in person, torrential rain can wash out chunks of road, creating puddles that look shallow but run deep and even a mere 6 inches of water can stall a car engine.

Stalling increases the risk that another vehicle will hit yours, and it also leaves you vulnerable in the event of a flash flood. If you can’t drive round around a large puddle, find another route or pull over in a nonflooded area until you verify that the road is passable.

How Neglecting Your Attic Can Lead to Serious Water Damage and More

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While you may think of your attic as a storage space only, if you really think about it much at all, it can also be a place where water damage can cause all kinds of problems, problems that often go unseen until it is almost ‘too late’, especially if you, like many homeowners, rarely head up there at all.

Heat, cold, and moisture seeping through your roof can all meet in this single upper space. A simple regular inspection of it can alert you to damaging moisture problems and save you a lot of hassle and heartbreak. And yet still most water damage in an attic that eventually calls for water damage remediation occurs because telltale signs were ignored.

Common Sources of Attic Moisture

Every home generates moisture in the living areas that can find its way up into the attic. There are many sources of moisture in any home that can do just that, including these very common ones:

  • Ground moisture from a crawl space
    Green firewood stored inside
    An poorly vented clothes dryer
    Porrly vented bathrooms
    Poorly vented gas or kerosene heaters
    Humidifiers

And how does this moisture find its way up to the room at the top of the house? In any one of these ways (and more.)

  • Unsealed openings around lights, fans, plumbing vents or chimneys.
    Exhaust fans that vent into the attic, crawlspace or eaves.
    Through inadequate insulation behind the ceiling

How Attic Condensation Damages Your Home
Warm, moist air entering your attic on colder days can lead to three major kinds of problem that, if left unattended, can damage the attic or the home itself.

  • Warm air reaching a snow-covered roof causes snow melt to flow to the colder edge of the roof where it forms icicles or ice dams. Ice dams allow snow melt to enter the home’s interior.
  • Moisture on the attic’s interior leads to the growth of mould and mildew. Besides being unsightly, mold infestations are unhealthy and can spread into the walls, the floors and into all of your living areas.
  • Excess moisture in the attic can lead to wood rot on inside structures, including roof sheathing. Rot leads to premature failure of the roof and expensive repairs, and yes, quite possibly serious water damage.

Signs of Attic Condensation Problems

So you are going to do the right thing and head up to the attic to take a good look at what is really going on up there. That having been said though, just what is it that you should be looking for?

Icicles or ice dams on the roof during the winter are a sure sign of condensation problems. Other signs include dark stains over large areas of the wood surfaces, which indicate mould or mildew formation. If roofing nails that penetrate the sheathing show signs of rust, excess moisture has been present at some point at probably still is. And that warm, stuffy feeling? That is often another tell tale sign that there is too much moisture in the air.

Correcting Attic Moisture Problems
To begin to correct moisture issues in your attic, focus on the following:

  • Seal all openings and cracks from the living area into the attic.
    Ensure that fans vent to the outside of the home.
    Make sure insulation is not blocking airflow to leave soffits.
    Increase the amount of ceiling insulation to retain warmth in the home.
    Increase ventilation of the attic by adding passive vents or installing electric gable or roof fans.

If you are still in doubt and concerned that your attic is too damp call in a pro. It may be an extra expense but the problems that can occur if attic moisture issues are left unadresssed can be far more so.

4 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Water Damage

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When a pipe bursts, a drain backs up, or a flood occurs in your home, it can be hard to see past the mess and a million questions will run through your mind.

What should I do now?

Is all of our stuff ruined for good?

And then maybe the most important question of all: Will my homeowner’s insurance cover the damage?

There’s no two ways about it. Water damage is extremely stressful, but the more you know about it, the better you’ll be able to decide how to address it if it happens to you. Here are four very important things that every homeowner needs to know about water damage.

Not all water damage is always covered by your insurance

Want to do something proactive right now? Look over your home owners insurance policy and familiarize yourself with any exclusions to your water damage coverage. Almost all policies cover sudden damage – damage from a really bad storm or from an overflowing washing machine – but sometimes water damage that happens because you didn’t maintain the property may be excluded. Which means if you have been putting off fixing that little leak it’s time to get it taken care of right now…

Once water damage has happened, the clock is ticking

When it comes to water damage you simply don’t have the luxury of scheduling a convenient time to start the cleanup. Secondary damage from mould growth can begin as little as 24-48 hours. You see, in every day life mould spores are everywhere, but they need moisture and a nutrient source to grow. And that is exactly what your wet carpet or drywall offers them in abundance and they take advantage very, very quickly.

To prevent mould growth, you will need to get your property completely dry again very quickly. To do this, you’ll need to contact a company that specializes in water damage restoration to come in asap.

Your insurance company needs to know right away

Try to call your insurance company right away when you discover water damage so that you can ‘get the ball rolling’ as soon as possible. When you do, your insurance company may direct you to a water damage restoration company that they have worked with in the past. Keep in mind though that you do not have to call the company that they recommend. You have the freedom to choose any reputable restoration specialist to work with you to restore your home.

The pollution level of the water is important

In our industry, water damage is categorized as one of three levels by how polluted the water source was that caused the damage.

Category 1: Water from a clean water source, like a fresh water line for a dishwasher. This water will not cause illness or any ill effects.

Category 2: Water that may cause illness through contact. It may have bacteria in it,

Category 3: Water that is highly contaminated. Contact can cause severe illness or death. Think sewage backup, an overflowing toilet, or storm waters.

In the case of any water damage incident, even though water may start out as Category 1, that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Any contamination that the water touches, such as dirty carpeting or soil from the ground, can change the water damage Category to 2 or even Category 3. And since standing breeds bacteria, the longer the water is around, the worse the contamination of your property. Just another very important reason that you will need to take action right away.

How to Clean a Sink Overflow to Prevent Odours and Water Damage

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Sink overflows, whether they are located in a kitchen sink or a bathroom sink, are not really things that we ever take too much notice of. Unless they fail of course. We take notice of lots of overlooked items when they fail. A worst case scenario involving a sink overflow is a pipe blockage that leads to an overflowed sink and the water damage that can result from it. Not so bad perhaps, but still pretty nasty, is a smelly sink overflow, which can often lead to the whole room starting to stink a bit.

If you do begin to notice a bad odor coming from the overflow pipe in your sink that means that it is probably clogged up with layers of gunk and a colony of bacteria. Not a pleasant thought, certainly not very hygienic and, if left alone not only will the smell get worse but that previously discussed blockage is likely to occur as well. But how the heck does one actually go about cleaning pout something as ‘fiddly’ as a sink overflow?

Cleaning Your Sink Overflow the Easier Way

Even though you probably can’t access the overflow quite as easily as you can access the drain itself, you can still clean it fairly quickly. Here’s how:

What You’ll Need

1/2 cup baking soda
1/4 cup table salt
1 cup warm distilled white vinegar
Turkey baster
Oxygen bleach
Cloth

How It’s Done

1
Combine 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/4 cup of table salt to make a scouring mixture. Pour it down the sink.
2
Pour 1 cup of warm distilled white vinegar down the sink. Wait while it foams, and let it work for 15 minutes. Notice whether any of the mixture emerges through the overflow pipe; it may or may not, depending on the force of the foaming action in the drain. If it doesn’t, you are more likely to need that oxygen bleach later.
3
Flush the drain with hot water for 30 seconds. Fill a turkey baster with hot water, and squirt the water into the overflow pipe to rinse that portion of the drain system as well.
4
Check whether the overflow pipe still smells. If so, the cleaning mixture didn’t foam far enough into the pipe to properly address the problem. Open a window for ventilation, and fill the turkey baster with oxygen bleach.
5
Insert the tip of the turkey baster into the overflow pipe. Squirt the oxygen bleach into the pipe. Repeat this three to four times to cover as much of the inside of the pipe as possible. Let the oxygen bleach sit for 15 minutes.
6
Rinse the pipe thoroughly by squirting in hot water with the turkey baster. Dip a cloth in some distilled white vinegar and wipe the inside of the overflow pipe to kill any bacteria living in the mouth of the opening.

Yes, this may be a bit messy but taking the time to repeat the process once in a while will not only lead to a better smelling bathroom but also add another layer of water damage prevention to your home.

The Real Cost of ‘Minor’ Water Damage

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A flood, even a smaller one – perhaps a washing machine accident or a basement flood after a storm – can, as many homeowners know really – be much more than a disrupting nuisance it can cause all kinds of water damage, ruining belongings, furnishings and even the overall structure of a home.

Most people, when faced with a great deal of water after a serious flood will quite naturally reach for the phone to call a water damage restoration expert to come and help them begin to reclaim their home, and their lives, right away. When the flood is smaller, those few inches from the washing machine disaster for example, or basement flood they think has been ‘pretty much’ dealt with by a sump pump, those same people may opt for a ‘DIY’ water remediation job usually involving a wet/dry vac and a LOT of manual labour.

The problem with that is the job is rarely ever really ‘done’ and while a homeowner may think that they have done a pretty good job of getting most of the moisture up and then sets up fans to ‘dry out’ the rest, all kinds of things may be going on ‘behind the scenes’ they realise nothing about that are causing all kinds of expensive, yet to be seen water damage anyway. To demonstrate what we mean check out this ‘Minor’ Water Damage Time Line’:

Within First Hour:

 

  • Quickly moving water may creep throughout the home, finding the path of least resistance, saturating everything in its path.
  • Stains/finish released from furniture could cause permanent staining on flooring and carpets.
  • Finishes on moisture sensitive furniture may begin to turn white.
  • Paper goods (books, magazines, art work) may become unsalvageable due to saturation.

 

One to 24 Hours:

 

  • Normal household odors may begin to intensify.
  • Musty/sour odors may become apparent.
  • Drywall may swell and begins to break down.
  • Metal surfaces that are unprotected will begin to tarnish.
  • Laminated furniture begins to swell and/or split and finish can begin to crack.

 

48 Hours to 1 Week:

 

  • Mould, mildew and other contaminants are likely to begin to grow and spread.
  • Furniture often warps and begins to show signs of mold.
  • Any affected paint may begin to blister.
  • Windows, doors , casings, and studs begin to swell and warp.
  • Wood flooring begins to swell, warp, or buckle.
  • Persons with respiratory concerns or compromised immune systems could experience distress due to pollutants in the air.

 

More Than 1 Week:

 

  • Claim cost and renovation time increases due to extensive restoration.
  • Structural safety and health concerns may pose serious hazards to occupants requiring other living arrangements may be necessary until reconstruction is complete.

 

 

In addition to all of this, the longer you leave it to call in a professional to help you remediate water damage effectively the higher the cost of the job at hand is likely to rise. Most good water remediation specialists will ensure that as much of their work as possible is covered by your insurance, but slower claims and even slower remediation may result in lowered payouts and/or premium increases, so why take that kind of financial risk?

Is Your Fridge Leaking? Address it Now to Prevent Disaster Later

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Troublesome kitchen leaks don’t always come from the sink, dishwasher or washing machine, a refrigerator leak is not that uncommon either and a fridge does not have to be old, or have a water dispenser built in to cause a problem, any fridge can suffer from leak issues.

The good news is that any leaks ARE just water. The coolant used in fridges is a gas, not a liquid, so at least you don’t have to worry that something potentially toxic is escaping. The bad new is that the formation of puddles of water inside the refrigerator – an issue in itself, often means that there is already water under it as well – or the will be soon – and that can all too easily lead to more serious water damage issues.

To minimize damage to the appliance itself, the food inside and the floor beneath whatever is causing the leak needs to be determined – and fixed – as soon as possible. Here is a little about some of the most common culprits:

Blocked Defrost Drain

The defrost drain is a good place to begin your troubleshooting, as a blocked one is the most common cause of slow refrigerator leaks. Over time this small opening can easily become clogged with stray bits of food, or even very tough, stubborn ice chips. This blockage prevents water that accumulated during the defrost cycle from draining away to the pan. When enough water builds up, it starts leaking out of the refrigerator and onto the floor, so this is a problem that usually occurs over time.

You can relatively easily clear the drain yourself simply by flushing it with hot water. Use a short piece of stiff wire, such as a wire clothes hanger to poke around (carefully)to check for material still in the drain that the hot water has not flushed out before considering the operation ‘complete’.

Drain Pan
Occasionally the drain pan at the bottom of a fridge develops a crack that allows water to leak out. A small amount of water accumulated in the drain pan is OK, normal even, but a leak is not. That is because any water in the drain pan should evaporate long before it becomes a problem as the condenser fan blows warm air across the surface of the pan.

If you suspect that this is the problem – which it may be if the defrost drain is clear and there does not to seem be water anywhere – check the drains for cracks. If you find them the pan needs to be replaced asap, duct tape just isn’t going to cut it!

Ice Maker

Built in ice makers are a wonderful convenience and many new – and newer refrigerators boast them these days. But they can be problematic. The water-line connections to the ice maker can quite easily loosen over time and with use or the seals can age and crack, leading to leaks that result in water pooled under and around the refrigerator.

To see if this may be the cause of your fridge leak check the length of the water line leading to the ice maker, which is usually on the rear exterior of the fridge, as well as the connections, for any signs of moisture. If the ice maker supply line is the problem, there will typically be water running or dripping down the line and on to the floor. Tighten the connections or replace the water line immediately.

These are far from the only causes of refrigerator leaks though, so if your troubleshooting efforts lead nowhere call in a repairman asap.

The Aftermath of a Fridge Leak

Just because you have found – and fixed – the cause of your refrigerator leak does not mean you are done with troubleshooting. Water in the fridge is dealt with easily enough with a cloth or lots of paper towels but if water has been leaking underneath the fridge there may be more of an issue to address.

People don’t usually make a habit of of moving their fridge around the kitchen so miss the fact that a fridge leak has caused water damage to the flooring itself, often leading to mold and even structural damage. That is why it is important to move a fridge that has been leaking and check underneath it for signs of water damage and if you find them, discuss the situation with a water damage remediation specialist.

How to Prepare Your Home – and Family – for a Summer Storm

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The summer should be all about sun, sea, and maybe a bit of sand if you can spare the time to head out to beach somewhere, although a backyard weekend cookout isn’t a bad substitute if you can’t. However, summer storms can put a damper on all of that in an instant.

Spoiling your day is not the only thing summer storms can do, however short in duration they turn out to be. Summer storms can be very powerful things. The two biggest threats associated with most thunderstorms are lightning and flash floods, and these can result in serious, unexpected damage to property anywhere, including your home.

While you cannot prevent summer storms – or even really accurately predict just when they will hit, no matter how many weather forecasts you monitor – there are some measures you can, and should, take to protect your home from the ravages of a summer storm.

Check Your Insurance

This is actually something you should do before the summer and storm season arrives. And more than just making sure that your homeowner’s policies covers everything it should you should also have a look at just what kind of policy you have. Is it ACV or RCV policy?

ACV stands for actual cash value, while RCV stands for replacement cost value. The former will mean your insurance company will only pay for what your property was worth before the storm while the latter means your insurance pays current market value of the property loss. And it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that RCV is almost certainly the better bet and so if you have an ACV you way want to investigate swapping it out for an RCV before the potentially damaging summer storm clouds begin to loom.

Check Your Trees

Fallen trees are one of the most common results of any fierce – or even semi fierce – summer storm and they can cause untold damage, especially if they fall on your power lines, your home, or even both.

The problem with many trees is that, to the naked eye they can often look just fine, nice and sturdy, and yet by hiding a problem that may make them a real hazard in a storm. There are some extra clues you can look for though.

If a tree has only sporadic leaf cover in the spring, if it seems to have spots that sparser in terms leaves than others – or outright ‘bald patches’ – that is often a good indication that it has a health problem. In addition if the land around your trees is uneven, especially if there is a hump or pivot on one side of the tree you might have a root problem that could eventually cause the tree to fall over, and a summer storm could easily knock it over in one fell swoop.

If your trees are worrying you call in a professional. The extra expense versus the hassle, pain and heartache a fallen tree can cause will be well worth it.

Check the Basement

If you have a sump pump in the basement then that is indeed a great protection against damage from summer flooding. But unless you have it hooked up to an efficient battery back up it may end up being next to useless in a summer storm as another common effect of any storm is knock out the mains power for hours, if not days. If you sump pump cannot function when the lights go out then that is a situation you need to remedy now.

Have All the Right Numbers Handy

The aftermath of a storm that has damaged your home can be a scary and upsetting time. But once you have established that everyone in your household is OK then it is time to take a deep breath and begin to implement the clean up process by getting all the right professionals involved as soon as you possibly can.

Call your insurance company, call a water damage remediation specialist if flooding is involved and call a builder is there are immediate structural issues. And to make of all this easy make sure that you have the numbers for all of these people handy, not just stored on your cellphone but on a list tucked away in your wallet as well.

Is Your Stucco Hiding a Dark Secret That Could Damage Your Whole Home?

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Stucco is a home siding material that is fairly common in Ontario and indeed across North America, and for good reason. It can be a truly beautiful siding choice with the added benefit that it is both durable and long-wearing. It can withstand reasonably heavy strikes and is relatively easy to repair when superficial cracks appear. It is incredibly versatile, takes paint beautifully and offers a variety of surfacing options, so finding a finish that will suit your home perfectly is practically a given.

But despite all the wonderful things about stucco, it may be hiding a deep, dark secret from you: water damage.

Stucco Can Cause Water Damage?

Yes. At least improperly installed or damaged stucco can. Like any siding, stucco is designed to protect your home from the elements. But it can’t do its job properly unless it is installed properly or if its admittedly considerable ‘powers’ have been compromised by cracks that have been ignored for some time.

Water damage usually stems from improper sealing in parts where the stucco meets windows, flashing and other joints. Have you seen “stucco tears”? No? They look like the marks in the picture above. Basically, it looks like the window is weeping. Think of them as your home crying for help. And when your house is “crying,” you don’t just wipe (or power wash) its tears away. You have to get to the bottom of the problem before you can apply a lasting solution.

Is Your Home Really Crying Out for Help?

You’re actually lucky if you see stucco tears, because at least you can easily tell that you’ve got a water damage issue. But there are many times when there are no outward signs of water or moisture damage at all, which can mean that the poor homeowners have no idea that they’ve got mold, mildew and general rot eating away at their property until it’s too late.

But while stucco tears are a telltale sign, they are not conclusive. The best way to determine whether you have water damage in stucco is a moisture test. You’ll need to hire a professional to conduct this test and then work with them to determine your next best course of action.

Stucco Cracks

Stucco is tough stuff but it will crack over time. And those cracks are often not even caused by a real trauma you might know about (like a car hitting the wall when its backed into a driveway.) Instead the causes can be less obvious, and may include any of the following:

Water Penetration
High Winds
Powerful Vibrations (such as from large trucks or heavy construction near your home)
Improper Construction
Faulty Installation
Improper Mix Composition

Repair or Replace?

If you catch stucco related water damage early, it’s possible that repairs will be enough to remedy the problem. Do keep in mind, however, that repairs aren’t really a permanent solution. After all, your stucco siding can still be at risk of future moisture damage. Also, if the damage is extensive or the necessary repairs intensive, it might be easier and more cost-effective to do a complete siding replacement.

Even more important though, before you make that repair or replace decision is that the underlying cause of the damage is properly addressed. As we mentioned, stucco is great, sturdy stuff. So it is rarely the stucco’s fault. If it was improperly installed that has to be remedied. If it was cracking because of all the big trucks rumbling past your house then you may have to consider an alternative siding altogether, like vinyl or plastic.