Cutting off stucco above the grade:

Hard Stucco:

I live outside Atlanta and have a home with what a stucco inspector indicated is a very well installed hardcoat system. It is 8 years old and has about 12 linear feet of the stucco that extends about a foot below grade. I was advised that the 12-foot section that has below-grade hardcoat should be "bottom-cut" to leave a visual gap 3-4 inches above grade extending 3-4 inches below grade for termite inspection and prevention. I believe I can do this myself with the right tool(s). Where can I find info on the steps to take and equipment? (Do I just dig down 6-8 inches with enough room to operate a circular masonry saw ... make a cut 4 inches below grade... another cut 3 inches above grade... chisel out the 7 inch section of stucco for the entire 12 lineal feet... seal, prime and paint the foundation/footing... then replace the dirt?) Thanks.


Hi Reggie,

I just came across your website....HOW GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you!

Quick question...I am selling my house and I have found a great house, problem is that it is a 4 sided synthetic stucco, built 15 years ago. (I live in Georgia) The seller who is also an agent, has not had the stucco inspected, however she has had the stucco in the front cut above the grade. And the price of the house is 299,000 in a great neighborhood, however I have been told stay away from synthetic stucco.(I really want to offer about 50,000 less,however the neighborhood support this price....but the house is synthetic stucco!)

What does cut above grade really mean? What are the problems with synthetic stucco? Additionally, have you ever heard of anyone removing the stucco and putting on something else like brick, if so is that expensive?

Thanks Reggie!

Cutting off hard stucco above the grade does more harm than good.

The exception is if the framing is below the grade, which is a termite trap.

If the cement stucco is applied to the foundation, for example block or concrete, the idea of termites tunneling through the cement mortar is absurd.
Definition of grade: The finished height of the ground, in this case, where the ground contacts the wall of the building. This can be dirt, concrete, gravel or whatever.
Here's A little background on termites, carpenter ants and termite tunnels:
Termites and carpenter ants eat wood. The difference is that carpenter ants only eat wet wood. Carpenter ant infestation occurs only if the wall leaks. We have repaired stucco that had water infiltration due to failed flashing or whatever. After the leak and the stucco is repaired the ants disappear. Carpenter ants can be seen at times entering cracks in the failed stucco.
Termites are different. Termites enter the home by crawling up the foundation and finding a hole to enter the wood framing or sheathing. Unlike carpenter ants, termites can eat dry wood. Termites need both water and food (wood) to survive. If termites eat dry wood, they must go into the ground occasionally for water. In other words, wet soil.
Termites are sensitive to sunlight. To return from the soil to the house or source of food, the will build tunnels out of mud. These are frequently called "mud tubes"
termite tunnel or mud tube

An example of a termite tunnel or "mud tube".

If the stucco is bonded to the block foundation, it is impossible for a termite to tunnel into the wood framing. The exception is if the stucco is hollow underneath, for example, if the block was furred out and metal lath applied for some reason.
You may have seen where I prefer to leave a gap at the bottom of the wall. This is for drainage to control expansion and also the stucco at the bottom 2-3 inches tends to flake and look bad.
We always take the stucco below the grade on historic work or if the homeowner insists. There are other reasons to take the stucco below grade.
Cutting and chiseling mortar off the block is a huge project and completely unnecessary. Tearing stucco off the block will damage the block and look terrible.

Cutting off EIFS above the grade:

Flimsy styrofoam is easily scraped off the foundation, creating space for inspection for termite tunnels.

Termites can tunnel through EIFS easily and EIFS is very susceptible to termite infestion.

More about the project here..

The gap between the stucco and the foundation forms a drip edge in Washington, DC.

Termite tunnels on plywood on this EIFS tearoff we did in Washington, DC. The picture is above a second story window. The termite infestation on this house reached the top floor.

More about the project here..

A termite inspector commented to me on the futility of EIFS inspection spaces at the grade. If the wood is wet, the termites don't need to return to the ground. Once they have wood and water, they can stay in the EIFS and multiply and never come out.

It is possible an EIFS house could be infested with termites, leaving no mud tubes for evidence.