Is "Wiring for the Future"
Many things have amused me over the years in the field of home
construction, but none more than so-called high-tech wiring
(see "Wiring the High-Tech House," 5/05). This makes about as
much sense as those craftsmen who built ornate outhouses in the
1920s. The trend today is clearly toward wireless. We already
have wireless phones, speakers, keyboards, and routers. It's
clear that the house of the future will have far less wire than
we have today. I can imagine how workmen in the future will
react when remodeling today's home to find the partitions
crammed full of unused wires.
Author Helen Heneveld responds: It might amuse you, but I
can tell you from experience that it's not amusing to the
homeowner who tries to print a document using his wireless
network, only to learn that the document is printing to the
next-door neighbor's printer. Although your perception is quite
common, it's actually a misconception: Wired networks are here
Wireless technology certainly has its place, but as a
complement to a hard-wired network. Builders interested in
providing home networking for their clients should always
install structured wiring as the foundation for the network.
Dedicated wiring is more secure, faster, and less prone to
signal interference. It's then a simple matter to add the
convenience of wireless devices.
Painting Stucco: Questions &
Although the article by Joe Lstiburek ("Why Stucco Walls Got
Wet," 7/05) had lots of information that made sense, there are
a few things I question.
I have found no evidence that painting stucco is a good idea,
yet the author matter-of-factly addresses painting as a
must-do. The only stucco houses I've seen that have no problems
are the unpainted ones. The painted stucco homes I've seen show
bulging problems over the years, ironically for the same reason
the article points out — trapped moisture.
Furthermore, the author advises sealing cracks with caulking or
a cementitious crack-repair formula. I daresay there is no
caulk or cement that is watertight used in this application.
Even if someone develops a product that does the job, you can't
tell by looking at the repair if it is watertight or how long
it will stay that way. Certainly after it is painted, you
cannot tell. Following that advice is a recipe for destroying
It's better to leave the cracks alone and not paint the stucco.
Sure, the cracks will allow some moisture to penetrate the
surface, but they will also allow a way for moisture to get
out. Moisture-proofing should be done behind the stucco, as the
article shows very well — not on the face of the stucco.
That's true for all siding.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Author Joe Lstiburek responds: The vast majority of stucco
installations in the U.S. are painted. Most stucco
installations are found in hot-humid and hot-dry climates, not
cold climates. However, even in cold climates, most stucco
installations are painted — not always successfully, but
they are typically painted.
In cold climates, any coating that is hygrophobic and
vapor-permeable is good for absorptive claddings, including
stucco. Latex-based coatings that are at least 10 perms or more
(as mentioned in the article) can also be effective for
However, as you note, many stucco systems perform well in cold
climates when left unpainted. These systems have to be "good"
— that is, well-mixed, correctly applied, and properly
cured. Aged, deteriorated stucco is a different story, and is
typically a candidate for surface coating and surface
consolidation systems. These systems have a long track record
of successful performance if they are vapor-permeable.
Older paint systems typically did not meet these breathability
requirements, and so tended to trap moisture and blister. Thus
"painting" stucco in cold climates has historically been
fraught with problems. But this is not the case with the highly
permeable coatings available today.
As for crack repair, there are effective techniques and
materials that can do the job — not perfectly, but
effectively. In mass wall assemblies (that is, assemblies that
do not have building-paper drainage layers), reducing entry
through cracks is essential. In drained assemblies, the cracks
are irrelevant and can be left open. They may be aesthetically
unpleasing, but they do not constitute a performance
I remind readers that there are two types of walls common in
Florida and both types of walls were discussed in the article:
mass walls (stucco applied directly on block) and frame walls
(stucco applied over building paper, wood sheathing, and
The frame walls should be designed to drain via secondary
drainage behind the stucco as discussed in the article (see
also my previous article, "Water-Managed Wall Systems,"
In mass walls, the primary rainwater control is done on the
surface of the stucco, as there is no other option. Leaving the
cracks alone and not painting the stucco in mass walls has been
shown to be ineffective, whereas fixing the cracks and painting
the stucco has proven effective.
Are Membranes "Flashing"?
Someday, I hope, we can all collectively agree on how a
window really needs to be installed. Carl Hagstrom's article
("Flashing a Flanged Window," 6/05) was JLC's latest attempt to
make the process simple, but once again fell short. What
happened to drip caps? Have the window manufacturers now gone
back to the thought that nailing flanges make drip caps —
also known as head flashing or Z-flashing — obsolete? Or
are we to believe flashing membranes provide this
Section R703.8 of the International Residential Code says:
"Approved corrosion-resistive flashing shall be provided in the
exterior wall envelope in such a manner as to prevent entry of
water into the wall cavity. ... The flashing shall extend to
the surface of the exterior wall finish and shall be installed
to prevent water from reentering the wall envelope. Approved
… flashings shall be installed at … top of all
exterior window and door openings in such a manner as to be
I question whether the "flashing" in this article is really
flashing or corrosion-resistive, whether it is extending to the
surface of the exterior wall finish, and whether it is making
that window opening leakproof. Is it really a sound idea to
"flash" to the secondary water-resistive barrier rather than to
the primary exterior wall finish?
The code does not think so and neither do I, but we have been
relegated to these Rube Goldberg experiments by the window
companies, which committed to a fundamental marketing error in
developing these flanged albatrosses. The unfortunate result is
that they are bound to this deception because to admit
otherwise would be an admission that their products are
Someday, some entrepreneur is going to get wise and make a
plastic or metal window that actually does flash to the
exterior. Until then, I guess we must be satisfied with JLC's
latest valiant attempt on this controversial subject.
Director, Minnesota Lath and Plaster
St. Paul, Minn.
Author Carl Hagstrom responds: I think the issue of whether
drip-cap flashing is needed depends on the configuration of the
flange connection details on the window unit. I feel that the
flange detailing on many of the windows I've installed performs
the same function as a drip cap.
I've seen window units with "open" corners, where the flanges
aren't integral; these types of units would certainly benefit
from a drip-cap flashing. Incorporating a drip-cap flashing
detail is straightforward: You just place the drip cap on the
window head after the jamb-flashing membrane has been
installed. The next step — installing the self-healing
head-flashing membrane — will cover the vertical flange
of the drip cap, and since the head-flashing membrane adheres
directly to the sheathing, it will intercept moisture that
migrates down either the housewrap or the sheathing and direct
it back out to the primary drainage plane (siding). Adding a
drip cap to any window unit isn't a bad idea.
It's also important to remember that as the wall height
increases, the need for intermediate exit flashing details
(weeps, for example) increases as well. If moisture gets behind
the siding on a one-story structure, it doesn't have far to go
before it exits at the drainage detail where the siding
overlaps the foundation.
In a multistory structure, relying on the housewrap to direct
moisture to the foundation weep becomes much more of a gamble.
Providing intermediate flashing details that direct moisture
from the secondary drainage plane back out onto the siding is
important. These details are common in multistory commercial
construction, but are often overlooked in residential
construction, and, in many cases, present aesthetic
Hopefully, as residential builders become more aware of the
importance of proper flashing details, they will add these
intermediate exit flashings to their flashing bag of