For centuries, builders have been surfacing their home and building constructs with textured masonry and other stucco finish materials as a cost-saving short-cut to producing consistent looking profiles. For example, why do most new homes have blown stucco ceilings (aka – “popcorn”)? Producing a visually flat ceiling (or wall) surface takes a great deal of time and materials. And it takes master plastering skills to hide the flaws of uneven drywall and finish each tape join with the required 3 coats of plaster drywall compound. But with a textured coating, the builder can throw up the drywall roughly as it may sit, tape it with only a single coat of plaster and the resulting flaws all disappear under the illusion of a “level” textured surface. The results look new and even, the builder saves time and money and hopefully passes those savings on to you. It’s a perfect solution!… Until it cracks.
Fixing a smooth surface crack
When a crack develops on a flat wall or ceiling, the repair is rather simple. You cover it with a strip of paper tape (if indoors) or mesh tape (indoors or out), skim over it with your putty knife and the appropriate interior or exterior patching compound in three thin coats (each one wider than the last to float it out with the surrounding surface as smoothly as possible) and sand it just enough to remove any edges.
Smooth plastering like this is easy to achieve with some practice once you’ve grasped these fundamentals. And while you’re practicing, there are no errors that can’t be easily fixed with either a little more plaster or a little more sanding. The most common mistake is in applying the compound too thick. This creates excessive sanding and bulgy looking patches.
But what about the crack on a textured surface? Obviously you can’t just tape, skim coat and sand it. The result would be a long flat patch in the middle of a textured profile (which I’ve seen far too many homeowners stuck with in my career). It stands out like a bad rash and adds insult to injury. You can’t undo or fix a repair like this. The only way to get rid of a bad stucco repair is to remove all the textured material on the entire surface and replace it with new. That’s a costly venture and can be avoided if the repair was done properly the first time.
Working with textured materials
There’s often the misconception that one can simply remove the textured coating of masonry or popcorn stucco (or what have you) from around the damaged area to fix the substrate and then replace the textured material on just this spot. It sounds reasonable in theory so long as you’re using the exact same material as replacement. But in practice, it’s almost always impossible.
With a great deal of skill and expertise, a finisher can bevel the outer edges of the damaged area so that when the new material is applied over the exposed substrate (drywall, brick, concrete, etc.) it can be gradually eased toward the outer edges without overlapping the surrounding material to keep it level with the existing grade. But even this shows a slight ridge around the repair and is noticeable to those who know it’s there… namely, YOU. And this is the best that can be done without complete replacement. The more common approach I’ve seen people try is to simply try covering the crack with more of the same material used on the overall surface. The problem with this is that anything you add to the surface of a textured profile only magnifies where the damage is with a hump in a sea of bumps. So what do you do if you’re not a master mason and don’t want to spend the money on complete removal and replacement of your stucco just to fix some cracks?
Easy crack repair for textured surfaces
To understand how to repair a crack one should have an understanding of the anatomy of the crack. Sometimes created by sudden impact, sometimes by the long (or short) natural process of shifting and settling and often by water leaks, the crack is a break in the solid substrate. And through the laws of weight and gravity, the crack can only shift, grind and grow. It never gets smaller and it rarely stays the same. No matter how you repair the crack, you’ll only mask it from eye while it continues to thrive below the surface waiting for its chance to reappear. That is, unless you want to go through the costly and messy process of replacing the entire substrate. But who wants to do that if there’s an easier way?
Ultimately, you want a repair to be invisible or at least, depending on the severity of the damage, unobtrusive to the eye. To accomplish this in the middle of a textured surface, the repair has to fill the crack, preserve the surrounding texture and not reopen as the surface shifts over time. Solid drying fillers such as plaster and drywall compound can easily fill in the crack but do little to preserve the texture and usually result in bad approximations of the surrounding surface at best. They also dry hard and brittle allowing the underlying crack to easily break through the surface in short time. So the ideal material must remain flexible to keep up with the movement of the crack and it has to make the crack disappear within its native profile. What can do all this and be easily applied? Latex caulking.
Simply run a small bead of latex caulking along the surface of the crack, wet your fingers with a little warm water as a lubricant and massage the caulking into the crack while “washing” it into the surrounding texture. Make sure the crack is thoroughly filled and the excess caulking around the edges is thinly blended into the texture. Let it dry thoroughly and then paint over with latex paint to preserve the elasticity. It’s as easy as that! But never use silicone caulking for this type of repair as you can’t paint over it.
In cases where you can’t paint the surface for one reason or another (e.g.- a very large exterior wall in an unpainted tinted masonry), use a colored caulking that best resemble the surface colour and be sure to wash away as much of the material from the outer edges of the crack as possible before it dries.
A flexible repair is a lasting repair. As your home shifts, expands and contracts, so does your latex caulking crack filler.