Building a new house in Palo Alto

Building a new house in Palo Alto

Monday, February 18, 2013

Best in Show Stucco

Somewhere along the line we got the crazy idea that we wanted our house to be the color of a Weimaraner dog. Weimaraner's have a shimmery silver-gray coat with soft brown undertones that change color with the light. Needless to say, it was a tall order but in the end our plaster master, Aparicio took home best in show honors for his beautiful Weimaraner stucco:

Close-up of our new "Weimaraner" stucco coat. Can you spot the silver-gray and soft brown undertones?
The process of creating the custom color took several weeks mainly due to our waffling indecision. Aparicio actually produced the winning color on his first attempt but we had to see six more samples before we were convinced it was the one (a true testament to the man's patience and customer service).

The contestants line up for judging. Midway through the process we started considering other breeds.

We temporarily considered going in another direction, (how about an Astro-colored house?) but in the end we stuck with our original plan.

We had trouble imaging the small sample of color plastered onto the entire house.

We proceeded nervously, praying to the stucco gods that the color would turn out okay...

Three stages of of stucco dryness. 

The wet stucco looked frighteningly like dog crap but much to our relief it lightened up nicely as it dried. It's fun to look at the house at different times of day and from various angles to see what I call the "fifty shades of Weimaraner."

In the afternoon sun.

Up close and in the shade.

From across the street on an overcast day.
Aesthetics aside, stucco makes a lot of sense because it's relatively maintenance free and stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Plus, with an integrated color, you never have to paint it. However the main drawback is that like concrete, stucco is notorious for cracking.
Adding a fiberglass mesh before the final stucco coat creates a smoother, more crack resistant finish.
To provide extra crack resistance we upgraded from the typical three-coat application to a four-coat finish. The extra coat is applied before the final finished coat and consists of a layer of fiberglass mesh skimmed with a thin layer of stucco. You will still likely get cracks around windows corners and door openings (we have already spotted a couple of small hairline cracks), but the mesh should help prevent unsightly cracks that spread across large areas of stucco.

Update March 2014:
Thanks to Kurt for asking for an update on the state of our stucco in the comments below. It's been a year and the cracks haven't bothered us, but I walked around the house to take a close look. There are hairline cracks around some, but not all of the large windows and doors:

There are a couple of hairline cracks on the back of the house that didn't emanate from a window or door:

The most noticeable flaws are around the door jamb where some of the stucco has flaked off.  I suspect this is unavoidable given the fact that the stucco is only sticking to metal. This also happened around the garage door wrap where someone (who shall remain nameless) backed his car into it.

I'm happy to say that other than the door wraps, the front of the house looks flawless. Fortunately, there are no cracks around the large picture window where we take our family photos.  Woohoo!

Most of the cracks are on the south-facing side of the house. My theory (and I have not run this by anyone who really knows) is that the faster the stucco dries, the more likely it is to crack. The south-facing side of the house got the most sun and dried the fastest. The picture window is under the eaves and shaded by an oak tree so it dried the slowest. I'm wondering if applying the stucco in the cooler months would make a difference...or maybe waiting until early evening to apply stucco to a south-facing wall and covering it with a tarp. Just a thought. Like I said, we don't notice the cracks anymore, they're purely cosmetic and barely noticeable if you stand back 15 ft or so. So all in all, still happy after the first year!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Post Sunday Roundup: 30 days in 30 pictures

Recently everyone's been asking me how the house is coming along. Usually when I haven't posted in a while it means a lot is going on at our site. Either that, or we're binge-viewing a new series. Or both...(I love the House of Cards series more than a shark loves blood).

Friends of ours are building a house nearby and are blogging about it too. It's the ultimate fun house including a sports court with 18½-foot ceilings in the basement, plus a Googley slide that goes from one floor to another. Not only do I have house-envy, I have a huge case of blog envy because they post a photo every day. It's so simple and so totally brilliant.

So today, instead of blah-blah-blogging, I'm going to shut up and let my camera do the talking...
Building the porch ceiling with our reclaimed redwood siding (blog post coming soon).

Mocking up possible column designs.

Picking the window sill color.

Hmm...should the columns match the windows?

After painting a test patch on the 2nd story eaves we decide it's time to hire a color pro...

Our designer narrows the choices...lighter colors reflect more light into the house, she advises.

Black eaves? What were we thinking? We love the new color.

Next up, stucco colors!

Thomas's top pick. 
Kay's top pick.  Guess who won convinced someone her color is better?

Hanging drywall. PRO TIP: For soundproofing insulate exterior AND interior walls.
For flatter walls, upgrade to 5/8" sheetrock (it has an extra layer of reinforcement).

For extra, extra soundproofing upgrade to QuietRock. We used this in the bedrooms.

Fancy ceiling in the master.

Taping the drywall seams.

Obligatory dog photo in their fleecies. It's cold in the house!

Taping the master steam shower.

The steam shower is covered with Bituthene, a vapor barrier membrane.
(It's pronounced bitch-a-thane...sounds badass, eh?)

Applying a mortarbed for the tile in the steam shower.

My pretty, pretty Calcutta marble bench.

Wrapping a beam with our reclaimed redwood siding.

Some cool looking but totally impractical high shelves in the guest room.

Installing a window seat in Baby O's nursery.

Installing the vanity in the Jack & Jill bathroom.

Choosing tile.

Hanging tile.

The pebble shower floor tile that no one liked except me. (Veto power rocks.)

Our interior paint is up thanks to El Gato Painting.

Yes, I paid an extra $50 for this funky fly-eye sun tunnel screen because I couldn't stop staring at it.

We're using the ribbon glass from the original house in the kitchen skylights.

The front door is in!  It's made out of a renewable hardwood called Lyptus. 
P.S. Nick at Pioneer Millwork is the best.

There you have it, all the photos fit to print! If a picture's worth a thousand words, you can be glad you didn't have to muddle through 30,000 words just because you were wondering how the house is coming along.