Some homes with monolithic cladding types are at risk of being leaky buildings, so you need to be specially vigilant in your maintenance checks.

Monolithic cladding is made of sheets that are coated to give the seamless appearance of concrete, masonry or plaster

Types of Monolithic cladding

EIFS: (Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems)

EIFS cladding sheets are made up of polystyrene boards with a plaster and paint finish. This type of cladding has been popular in New Zealand since the 1980s.

How to identify it?

  • This type of cladding system is deep – approximately 40mm-60mm – which means the windows may appear recessed. If the window has been lined up with the face of the inner timber wall, from the outside you will be able to see a sloping section of plaster from the window frame to the face of the wall.
  • If you put your hand underneath the cladding at the base of the plaster, you may be able to feel the smooth continuous plastic base capping.
  • If you saw the house being built you may well have seen a lot of white, as many polystyrene cladding products are white.

Texture coated fibre cement

These cladding sheets are made from cement, fine sand and cellulose, with a textured coating applied and painted after the sheets have been installed onto the walls. This type of cladding has been around since the 1970s.

How to identify it?

  • This cladding system is thin – only about 7.5mm thick – so windows are usually mounted over the cladding with a shallow sill. There may be mouldings around the windows to give the impression of depth.
  • If you touch the underside of the cladding, you will feel thin sheets.
  • If you saw the house being built you may well have seen a lot of pink or grey, as uncoated fibre cement sheet may be these colours.

Stucco

Cement-based plaster is applied over a variety of backings including fibre-cement and plywood sheeting. It is then painted. This is the oldest of the three types of monolithic cladding and has been used in New Zealand since the 1920s.

How to identify it?

  • As with EIFS, stucco is a deep cladding system, approximately 25mm. It can be identified by the recessed windows and sloping plaster, as with EIFS.
  • When you put your hand underneath the cladding you should be able to feel the bottom of the plaster.
  • If you saw the house being built you may well have seen a lot of blue, as stucco backing sheets are often this colour.

Maintaining monolithic cladding

The main things to look for are:

  • Places where water can get into the framing, and
  • Signs that water has already got in.

Water might get in through holes, cracks, loose cladding, fixings, joints that have separated, around doors and windows, anywhere where the sealing has failed, and any area where water can pool against the cladding.

Signs that water has got in include:

  • Cracks and splits in the cladding or joints.
  • Moisture staining or other visible water damage.
  • Musty smells.
  • Efflorescence (white chalky substance) at junctions or cracks.
  • Mould, moss or colour degradation.
  • Blistering or fading paintwork, or bubbling or peeling wallpaper.

Vulnerable areas to pay attention to:

  • Check around the house to make sure the cladding is at least 175mm above the ground (lawn or garden) or 100mm from paved surfaces.
  • Check pergolas, cantilevered decks, fascias or guttering penetrating the cladding, poorly formed flashings and meter boxes which are not sealed or flashed.
  • Check any areas where the cladding is penetrated by bolts, screws or handrails.

For general maintenance, wash the cladding regularly. You may be required to wash at specific intervals to keep the warranty valid. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Washing the cladding will extend the life of the materials. It’s particularly important for houses near the sea.

To wash, use a soft brush and low-pressure hose, concentrating on areas rain doesn't reach, like walls sheltered by eaves. For sea spray, moss and lichen, you might have to use specific cleaning products or a one part bleach to four parts water solution and soft brush. Hose off residue with plenty of water and avoid using ladders around wet areas as much as possible. Check with the manufacturer of your cladding and your local hardware store if you are unsure.

Before you wash, check for cracks or damage.

Don’t use a high pressure water blaster as it can damage claddings.

Problems with monolithic cladding

You may be able to make minor repairs to cladding yourself, but for any monolithic cladding system you should contact the manufacturer for advice on the correct products to use. If you don’t know which system you have, try to identify a similar system and follow the general advice from that manufacturer.

If the cladding is a specialised system and less than 15 years old, it may still be under warranty. Again, contact the manufacturer if you know who this is.

If your house is a leaky building you’ll need professional help. If the house is less than 10 years old, you may be able to make a claim under the Weathertight Homes Resolution Act 2002.

Leaky Buildings

Some homes with monolithic cladding types are at risk of being leaky buildings. Design and installation are critical factors in ensuring your home is protected from being a leaky building. If the design is inherently flawed, comprehensive work beyond maintenance may be required to solve the leaking long term.

If your home is at risk of being a leaky building, you need to be especially vigilant in your maintenance checks. Carry out a careful inspection of the cladding at least once a year.

For stucco check carefully for cracking of the plaster, check around flashings and other penetrations through the plaster and seek professional advice if you have any concerns.

For texture coated fibre-cement look particularly for cracks in the jointing. Cracks in joints should be raked out and reformed, do not attempt to seal with sealant. Contact an approved applicator to carry out repairs to the cladding. Check the waterproof coating to ensure re-painting is not required.

For EIFS pay particular attention to the corners of windows and exposed edges and anywhere that the paint finish might wear or crack. Do not attempt to repair with sealant but contact an approved applicator. It may be that only certain areas require recoating. Many EIFS systems in New Zealand are specialised systems. If you are able to identify which system your home has, follow the manufacturer’s specific instructions for maintenance and repair. If you cannot establish the specific cladding system at your home, the literature on the product which it most closely resembles will give you some generic guidance on maintenance.

Look for signs that moisture might be soaking up into the cladding, often indicated by darker colouration along the bottom edges of the cladding.

If you have concerns that you may have a leaky home you should seek professional advice.

Organisations that can provide further information on the leaky building issue include:

The government's Weathertight Homes Resolution Service – call them on 0800 116 926 between 8.30am and 7.00pm (Monday to Friday).

BRANZ Helpline on 0900 5 90 90 (calls cost $1.99/min +GST).

The New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors on 0800 113 400.