Stucco/Marmorino

While the service life of stucco can’t be quantified as a specific number of years, properly applied and maintained portland cement plaster, or stucco, is as durable as any commonly used cladding material. It’s hard surface resists abrasion and can take a lot of physical abuse. It stands up to all sorts of climates, from cold to hot and wet to dry. Many homes built in the early 1900s have had very little maintenance and remain in good shape today.

Portland cement-based plaster, commonly called stucco, has long been and continues to be a popular choice for finishes on buildings. It allows for a wide expression of aesthetics, is a cost effective finish, is durable in all types of climates (especially wet ones), and offers fire resistance. Fire resistance is typically classified by a fire rating, but what kind of fire rating does plaster provide?

Things that influence the fire rating of a plaster system include the type of material used for the support member, size of the support member, presence/absence and type of exterior sheathing, aggregate in the plaster mix, presence/absence of insulation, presence/absence of interior wall finishing materials (gypsum wallboard, etc.) and thickness of the section. The type of member—wall, partition, ceiling, or other, and member classification (load bearing(LB) or non-load bearing (NLB)) also influences the rating.

In 1991, the Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry published a reference guide on portland cement-based plaster/stucco systems used for fire protection, the Single Source Document on Fire-Rated Portland Cement-Based Plaster Assemblies. Designers, specifiers, building code officials, contractors, and general public are the intended audience. The information contained therein is “not intended as design or installation criteria,” but can help people determine how to assess their assemblies using the referenced publications, fire test reports, industry standards, and codes.

For example, a typical residential application might be a three-coat system of plaster over 2-by-4-inch wood studs using metal lath attached to the studs, either with or without a layer of sheathing, like plywood. On the interior side would be a layer of gypsum board. The detail for a system made with these components is assigned a one-hour fire rating based on 1988 Uniform Building Code information.

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Some Stucco/Plaster History:

Marmorino is well known as a classic Venetian plaster. Its origins are much older, dating to ancient Roman times. We can see evidence of it today in the villas of Pompei and in various Roman structures. In addition, it was written about in Vitruvio’s “De Architectura”, a 1st Century B.C. history of Rome.

This ‘new’ plaster conformed well to the classical ideal that had recently become fashionable in the 15th century Venetian lagoon area.

The first record of work being done with marmorino is a building contract with the nuns of Santa Chiara of Murano in 1473. In this document, it is written that before the marmorino could be applied, the wall had to be prepared with a mortar made of lime and “coccio pesto” (ground terra cotta). This “coccio pesto” was then excavated from tailings of bricks or recycled from old roof tiles.

At this point, to better understand the popularity of marmorino in Venetian life, two facts need to be considered. The first is that in a city that extends over water, the transport of sand for making plaster and the disposal of tailings was, and still is, a huge problem. So, the use of marmorino was successful not only because the substrate was prepared using terra cotta scraps, but also the finish, marmorino, was made with leftover stone and marble, which were in great abundance at that time. These ground discards were mixed with lime to create marmorino.

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It was not until the invention of Portland Cement that exterior plastering, then called Stucco, was developed that could withstand the elements. A man named Joseph Aspdin, a bricklayer in Leeds, England, invented Portland Cement in his kitchen in 1824, when he cooked a mixture of lime and clay together.

The units are joined together by mortars made from a binder consisting of one or more cements for masonry, sand, and water. Portland cement plaster, or stucco, is made from the same material as mortars, and as such, is sometimes considered to be a masonry product as well.

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