At least in a pinch you could eat the cheese

Well it’s been over a year since my last rant about Dryvit and why I think it should be banned as an exterior building material. But seriously folks, why do we even need to have this discussion? It would be like having to specify that cheese should not be used as a building material, or toothpaste, or sewn-together T-shirts. It should seem self-evident.

Some call it “synthetic stucco,” others just call it stucco, but unlike real stucco, which was an inch-thick multiple-layer application of concrete, Dryvit is just a very thin coating of plaster (less than a centimeter) over a panel of styrofoam. I think even the “plaster buildings” built by various world’s fairs back in the day as temporary structures were more durable.

Recently, I’ve watched as a building in my neighborhood has been covered with Dryvit, and I was able to get a close-up view, which I share here for anyone who might even be considering thinking about about putting the stuff on their building. Mind you, I’m not arguing the building in question is “historic” in the sense of being an architectural gem, but it was a good sturdy Modernist-leaning commercial building. The building is actually cinder block, but the facade was faced with a nice textured Roman brick with an interesting masonry screen created by opening squares into the brick supports for the porch overhang.

A good sturdy Modernist building, not fussy, but with thought put into it.

Another "Before" shot

Well, the building was recently vacated by its long-time tenants, and was up for sale for a while. I worried it would just sit and sit, so was happy to see the For Sale sign come down and the signs get painted over. But then I happened to drive past one day to see this sight, announcing that Dryvit was coming soon to my neighborhood:

This shot doesn’t seem so bad, actually, does it? How about these close-ups of what we’re really looking at here:

Yes, that is pure old flimsy cheap styrofoam mortared to perfectly good textured brick.

Goodbye nice solid brick, hello material only slightly stronger than dried cheese and with a lesser shelf life.

At least they're cutting out the squares again.

A nice touch, a chair rail that will protect the facade from . . . nothing really, it's just as flimsy as the rest of it.

Styrofoam "moulding" around the door :-(

The building is done now, the squares cut back out and the only real change is a painted blue stripe below the windows. This could have been done at much less cost by simply painting the facade (although I don’t know why you would paint brick and thereby create a maintenance cost into the future).

I don’t blame the owner–he thought he was doing a good thing. But give it a couple of years and the Dryvit will begin to wear badly. They’ll paint it again, but the styrofoam underwear will start showing and will get embarrassing. Then what will happen to this otherwise sturdy building that started out with a solid and long-lasting brick facade? They won’t be able to remove the styrofoam without damaging the brick, since it’s glued with material that’s stronger than the sytrofoam, so they’ll have to take down the whole facade and start over. That’s how decent buildings meet their demise through no fault of their own. And that’s why Dryvit should be banned!

While we’re at it, I guess we should go ahead and ban dried cheese too as a building material, just in case anyone gets the idea.

Categories: Architectural Research, Renovation Projects

11 replies

  1. Horrors personafied! Good photo and caption work here! My point again that Euporeans do not do this. Build it right the first time with beautiful masonry, stone or brick, then maintain it. Strips of metal buildings covered in Dryvit with plate glass windows and doors owned by landlords making lots of money all across America that end up vacant after 20 years – pitiful. I work in one. You’re right. Over time – YUK!


    • Although I’m not a defender of Dryvit, I did see several high-quality installations in Germany, where the product was developed, I was told. I was also told that many of the pre-war buildings that look stripped down with smooth stucco finishes (this was on a tour of Berlin) were re-skinned with Dryvit instead of restoring historic features damaged during the war, and that many of these installations have weathered well over 40 years (and no, this wasn’t a tour sponsored by the manufacturer…).

      One would assume that the installation was of a higher quality than the typical installation in the USA.


    • If wikipedia is to be believed on this topic (parts of the entry do sound a little boosterish), the European installations of the era you saw were probably over solid walls: “The use of EIFS over stud-and-sheathing framing (instead of over solid walls) is a North American technique.” So we Americans have only ourselves to blame on this one. I’d be interested too in knowing what material those early installations used as an underlay–surely not styrofoam as seen in this post? Do you have any detail shots of those German buildings?

      Thank you to this wikipedia article too for introducing me to this seemingly oxymoronic phrase: “architectural foam mouldings.” :-(


  2. That is really pathetic looking. What was a reasonably interesting-looking building now looks like something your stereo was packaged in prior to shipping.


  3. Thanks for the tutorial in why this Cheez-Wiz of a building “material” ought to be severely restricted- especially on older buildings. It’s sad to see a perfectly good building covered with this. As you say, if it could be easily stripped off with no harm done, that would be another matter.


  4. It’s just too sad …


  5. Needless to say, these pictures, and comment, did not make my day. In 1984 I purchased the former Walker welding shop at 623 Court Street, Jackson, Ms. and transformed it into my law office. On the concrete block exterior I placed scored dryvit, as I was told, at a cost of $85,000.00, which the architect recommended. I have never had second thoughts about the use of, nor any visible deterioration of, what I believe is dryvit. Then I read todays post. You can review the exterior at I would be interested in your thoughts.

    Roland Lewis


    • I’m sorry to start your day off wrong–not my intention!

      Twenty-five years is a long time in Dryvit years, so I’m impressed that yours has held up enough that you are still happy with your choice. I’ve seen many much younger installations already pockmarked from simple little impacts like maybe someone getting a little too enthusiastic while pushing a broom and knocking a hole in the building. That’s the kind of shoddy material that should never be put on the exterior of a building in my opinion.

      As I said above, my primary concern is the use of Dryvit on historic buildings–it seems like a worst-case scenario: a material that has a relatively short life, but at the same time is an end-of-the-road installation–there’s no second act afterward other than completely stripping the building down and starting over.


  6. Dryvit is an insidious material. It is cheap, ugly, and tacky. However, concerning Dryvit, I do not believe things are as doom and gloom as Malvaney’s post makes it seem. Of course, I am not a fan of Dryvit (did I mention cheap, ugly, and tacky), but I see Dryvit in the long continuum of bad “modern” materials put on buildings to make them seem better. The Twentieth Century is replete with such examples, and they do not mean the end for the structure they are applied to. I will give two examples to back up that claim.

    The first example is formstone. John Waters famously dubbed it “the polyester of brick.” Formstone is not very prevalent in the South (I have seen formstone, so it can occasionally be found in the South, likely under a different brand name) as formstone is a mostly Northern, urban phenomenon with Baltimore having a particular affection with (or being particularly infected by) formstone. Like Dryvit, it is a stucco-like product applied to a base of something else. With formstone, the stucco is applied to a chicken wire-type metal lath which has been attached (usually mortared) to the façade. The goal of formstone was to turn a brick building into a stone building. I am not sure what type of stone formstone makers and appliers were trying to imitate, but a formstone building looks like a formstone building. However, formstone can be removed, stucco, metal lath, mortar, and all. As long as the installers did not destroy the architectural details of the building during installation, the building will look like it did before it was formstoned.

    My second example is Vitrolite. Unlike Dryvit and formstone, Vitrolite is not stucco-like product but a glass product. Vitrolite, like Dryvit and formstone, was used to make a building look “modern” (contemporary, this comment is not an anti-Modernism attack; I’ve written plenty of those and happen to think Vitrolite looks very cool) and ward off old-fashioned-ness. Vitrolite also shares the fact that mortar is used to adhere the material to the brick façade (why do people cover up brick?). Since Vitrolite, like anything else associated with Modernism, is passé today, it is being removed fairly regularly. I have seen two historic buildings in downtown Florence, Alabama sheared of their Vitrolite façades in the past two years. Once the Vitrolite and mortar were removed, both of the buildings could have been restored to their original appearances with a modicum of brickwork. Neither building was (both were mutilated in new ways) but the possibility for restoration existed.

    My point is that Dryvit is merely the latest in a long line of new products people have used to damage historic architecture, and, like formstone, Vitrolite, and others, Dryvit is not a death sentence for a building. The stucco and Styrofoam can be removed and the mortar chipped off and the building will return to what it looked like before.

    Dryvit should be banned, though, as it is really cheap, really ugly, and really tacky.


  7. W’s back! Where have you been? You never call, you never write, etc.

    Obviously Dryvit does fit into a continuum, but that doesn’t put it on par with the other materials you mention here or other “Cheap Quick and Easy” (to borrow Pam Simpson’s book title) materials. The primary difference being in the durability of the material and the damage to the original cladding. I’ve never spent time up-close with formstone so assume your characterization is correct, but I have seen many many Vitrolite applications, and every one I’ve seen is attached, yes with a type of mortar, but in intermittent dabs, not wholesale application. And from what i can tell about the mortar, it’s not the heavy cement base seen above but a thinner paste-like substance–at least after 50 years or so that’s what it looks like. The problem with Vitrolite, in almost every case, is that it is easily damaged by skateboarders who slam into it in its most typical location–downtown storefronts below the window. The people who put the material on the building back in the day probably never guessed that someday it would be ok for kids to destroy their buildings without consequences. Since Vitrolite isn’t made today, the owners have little choice but to remove all the remaining Vitrolite and start over on their storefronts.

    But to return to Dryvit, at least from what I’ve seen, it is not at all easily removed and is nowhere near as durable even as Vitrolite, so thinking 15 or 20 years down the road, I wonder how these poor buildings that have been attacked with this material will survive when it starts breaking down? I think we can agree on that.


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