Bulge in stucco at 2nd story

My saturday inspection was on a 50+ year old stucco 2 story. On one side, right about where the floor of the 2nd floor would be, there was a visible outward bulge in the surface of the wall. I looked at several of the neighbor’s houses, and the bulge was common to 3 of 4, on both sides of the street. There were no signs of anything unusual on the inside of the house. Any ideas on what the cause could be? Thanks for the help and advice.
PS-Can someone explain to me how to resize my photos for the “new” message board?

Was there a horizontal control joint in the stucco near the rim joist between the first and second floors? If there was not, and the joists shrank a bit as the lumber dried out, it could cause the stucco to bulge out in this area.

Cripple wall.

Very common for two-story stucco houses around here. Ugly but no structural concerns.

What do you mean by cripple wall? This was on a gable end of the house, if this makes any difference.

Sounds like it was the same Framing Contractor that can’t line up the box header of the second floor with the wall below. ha. ha.

Marcel :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

This is a Cripple wall.

I’ve never heard of a cripple wall on 2nd floor.

Sounds like corrosion or pulling away of the screening under the scratch coats.

Wasn’t this subject of the crippled horse wall a subject on this forum before??
Marcel :slight_smile:

Yup, here it is…
](Need definition of word. - Public Archive - InterNACHI®️ Forum)

YUP. one of my favorites. i think we collectively decided to call them “cripple kneed pony” walls, or a crippled knee from tripping over a pony wall, or something. i hurt a rib laughing during that one.:mrgreen: :wink: :cool:

A cripple wall is a wall that is less than full story height. Here in earthquake country, we also build them between the floors of a building and use that space to run electric wires, air ducts, etc. The ceiling of the first floor is not the actual floor of the second floor; there is a space between the first floor ceiling and second floor floor, usually 18-24 inches high. When framed a certain way, a cripple wall is created. Unfortunately, today’s construction is so shoddy that the cripple walls are not framed properly and/or the stucco guys don’t know what to do when they get to that point.

Cripple walls are quite common in earthquake country between all floors.

In South Texas, we never used them because the land was flat and there were no earthquakes. There still is a space between the two floors. It’s just that you won’t see a break between the two floors from the exterior. All the breaks are done in the interior using framing, drywall, etc.

What is described in your post is a second-story cripple wall.

Remember that the largest earthquake in the history of the United States was that New Madrid earthquake in Missouri in 1811-1812, so I would not think it unusual to find second-story cripple walls in Missouri.


Here’s a pretty good site on cripple walls:


Getting off the subject: A bit further North from RRay, a common 2nd floor addition strategy is to build one o them horsey walls on top of original 1st story, run TGI joists the entire width of the house and build the 2nd floor on top. The 1’-18" between 1st floor ceiling and 2nd floor subfloor allows for easy installation of new ductwork, plumbing, electrical etc as RRAy says. Makes the addition a little top-heavy, but its quick and doesn’t require the finesse such an addition would otherwise require. This must be happening in other parts of the country, eh?

Sorry I wasn’t able to finish my post properly last night. I had margarita-induced employees bothering me about the NCAA basketball game.

What is shown in David’s picture is not a cripple wall in the classic sense of the term. Ideally, a cripple wall is of the same height/width/materials/etc. throughout its run, and, hopefully, one has the same type of cripple walls on all sides of the structure. That in David’s picture is a combination of block and stick, which creates many areas of different engineering strength whereas a classic cripple wall would carry forces evenly throughout its run. Block will carry/support forces differently from wood.

Our older houses here don’t have cripple walls even with raised foundations. And the newer houses are built on slabs with cripple walls only at the first floor/second floor/third floor/etc. junctions.

What is shown in David’s picture is what I would call foundation framing on a hillside home. And if one looks at the left side of the picture, it does look like the ground slopes from back to front. Additionally, the best cripple wall would never cut a member to make room for the anchor bolt, as has been done to that second vertical member from the front. I doubt that that cut was engineered; probably simply done by the builders on site because the stupid anchor bolt got in the way. Darn.

Thanks for all the responses. Now I know what a cripple wall is. I don’t think that is what’s causing the bulge, I can’t seem to envision anything other than full length studs, platform frame construction. There were almost no cracks in the top coat, so it must have been there for quite a while. I know the owners, and they haven’t made any repairs in 14 years, so it must be stable. I guess I’ll wait for an earthquake to get my answer. The house in question is in Kansas City, a little outside of my regular service area, not as close to New Madrid as my town. Thanks to all that weighed in on this question. This board is always a terrific source of information.

The title of your thread, “Bulge in stucco at 2nd story” said it all for me. I never note cripple wall bulges in my report, which, perhaps, I should do since I occasionally get a question at the time of the inspection concerning the “bulge in the stucco at the second story.”

“Just a cripple wall, ma’am, just a cripple wall.”

Hmmm … stucco (rigid) over wood frame (moves with seasonal moisture changes) without very careful attention to installation details/joints (yea, right) with a problem like that … go figure … :sarcasm:

Russ … the pic posted by David may not be a “seismic cripple wall” as you are used to thinking about them out there in the earthquake capital, but it does indeed look like your average garden variety “cripple wall”, which is defined by the ICC/IRC as …

BTW Russ … if ya go to the root page of that link you gave on cripple walls (go here … http://www.abag.ca.gov/bayarea/eqmaps/fixit/training.html) that looks like an excellent reference for home inspectors in high risk earthquake areas. I will add that to the Technical Links page currently under development by the Education Committee for NACHI Members. Thanks … :wink:

JMO & 2-nickels

If there is no structure damage it has been freeze and thaw cycles that have made the stucco bulge worse over the years!
Fifty years ago the felt paper was of better quality and the house still breaths better then the new ones and was not built useing OSB.

So, Is the answer of fact : Crippled wall constructed out of plumb, and the box sill for the first floor, created the bump out in the Stucco finish??


Yes. Let’s face it. The more stuff one has to work with, the more likely it is for there to be problems. A cripple wall has lots and lots of stuff in a very small space, all things considered. So if it is done haphazardly, nothing the stucco guys can do is going to cover it 100%.

Years later…

I found the explanation below (and this discussion) while looking up an answer to a test prep question asking what type of framing should be used for stucco of a a multistory home - it seems it may address the original question asked here as well. Anyway, I think it answered the test question.

"Before applying stucco, you want the sheathing and the house walls to be prepared for that kind of application. If the stucco is being put onto a house that is two stories tall it is recommended that balloon framing be used. The more joints there are in the framing, the more chance there is that the stucco will crack. This happens because of the movement of the sills and plates. Sometimes an ugly bulge can appear in the stucco when a house settles. So be sure the framing is for a stucco exterior. "