By Pat Hill, QA Manager, Alexander & Schmidt
The primary problem with Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS) is the retention of moisture from water infiltration that promotes the rotting of wood and wood products (OSB, plywood, etc.) Usually this is the substrate and studding on a frame structure.
Underwriting may encounter a situation in which the existence of EIFS was not correctly identified in the risk assessment report. This is of paramount concern for many carriers. Some insurers have a best practice in underwriting including rules for issuance of notice of cancelation of coverage if EIFS is present. Anytime EIFS is encountered it should be included in the risk assessment report, along with the percentage.
Below you will find information to help you understand how to identify EIFS cladding.
EIFS – (Exterior Insulation and Finish System.) EIFS is a synthetic coating over foam core and fiberglass mesh. It is used to provide detail around windows, doors, columns, etc. and also on flat wall surfaces when a finer texture is wanted. It allows a lot of artistic expression and has a much smoother texture than conventional stucco. The materials used to form the EIFS vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. EIFS can be a barrier type cladding system that relies entirely on the exterior surface to keep moisture out. With this type, there is no internal draining system. Today, EIFS accounts for nearly 30 percent of the U.S. commercial exterior wall market.
The most basic EIFS (a barrier EIFS) consists of 3 layers: A layer of foam plastic insulation; a reinforced layer that is applied onto the face of the insulation with a trowel, consisting of a fiberglass reinforcing mesh embedded in a cementitous adhesive; and, a final topcoat, or finish, which is a colored, textured paint-like material that is applied with a trowel or, very rarely, by spraying. A wide range of custom colors and textures are available. Available textures include smooth surfaces, rough “stucco-like” textures, embedded stone chips, multi-color (granite-like mixtures,) and even brick-like treatments.
EIFS was initially designed to look like traditional stucco. To determine if you have traditional stucco or EIFS, tap on the siding. Real stucco feels hard and sounds solid when tapped (like you are hitting concrete if on block or plywood if on frame.) True stucco finish is usually 3 layers and at least ¾” thick. EIFS will be more forgiving and will not feel as dense, and sounds hollow when tapped on. If this test is not determinative, inspect areas where the finish coat meets light fixtures, gutter straps, or other interruptions in the finish. Look for seams where panels are used. Look for the layer of Styrofoam. If you see it, you have EIFS. If there are extensive decorative features (store fronts, hotels, etc.) you are probably looking at EIFS.
Because EIFS systems rely on a perfect seal at the exterior surfaces, they are susceptible to entrapment of moisture inside the system. Water can enter the system where seams and seals fail, where moisture migrates from inside the building and where punched openings (windows, doors, etc.) are present. Because of the low vapor permeability of the finish, water trapped behind the EIFS cannot dry out quickly toward the outside of the wall. Depending on the rest of the wall system design and installation, there may also be limited drying potential to the inside. Limited drying potential in combination with high leakage potential can lead to moisture buildup inside the wall, and eventually to mold growth and structural decay.
Structural damage is primarily a “frame construction” problem. EIFS over metal or masonry is not as much a structural problem but a potential mold problem.
The most common problems found associated with water intrusion in EIFS are:
- Windows, Doors, Electrical Outlets
- Roof Flashings
- Deck Flashings
- Below Grade Installation
- Projections, Vents
There are two important concerns to ensure the adequacy of an EIFS system:
- Properly trained and manufacturer certified installers
- Annual inspection and maintenance.
The primary problem is improper installation. The manufacturer or distributor trains applicators and issues certificates stating that the applicator has been properly trained. It is the responsibility of the distributor to ensure that EIFS is sold only to those certified applicators.
The following is a list of items to help ensure the integrity of an EIFS system.
- Annually inspect all sealant around windows, doors, penetrations through the EIFS, EIFS transitions (such as EIFS to brick, EIFS to stone), and stucco terminations (at roof, at grade, at patios or walkways). Arrange for prompt repair of any areas of caulk that is split, cracking, crazing or is losing adhesion. Also, promptly repair any cracks in the EIFS.
- Any leaks, cracks, areas of discoloration, mold or mildew should be promptly investigated by a certified EIFS inspector. Repairs should be proper and prompt.
- Anytime you make a penetration through the EIFS such as to mount a satellite dish, add shutters, new wiring, cables, plumbing, security systems, etc., the perimeters must be sealed with a quality sealant approved for EIFS.
- Modifications, additions or renovations (including roof replacement) to the structure of any kind should be inspected by a qualified EIFS inspector to ensure waterproofing of critical details is properly performed.
- Periodic cleaning of the surface is necessary to maintain its appearance and prevent permanent staining. Pressure cleaning equipment must be calibrated to the EIFS manufacturer’s recommended pressure level (low) to prevent damage. Select a firm with experience in cleaning these EIFS systems. There are no products that are totally maintenance free, and EIFS is no different.
- We recommend setting up a maintenance schedule with an EIFS specialist to carefully inspect the exterior for damage, about every 1-2 years. Any needed repairs should be made at that time (usually just re-caulking, etc.). EIFS is the type of system where it is very important to catch any problems early on.
The importance of proper identification of this cladding is a continuing issue for both underwriting and risk control.