Exterior Insulation and Finish System. A non-load bearing exterior wall
cladding system consisting of a thermal insulation board, adhesively
and/ or mechanically attached to the substrate, base coat with
reinforced fiberglass mesh and a textured finish coat.
Strip the EIFS or repair it; that is the question. The
answer is quite simple, and applies to virtually all types of cladding.
To begin, one must go beyond the symptoms of water intrusion problems,
and find the actual sources of the leaks. As a professional building
envelope consultant, I have seen the best and the worst of EIFS. Most
EIFS problems, but not all, occur in residential construction. I can
tolerate a leak in my office building, because I can always go home, but
if my home leaks, it becomes an emotional issue, mostly because there
is no where I can escape, and somehow have to deal with the problem.
EIFS is not a cladding the average homeowner can repair, and many EIFS
repair contractors have not been trained in the forensics and repair.
This leads to confusion, and the frustration builds, and the homeowner
feels more and more victimized. Who can you go to for competent advice?
Maybe it is time for you to become a bit more knowledgeable on the
subject of moisture intrusion, so you can protect your most valuable
asset, your home. Then you will be able to ask pertinent questions and
judge the quality of professional advice, along with the qualifications
of cladding contractors.
Let’s start with the basic facts about cladding, many
of which contradict popular opinion. I suggest you follow a rule that
Exterior Design Institute (EDI) instructors use when instructing student
EIFS inspectors: “Do not form preconceived opinions. The building will
tell you what the source of the problem is, if you pay attention.”
CLADDING AND THE BUILDING ENVELOPE
EIFS and other forms of cladding do not normally fail.
That is to say, water does not penetrate directly through the surface
of the cladding. It penetrates the building envelope. The envelope
includes secondary moisture barriers such as felt paper and Tyvek,
flashing, and the primary moisture barrier which includes windows,
doors, cladding and sealants. The points of water intrusion are
identical in virtually every condo or residential project I inspect. The
windows were not flashed, and leaked at the lower corners, kick out or
diverter flashing was not installed at roof/wall intersections, allowing
roof run off to get behind the cladding, and decks were not properly
flashed. If those conditions did not exist, there would be no water
CAUSE AND AFFECT OF BAD ADVICE
Most EIFS clad structures do not have to be stripped,
at least from a technical perspective. I seldom hear of a residential
building being stripped, if the cost is borne by the owners.
HOMEOWNER GUIDE TO INSPECTING EIFS
A brief inspection can alert you to potential trouble spots.
1. Check roof / wall intersections to see if an angled
piece of flashing has been installed to divert the flow a of water away
from the vertical wall
2. Check the lower corners of windows for any gaps in
the corner miters, and probe the sealant to determine if is still
3. Look for any bulges at the second floor line.
4. Carefully check your deck, if it is wood frame and
attached to the house. There should be visible flashing and no sign of
5. EIFS should not be installed below grade, so when replacing mulch, first remove the old mulch.
6. 85% of all remediation, costs less than $1500, and
is usually a maintenance issue. Keep in mind, water intrusion is
cumulative. The longer water penetrates the building envelope, the
greater the potential damage.
7. Be aware that any inspector who proposes to
remediate and inspect on the same project, is in conflict of interest.
Moisture content of wood must exceed 19.5% for the
algae, which causes wood rot, to exist. Kiln dried lumber is dried to
19%, prior to shipment to lumber yards. There are so many references to
moisture content of wood by so many scientists, testing labs and
agencies, anyone who states a 10% moisture reading in wood or OSB
sheathing should be considered an elevated reading, is simply making up
the rules and completely disregarding an army of highly trained experts.
Likewise, any inspector or consultant who states any moisture reading
in any type of wood, exceeds 40%, has their moisture meter probes
submerged in a glass of water, or is using the wrong equipment. Without a
doubt, this individual is not a qualified moisture analyst. Most grades
of construction lumber and sheathing cannot absorb more than 30-35%
moisture before reaching total saturation. The harder the species, the
lower the saturation point. Why? The wood fibers take up the rest of the
space. There is simply no more room for water without removing the wood
PRIMARY AND SECONDARY MOISTURE BARRIERS
Tyvek, felt paper or liquid applied membranes are all
components of the secondary moisture barrier. Add flashing, windows,
doors, and the walls should be able to shed water without any moisture
reaching the sheathing or framing. Next comes the cladding and caulking
(sealant). The only work left, is to properly install the primary
moisture barrier according to details and specifications. If this is
done correctly, the secondary moisture barrier remains a dormant backup
to wear and tear of the cladding. All cladding does need some sealant,
depending on the cladding used. Never use acrylic caulking on the
exterior. It has an anticipated life of less than two years, and a 10%
movement capability. Use only urethane or silicone sealants.
When your home leaks, it is a symptom of the problem.
Leaky cladding is a symptom and you need to fix the actual problem.
Something in the building envelope is usually the problem, unless, of
course, you have a burst pipe. If you have leaks in the ceiling, it may
be the roofing, but it may also be flashing or clogged gutters.
Treat your home the same way your doctor treats your
medical ailments. Symptoms lead to causes, and causes are what must be
treated. Don’t waste your time treating the symptom, it will just mask
the root cause and could lead to more severe problems.
If you own an EIFS home, don’t panic. If you plan to
sell your EIFS home, get it inspected prior to putting it on the market,
as any professional real estate salesman would suggest. If you plan to
buy an EIFS home, require an inspection as a condition of purchase.
The EIFS industry took in the ’90’s, was negative. But
it was very similar to the problems experienced by the rubber roof
industry in the ’80’s. Their solution was to require independent
certified roof inspectors to sign off on every installation, and the
problems disappeared. EIFS clad homes, buildings and condos can be
remediated at a fraction of the cost of complete removal.