Exterior Insulating Finishing Systems have been popular in North America since the late 1960s. Sometimes, issues arise and EIFS inspectors are called out to look at buildings that don't actually have any EIFS on the exterior walls, but instead have stucco or another similar-looking textured finish. These calls can be a hassle and a waste of time, but on rare occasions it may be difficult to determine if the wall cladding system is EIFS or not, even for seasoned industry professionals.
What is EIFS made from?
EIFS goes on the exterior wall of a building or house and provides insulation from the outside as well as an aesthetically-pleasing stucco-like finish. It is typically composed of three layers:
- The innermost insulating layer: a foam insulation board, usually composed of expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) that is attached to "substrate" on the supporting wall.
- A reinforced coating: reinforcing fiberglass mesh is applied and surrounded with a cementitious base coat. This allows for strength and flexibility when the wall shifts.
- An aesthetic coating: the finished top coat is then applied, available in endless colours and textures.
Who makes EIFS?
EIFS are not generically available like paint, bricks or stucco. They are sold as a system of materials by a manufacturer, and are available only to installers and contractors through distributers. EIFS are not available to the public or at retail locations.
The EIFS components are sold individually, but are made by the same manufacturer for each EIFS application and are put together at the construction site by the installer on the wall itself. Problems can arise when a component from one manufacturer is used with a component from a different manufacturer, such as voiding the warranty or making it difficult for someone to identify the materials used in the EIFS later on down the road if necessary.
What kind of concerns do people have about EIFS?
When EIFS are installed correctly, they can pose very few problems. However, there are several factors that might result in some issues, and these are most often due to other reasons, not the EIFS itself.
Consider, for example, that you've purchased a car. Normally, every car comes from the dealership manufactured and ready to drive safely.
Imagine instead if the car came from a dealership in a pile of parts, and had to be put together on your driveway by an independent mechanic. This is the point where issues may arise with EIFS. The "parts" are all in perfect working condition, but they must be applied by an individual company on a house or building, and if done incorrectly it can lead to problems. This is the primary concern when having EIFS installed.
Now consider that this pile of parts has arrived, but each part comes from a different manufacturer. What if the car needs to be repaired or refinished in the future? The mix of parts from different manufacturers creates a difficult situation when trying to figure out where those parts came from and finding replacement parts if necessary. It ensures accountability of the installers and manufacturers, and you can feel confident knowing each component is designed to work together as a whole system.
One last situation to consider: for some reason you would really prefer if the mechanic you've hired were to build the car on the snow-covered lawn next to the garage, because it looks better there than on the driveway where it belongs. The parts become dirty, wet, and susceptible to bugs and rust when the snow melts in the Ontario spring. This is similar to what happens when someone desperately wants to have their EIFS installed very close to or under the ground. It looks nice, but the physical and structural repercussions are simply not worth it.
What lies beneath
True EIFS is affixed to a substrate made of cement or sheathing. If the cladding is directly installed without any kind of substrate, it's not EIFS. The same can be said for EIFS foam applied over cement, and for EIFS finish painted over anything else. Unless all components of an EIFS are used as a wall cladding system together, it's not an EIFS wall.