The rumble in the suburbs continues. Problems with structural rot in synthetic stucco houses have been documented all over the Southeast, and people are choosing up sides.
Synthetic stuccoalso called EIFS (for Exterior Insulated Finish System)is an exterior wall covering. From the outside in, it’s made up of a thin layer of stucco applied over fiberglass mesh, which is stuck to insulating foamboard (think coffee-cup foam). The problem with this system is that water gets in around windows and doors and other openings, and it never gets out. Structural wood starts to rot, and the damage can go undiscovered for years.
When I want updates from the EIFS front lines, I check with my buddy Charlie Wood, president of Atlanta Re-building Consultants ( http://www.buildingdefects.com. ). Charlie’s company has tested about 400 EIFS-clad houses in the Atlanta area. These days, Charlie spends a lot of his time giving expert testimony on the trouble with EIFS.
In the EIFS wars, the first weapon employed is the finger, which everybody points at everybody else. Charlie says it’s predictable. Just about everybody on a building job can sow the seeds of EIFS trouble, he says, including the EIFS installer, the window manufacturers and installers, the roofer, the painter, the excavator, and the landscaper. When he trains EIFS testers, Charlie points out that manufacturers’ specifications call for high-tech sealants to be installed by a ”professional sealant applicator.“ Problem is, there’s usually no professional sealant applicator on a residential job. There’s only the unskilled laborer who caulks up all the windows and doors.
How about manufacturers’ claims that their EIFS installers are factory-trained and -authorized? ”These products have been installed wrong for at least 10 to 12 years,“ Charlie says. ”You get supposedly trained people who retained maybe 80 percent of the required knowledge, who then train others, who retain maybe 80 percent of that. You can see where it goes.“ Charlie says that of all the houses he’s examined or tested, he has yet to see one that’s built to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Since the original trouble with EIFS came to light in 1995, manufacturers have developed new systems that employ a ”drainboard“ designed to let water seep out. I asked Charlie if he thought anybody could build an EIFS house right, even with these new, improved systems. ”They can build one to specifications,“ he says. ”If you want to know whether the new systems will work, you’ll have to ask me in 20 years.“
I asked Charlie if he’d buy an EIFS house. ”Maybe,“ he said, ”if the deal were sweet enough.“ He said he’d test it for damage, fix anything that needed fixing, and relax.
While Charlie and other expert-witness types are making a living finding and explaining problems with EIFS, the EIFS industry is trotting out people who say there are no problems. It’s all just unfair publicity, they say. At the EIFS Industry Members Association (EIMA) Web site ( http://www.eifsfacts. com. ), you’ll find stuff like this, from Peter J. Verna, a structural engineer and president of Verna & Associates in Charlotte:
”EIFS is a wonderful product, which when used properly and maintained will perform on a level with any other exterior finish.“ You can read Verna’s full article on the EIMA Web site.
Another article on the EIMA site suggests that the EIFS industry is the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy of brick and wood-siding manufacturers. The article, reprinted from the January 1998 O’Dwyer’s Magazine, says that U.S. brick makers are ginning up negative PR for EIFS. The article cites ties between Atlanta’s Stucco Home Owners’ Committee (SHOC) and the Atlanta Brick Marketing Council (ABMC).
While the spin doctors spin and everybody tries to dodge the finger-o-blame, I can tell you this: I’ve stuck probes into the walls of EIFS houses and watched water shoot out. No house should have water in the walls. I’ve seen EIFS fall off in sheets. I’ve stuck my bare hand through weakened EIFS and pulled out rotten wood. Like Charlie Wood, I have yet to see an EIFS installation that even remotely matched the manufacturer’s specs.
I’ve seen lots of problems at lots of houses, but I’ve never seen anything like the stuff that happens at EIFS houses.
Visit Walter’s Web site at http://www.nashscene.com/~housesense. Or e-mail him at email@example.com.