On March 22, 1999, Dateline NBC ran a story on a building product called "EIFS" (pronounced "eefs" or "eefis"). EIFS stands for Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems or more commonly known as "synthetic stucco". EIFS combines two components to produce a cladding system: The "Exterior Insulation" is a foam board which is attached to the exterior sheathing and serves as an exterior insulating layer. Over this foam board is applied a "Finishing System" of synthetic base-coat material embedded in a fiberglass mesh. On top of the base coat is applied one or more "finish coats" which gives it a stucco-like appearance.
EIFS was developed in Europe after World War II to repair war-ravaged buildings. EIFS was used successfully as a cost effective repair alternative on concrete and masonry buildings. In 1969, it was introduced in the U.S. largely in commercial and military applications. EIFS began making inroads into the residential construction industry in the mid 1980's. Today, EIFS accounts for 17% of the commercial exterior finish market and 4% of the residential market. Installations in the residential market are increasing 12-18% a year.
The Problem No engineering changes were made
to EIFS to allow for differences between masonry and steel construction
versus wood framed construction before it was introduced to the
residential market. Homes clad with EIFS have a tendency to retain
moisture between the sheathing of the home and the finish system.
Retained moisture that remains in contact with the structure
and sheathing for prolonged periods promotes dryrot. Left unchecked,
it can severely damage the structural components of the home
which provides an open invitation to termites and other wood
boring insects. Inordinately high levels of mold growth can occur
which has negative health effects.
EIFS homes cannot be made waterproof with caulking as all caulk joints fail. Since windows are designed to be only water-resistant, some water will always find a way in. When it can't get out, there is a problem. Inadequate roof flashing details also allow water intrusion.
EIFS homes built prior to 1997 with what is known as "barrier" EIFS have a high probability of moisture intrusion problems. Inspections done in North Carolina indicated that more than 90% of new EIFS homes were affected. Some of them were no more than 6 weeks old. Those built since 1997 may have a reduced chance of moisture intrusion since they may have "drainable" or "water-managed" systems but they are not immune to the problem.
Most stucco-type homes built in the last ten years have EIFS. A quick way to check is to knock on the wall with your knuckles and press on it with your fingertips. If you hear a hollow sound when you knock and the wall feels softer than concrete you probably have EIFS. If the wall sounds very solid and feels as hard as concrete you may have traditional (hard coat) stucco.
There are few visual clues of the moisture
problem since it is hidden behind the walls. Moisture detection
devices inserted into wall cavities can, however, detect higher
than normal moisture concentration. The statute of limitations
(time frame in which you must act to protect your rights) varies
from state to state. Moreover, most EIFS warranties require written
notice within a short time of its discovery. If your home has
EIFS, consider a certified inspection service as soon as possible.