A Good Idea…In Theory
An Exterior Insulation Finish System, or “EIFS,” is a synthetic stucco-cladding used on exterior walls in both commercial and residential construction. EIFS uses a stucco-like polymer-based outer coating containing a plastic resin, which makes the coating softer and more flexible than traditional hard-coat stucco. EIFS is applied using an expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation board resembling Styrofoam. The EPS board is attached directly to the substrate (typically wood, Oriented Strand Board (“OSB”) or gypsum board) with adhesive or mechanical fasteners. A cementious base coat (usually grey in color) is then troweled onto the EPS board. Before the base coat dries, a fiberglass reinforcing mesh is worked into it until the mesh is completely covered. A finish coat is then troweled over the base coat. The finish coat can be colored to the homeowner’s taste.
The original EIFS stucco cladding used in residential construction was designed to be a complete water barrier system, theoretically 100% waterproof. This “barrier EIFS” was installed on thousands of homes in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.
So, What’s the Problem?
Unfortunately, no provision was made to drain water that may penetrate a barrier EIFS. In fact, manufacturers have only recently begun to market a new generation of EIFS, which purports to solve the problem by allowing drainage. In reality, this new “drainable EIFS” cladding is even more difficult to install, and its effectiveness and reliability have yet to be proven. Moreover, the new system provides little consolation to the thousands of New Jersey homeowners whose houses, condominium units and townhouses are clad with a barrier EIFS.
Without the ability to drain water, moisture that penetrates the face of a barrier EIFS gets trapped within the wall cavity. Eventually, your home absorbs this moisture. From there, it is only a matter of time before adjoining materials begin to decay and rot. In many cases, the home’s framing also rots, causing structural damage. In extreme cases, it is possible to pull handfuls of rotted “wall” right off the side of an affected structure or to tear off chunks from rotted studs with your fingers.