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NC License 1069

Synthetic Stucco (EIFS)

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Issue 39 March 17, 2001

Synthetic Stucco

Architects Delight



Before I start on this subject, let me make it very clear, I do not like Synthetic Stucco and have done everything in my power to prevent my clients from using it. But this opinion has nothing to do with the reasons you might think. I grew up as a brick mason. I don't believe that there is any wall surface, all things being considered, better than brick, and Pine Hall Brick does not pay me for saying so. When Synthetic Stucco became popular, it injured the masonry industry of which I was a part. That being said, see if you can buy this: In my over 30 years of construction and two years of inspection experience, after spending much time in classes and reading material on the subject, I am convinced, for the most part, there is nothing wrong with Synthetic Stucco. I will even go farther to say: Synthetic Stucco is a reputable product which when properly installed can be beautiful, water resistant and add value to a home. 

Now that I have myself in the frying pan, take notice that I used the words "Synthetic Stucco" not "EIFS" and there is a major difference. EIFS stands for Exterior Insulation and Finish System. Synthetic Stucco is a component of the EIFS system, not the system itself. EIFS is an insulation system covered by Synthetic Stucco. I had an arms length third party involvement with the developer involved in the issue with many of the homes in Wilmington and have been personally involved in the construction of numerous commercial facilities with EIFS walls. Be assured that I am well informed on the issues.

The issues that were found in the Wilmington homes and many homes in North Carolina and around the U.S., since that time, are not problems, which are sole issues with EIFS walls. The same problems are found day in and day out on homes with every type of wall system you can imagine, including but not limited to, brick, block, concrete, stone, hard coat stucco, glass, tile, wood siding, hardboard siding and vinyl siding. Why then are the results of those problems so much worse, in most instances, on EIFS homes than on all of these other wall siding types to the point that a few homes have literally had to be bulldozed down? The reason is very simple and easy to understand even by the layman. All of the other systems are forgiving of the sins of improper installation and inadequate maintenance. EIFS as it was designed and installed in most cases in this and other states is not forgiving, but actually makes the results of problems from other issues worse. 

What then is the difference? Most types of wall siding systems, by their very nature, are self-draining and vented allowing moisture to escape and/or dry. Moisture gets in, but escapes or dries limiting the damage. The EIFS walls in question are one of the very few barrier systems. When properly installed and maintained barrier systems do not allow moisture into or out of the system making them the best possible system for keeping water out and the worst possible system for holding it in. Therefore, they do not forgive the sins of improper installation and poor maintenance. Not only does it trap the moisture as it seeps in, but refuses to allow air infiltration for drying. The same water infiltration issue on the other entire wall siding systems are forgiven while on EIFS it just keeps multiplying unnoticed inside of the wall until it becomes a major problem. 

Facing this major issue concerning EIFS how has it been addressed and cured. The truth is, the cure has been there all along, it just wasn't used because the problem was not well known, no one wanted to pay for it, and the manufactures assumed the systems were being installed and would be maintained properly. Bad assumption on their part, and today many of the manufactures are paying the multimillion dollar bill for their choice. The solution was to make the EIFS walls forgiving just like all of the rest by making them drainable and vented. This is the generally accepted solution to the issue on new construction and it should solve the problem. 

Yes, we have found a way to deal with the problem by making EIFS more forgiving, but the real problems are not being dealt with on EIFS or any of the many other type wall siding systems because they are so forgiving. The major problem is being circumvented, but the more minor long-term problems are still being ignored. Giving the moisture that enters the wall a place to go and a way to dry is great and sorely needed. But along with that shouldn't we be stopping the moisture from infiltrating in the first place? That, after all, is what our building codes require. 

Here are the issues with all wall systems, which caused the EIFS nightmare and will keep on causing problems on all wall systems if we don't wake up and deal with them. 

Leakage through improperly flashed and inadequately sealed wall openings. Proper flashing with end damns and properly caulked joints easily solve this. Windows and doors aren't the only wall openings. Others are at vents, hose bibs, electrical boxes, and wiring to mention but a few. Anything, which goes through or is set into a wall, is an opening and a potential leak. 

Leakage through door and window systems, which direct water into, instead of out of the wall system. You would be shocked to know how much water enters most homes through the window and door sills largely from the joint between the sill and jambs. To solve this problem, this joint must be caulked and re-caulked as required. Guess what is the one place painters never caulk. To properly caulk a wood window you must remove the sash and caulk behind the slide hardware at the sill to jamb joint. This is why thru-wall flashing with end damns are so important below all windows, doors and masonry sills. Guess what flashing is most often left out or improperly installed. 

Leakage through improperly flashed wall to roof transitions and at the end of wall/roof/eve connections. Flashing at roof to wall transitions must extend through and behind the wall siding and over step flashing at the roofing shingles. A kick out flashing should be installed at the eve at wall/roof/eve transitions. Most builders never install thru-wall flashing at brick veneer roof to wall transitions; they surface apply a counter flashing over the step flashing. The only place I ever see a kick out flashing is on the newer or repaired EIFS homes. 

Leakage at improperly flashed extended exterior deck connections. Some of the worst damage I find on homes is where the rear deck and sliding glass door have not been flashed. 

Leakage at improperly flashed and inadequately sealed ledges and recesses. Many years ago I had a building where the brick walls were leaking. We could not find any opening where water was infiltrating. The total wall at the top of the windows had one course of brick which was inset " creating an architectural feature around the building. After installing a sloped caulk on top of the bottom of that " reveal, the water stopped. I would never have imagined that so much water could come in such a place, but it did.

The devil is in the details. Ignore the details, as many builders do, and the homeowner, many years later, will pay the price of water inside the wall causing rot and termite damage (or rust in metal studs) and it won't just be on the EIFS walls.

The heart-breaking thing about the EIFS diabolical is that Synthetic Stucco has taken a bum rap for problems having absolutely nothing to do with Synthetic Stucco, and everything to do with many other issues, which are still being ignored by builders and code enforcement officials. You as a Realtor can play a major role in correcting this misconception by being better informed about the truth. Properly installed Synthetic Stucco is not now, nor has it ever been, the problem, it has simply become the whipping boy for much larger and more complex issues. 

Thought for the week

"What I know about money, I learned the hard way - by having had it."
--Margaret Halsey 

Useful household hints

Use Empty toilet paper roll to store appliance cords in. It keeps them neat and you can write on the roll what appliance it belongs to.

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