The Real Facts About EIFS
- EIFS Basics -
EIFS is an acronym for Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems.
It is a generic term for an exterior cladding system currently
produced by some 30 manufacturers in the U.S. EIFS is also
referred to as "Synthetic Stucco". This term is not
entirely accurate in the context of talking about EIFS because
there are other types of synthetic stucco products besides EIFS.
The acronym is typically pronounced "EEFS" although
some pronounce it as "EEFIS". Whatever.
EIFS consist of several components combined to produce the
cladding system (see diagram 1). The first half of the acronym,
"Exterior Insulation" is derived from the fact that the
first component installed is a polymer-based foam board. This
foam board is mechanically and/or adhesively attached to the
exterior sheathing of the home. In this respect the foam board
serves as an exterior insulating layer. Over this foam board is
applied a synthetic base-coat material in which is embedded a
fiberglass reinforcing mesh. This is typically referred to as the
"base-coat". Is is usually a muddy-green color and
dries down to a grey or greenish-grey. On top of the base coat is
applied one or more "finish coats". This is the
exterior layer that gives the product its stucco-like appearance.
Hence the second part of the acronym "Finish Systems".
Diagram 1: EIFS Components
A Brief History of EIFS
EIFS were developed in Europe after World War II. There was a
need to repair war-ravaged buildings without leveling and
rebuilding them. EIFS was an ideal way to go. Data indicate that
EIFS was successful in its performance as deployed in Europe.
What EIMA typically won't tell you is that the use in Europe was
almost entirely on concrete and masonry exteriors.
In 1969 Dryvit imported the first EIFS into the U.S. largely
for commercial applications. One of the first users of the
systems was the U.S. Army. EIFS began making inroads into the
residential construction industry in the mid 1980's. No
engineering changes were made to allow for differences between
commercial masonry and steel construction and wood residential
construction before it was introduced to the residential market.
- Homes clad with EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish
Systems) a.k.a. synthetic stucco have a very
strong tendency to retain moisture between the sheathing
of the home and the finish system. The design of EIFS,
unlike other systems (brick, stone, siding, etc.), does
not allow the moisture to drain out. The moisture can sit
in contact with the sheathing for a prolonged period and
rotting may result. Damage can be serious. Left unchecked,
it can affect the structural components of the home. This
is also an open invitation to termites.
- EIFS homes cannot be made "water proof", even
by "professional" caulking applicators. All
caulk joints fail, even those made under laboratory
conditions by EIFS industry engineers. No
residential windows are waterproof, they are
designed and manufactured to a water-resistant standard.
Some water will always find a way in. When it can't
get out you have a problem.
- This problem is less severe in traditional, or "hard
- Most "stucco" homes built in this area in the
last ten years have EIFS.
- If you are not sure what kind of stucco you have ask your
- A quick, but not foolproof, 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 exceptions with very new finish systems. Very new
systems may also be "drainable" or
- EIFS homes built before 1997 have a 90%+ chance of
having moisture intrusion problems. EIFS homes built
since 1997 may have a reduced chance of moisture
intrusion, but are not immune.
- There are few, if any, visual clues to the problem. It is
behind the walls of the home.
- Local homes built by respected builders have been tested
by experts. To date, more than 90% have had moisture
intrusion problems. This is in agreement with the 93% -
94% hit rate experts predict.
- One of the largest builders in the country (with a major
market-share in Fairfax County) recently switched
from EIFS to traditional hardcoat. When asked about the
switch they indicated that it was "due to the bad
publicity that EIFS has gotten, but we've never had any
problem with EIFS". However, the Fairfax County
Department of Environmental Management confirms that this
builder did a complete tear-off of a two year old home in
one of their major subdivisions, replaced all the windows
and refinished the home with hard-coat. Residents of the
subdivision stated that the "family was moved into
another home prior to the tear-off". NOVASHOC
members wanted to attend this subdivision's annual HOA
meeting in September, but this was denied by the HOA's
Board of Directors. The builder holds two seats on the
- This is not a "North Carolina" problem; it's national.
It was discovered first in North Carolina.
- Homes as young as 6 weeks of age have been found to have
damage. We have seen model homes and homes still under
construction in this area with serious problems.
- In Virginia, the owner has five years from the date of
the occupancy permit to act under the Virginia Statute
of Repose (limitations). After that the only relief
may be under the EIFS manufacturer's express warranty if
it is still in effect.