EIFS/Synthetic Stucco

What is EIFS?

EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems) is also called synthetic stucco, and refers to a multi-layered exterior finish that's been used in European construction since shortly after World War II, when contractors found it to be a good repair choice for buildings damaged during the war. The majority of repairs to European buildings were to structures constructed of stone, concrete, brick, or other similar, durable materials.

EIFS in North America

North American builders began using EIFS in the 1980's, first in commercial buildings, then applying it as an exterior finish to residences--mostly wood frame houses--using the same techniques that had been successful in Europe.

There are three layers to EIFS

  • Inner Layer - Foam insulation board that's secured to the exterior wall surface, often with adhesive.
  • Middle Layer - A polymer and cement base coat that's applied to the top of the insulation, then reinforced with glass fiber mesh.
  • Exterior Layer - A textured finish coat.

EIFS layers bond to form a covering that doesn't breathe. That's fine when no moisture is present behind the covering, but if moisture seeps in it can become trapped behind the layers. With no place to go, constant exposure to moisture can lead to rot in wood and other vulnerable materials within the home. What had worked well as an exterior shell for concrete and stone became a problem when used on wood. Moisture-related problems lead to individual and class action lawsuits by consumers.

Another problem resulted when the insulation board was allowed to contact or penetrate the ground below.  This application would often allow access to termites and other insects into the home.

Traditional concrete stucco (also called HardCoat Stucco) uses materials and application techniques that are different than EIFS.  Traditional concrete stucco has a long history of successful application worldwide and remains a popular product for construction today.

Synthetic Stucco vs. Traditional Stucco

  • Synthetic stucco is soft and sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Traditional stucco is hard and brittle, and sounds solid when tapped.

Maintaining EIFS

  • Any opening, such as door and window frames and the areas around flashings, must be sealed (caulked, etc.) to prevent water from seeping behind the EIFS.  Items that penetrate the stucco must also be sealed.
  • Gutters should be kept clean and positioned to drain away from the house.
  • Foam should not extend below grade.
  • Periodic moisture probe inspections can be conducted by a stucco professional to identify hidden moisture issues.
In other words, no moisture should be able to seep behind the EIFS.

Signs of EIFS Problems

  • Mold or mildew on the interior or exterior of the home.
  • Swollen wood around door and window frames.
  • Blistered or peeling paint.
  • Cracked EIFS or cracked sealant.

EIFS Today

Newer EIFS systems include a drainage arrangement to help keep moisture from being trapped behind the covering. Issues with synthetic stucco have influenced resale prices of homes with these products. Companies specializing in stucco have recently emerged that will help you keep your EIFS sealed and in good shape.  Some of these companies will even offer a bond guaranteeing no moisture issues.  Some folks have even gone so far as to fully remove EIFS and replace it with other more problem free products.  Of course, this can be very costly.  Contact a trusted home builder or stucco professional for more details and suggestions about working with EIFS/synthetic stucco and hardcoat stucco.

Information herein believed to be accurate but not warranted

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