What is EIFS and should you Use it?
By Dean Dalzell, Senior Project Manager
Often, we see a newly constructed building and we admire the exterior appearance of the structure without giving much thought to what makes the building so appealing. We are impressed with the color and/or the design, but we don’t stop and really take a good look at the exterior finish. There are numerous building materials that make up the overall “look” of the building. One of those materials you are looking at could be Exterior Insulation and Finish System or EIFS.
Many of us in the construction industry know what EIFS is. For those who may not, let me provide some information that will give an understanding of what it is and what benefits EIFS provides.
What is EIFS?
EIFS is an acronym for Exterior Insulation and Finish System. (It’s also referred to as synthetic stucco.) It is an exterior finish system that looks like stucco. Per the International Building Code and ASTM, EIFS is non load bearing, a multi-layered exterior wall cladding system that consists of an insulation board attached either adhesively or mechanically, or both, to the substrate; an integrated base coat; and a textured protective finish coat.
Basically, EIFS is used in lieu of wood or vinyl siding, brick, stucco, etc. as the exterior finish on commercial or residential structures. It provides the look of stucco, but with added features.
The History of EIFS
EIFS was originally developed in Europe after WWII and was initially used to retrofit solid masonry walls. Its uses in North America started in the 1960s and became popular in the 1970s during the oil embargo, due to its energy efficiency. Initially it was used in commercial construction, but as markets grew and prices dropped, builders saw its potential in the single-family and multi-family housing markets. The use of EIFS on single family homes, over stud and wall sheathing in lieu of solid wall construction, was developed in North America.
What are the benefits of using EIFS?
Example of EIFS: Blaine Multi-Tenent Retail Center
Energy Efficiency – As previously mentioned, EIFS has grown in popularity because of the increase in energy efficiency of the structure to which it is applied. According to the EIFS Industry Members Association, “EIFS can reduce air infiltration by as much as 55% compared to standard brick or wood construction.” The use of insulation board in the application of EIFS can increase the R-value of a building by R-4 per inch of insulation, thus reducing heating and cooling costs of the building. Additionally, because of the reduced energy use, heating and cooling equipment capacities can be reduced because of the increased energy efficiency of the building.
Design Flexibility – Another benefit of EIFS is in the flexibility of design relating to color, texture and shape. Architects have almost unlimited color and texture choices and, when applied by skilled applicators, all sorts of architectural detailing are possible, which would otherwise be cost-prohibitive using conventional construction.
Moisture Control – EIFS has been tested and found to be the best performing cladding in relation to thermal and moisture control when compared to brick, stucco and cementitious fiberboard (commonly known as fiber cement) siding.
One of the biggest concerns about any building cladding system is the potential for moisture intrusion behind the cladding system. As with any product, EIFS has been tested and improved over the years to address this concern. Today, most EIFS installations include a wall drainage system that provides drainage to keep the system free from moisture.
Wall drainage EIFS systems are like cavity walls; they are installed over a weather barrier behind the insulation that acts as a secondary drainage plane. The weather barrier must be properly flashed and coordinated with all other portions of the exterior wall to prevent water from migrating into the underlying walls or interior.
Why EIFS Gets a bad rap
In the 1980s and '90s, EIFS received a bad rap due to moisture intrusion into the EIFS system, resulting in moisture damage to substrate behind the EIFS. Extensive testing was conducted over a period of years, and it was determined the moisture intrusion was not a result of the EIFS itself, but rather details associated with the perimeter or penetrations through the EIFS. Incorrect and/or improper installation/maintenance allowed moisture to enter around the EIFS, causing the damage. Initial conclusions placed the fault with the EIFS manufacturers and installers. But as additional testing and analysis were performed, the actual source of the moisture penetration was discovered.
As of today, the EIFS manufacturers are still working to correct the record.
The Future of eifs
Example of EIFS: Wayzata Professional Building
Today’s EIFS is one of the most highly tested and well researched building cladding systems in the building industry. Additionally, it provides many advantages as an exterior cladding for commercial and residential construction.
Increased energy efficiency, resulting in decreased energy costs
Almost unlimited color and design capabilities to increase curb appeal
Highly moisture resistant with internal drainage to keep the structure free of moisture
As construction product manufacturers continue to develop new and better building systems to reduce costs, improve product life span, increase thermal efficiency, etc., EIFS manufacturers have and will continue to lead the industry in testing and developing their product. As architects continue to look for new and better products that enhance the look of the design, the EIFS industry is in the best position to provide the products the industry is looking for.
So the next time you see a new or attractive building, you’ll be able to recognize EIFS exterior and understand why it looks the way it does.
Meet the Author
Dean Dalzell has been a project manager with Shingobee Builders for 28 years, currently in our Waite Park office. He has managed a wide variety of projects over the years, including dozens of McDonald’s restaurants, Target stores, Thrifty White pharmacies, and many others.