Importance of Proper Installation, Maintenance and Special Hazard Considerations for Exterior Insulating Finishing Systems (EIFS)
Exterior Insulating Finishing Systems (EIFS) has changed the architectural landscape of residential and commercial neighborhoods everywhere. However, businesses looking to build or retrofit with EIFS should be aware of the importance of proper installation, periodic maintenance, and special hazard considerations to make sure that EIFS is an effective design solution, rather than a structural or financial problem.
- Metal studs or wood framing, often including a cavity insulation such as fiberglass batts, for the surface substrate;
- Surface substrate such as an existing wall, or gypsum board, plywood, OSB board, or cement board;
- “Water drainage systems” will include a drainage plane (cavity) that is created by an adhesive used to attach the expanded polystyrene (EPS) to the substrate;
- EPS Insulation board that is adhered as described above or mechanical attached to the substrate;
- Base coat applied to a reinforcing glass fiber mesh on the face of the insulation board; and
- Primer and finish coating that can be applied in a wide variety of colors and textures to create a stucco or stone appearance, as well as many other kinds of appearances.
There are multiple types of materials that require precise installation, and even the slightest undetected flaw can quickly become the Achilles heel of the system. Attention to detail is required for the installation of the multiple component materials, adhesives, and fasteners as well as sealing properly around windows, doors, various joints, flashing, corners, edges, ridges, wall-mounted air conditioner units, and wall penetrations.
Moisture can be trapped if any of these aspects of installation do not meet the manufacturer’s specifications. EIFS is more complex today than the early forms of this wall system. EIFS contractors are now required to install a multitude of building components with varying designs that necessitate a large amount of installation knowledge, expertise, and precision. Building codes require special installation inspections for EIFS unless it is installed with a moisture barrier and drainage plane, or if the wall is masonry or concrete.
- Look for an established, licensed and bonded professional that is a certified installer and a member of EIMA (EIFS Industry Members Association).
- Meet manufacturer’s specifications as well as the installation and wind requirements of the 2009 or 2012 International Building Code.
- Use building code approved products.
- Third party inspections for quality control is recommended.
- Request and check the contractor’s references. Visit completed buildings and ask the building owners questions about their satisfaction with the installation.
- Ask to see the contractor’s certificates of insurance. Make sure that coverage for liability and workers’ compensation insurance are current.
- Discuss available warranties from the manufacturer and the contractor.
Over time, UV rays and continued weathering will eventually deteriorate even the most resistant caulks and sealants, and small cracks and punctures can allow for significant water intrusion.
A thorough preventative maintenance plan is important to ensure the wall system performs as intended. Periodic inspections of the entire wall system are needed to quickly identify and fix any cracks, chips, holes, or punctures in any part of the wall, including areas that have sealants.
A proper amount of well-dispersed adhesive will distribute the wind loads evenly across the entire substrate. Adhesives are also useful because they can create a small void to allow for a drainage plane. There also are wind-rated systems that include an adhesive for securing the EPS to the substrate and mechanical fastening of the substrate to the framing.
By contrast, non wind-rated EIFS will typically include mechanically fastened EPS, which concentrates the wind loads at the point of fastening. In severe wind events, mechanically attached EPS can pull over the fasteners and peel away from the system. EIFS that includes mechanically fastened EPS is not recommended for hurricane-prone areas.
Proper installation of EIFS also will influence wind performance. For example, if there are not enough adhesives and overdriven fasteners, the walls will not meet their wind-rated expectations. Additionally, to protect against windborne debris, wind-rated EIFS typically will have a thicker mesh installed over the EPS to resist the impact.
If an ignition source, such as wildfire embers, sparks from a backyard barbecue or a lit cigarette comes in contact with the EPS, it can ignite a fire within the wall. When EPS burns, it liquefies and spreads very rapidly, which can result in a serious fire within the wall cavity.
These areas often have nicked and chipped EIFS due to luggage, carts and deliveries. Building managers should pay special attention to walls with increased hazards. This includes increased periodic visual inspections to ensure there is no exposed EPS, and that proper smoking controls are being followed. Similarly, outdoor grilling should be kept away from EIFS walls so that flames, radiant heat and embers do not come into contact with EIFS walls.
Visual inspections must be conducted on a regular basis to spot any problems early. Taking some small preventive measures can go a long way toward preserving the integrity of an EIFS wall, assuring both the visual appeal and the quality performance you need for your business.