EIFS – Some Practical Advice
Every day I am asked a multitude of questions concerning the EIFS “phenomena”. By now most of you are aware of the product and the accompanying problems. There is a fair amount of information out there regarding the technical aspects of EIFS. What I’d like to address is the practical side of the situation as it affects the buying and selling of real estate. I have compiled some common questions and what are reasonable answers in this article. It’s purpose is to provide you with information that will allow you to cut through the fog concerning the issue and make wise decisions.
Is EIFS really a problem in Atlanta?
Unfortunately, yes. It seems to be a problem anywhere that it rains. As you know, sometimes bad things happen to good people. That’s life, but hiding your head in the sand won’t solve the problem or make it go away. However, we have tested over 400 homes in the Metro area and have found the following :
1. Over 99% of the tested EIFS homes have excessive moisture (over 20%) in at least one area.
2. In most cases we have been able to identify the source of the water intrusion and make specific recommendations to help eliminate it.
3. The age of the house usually determines how much, if any framing damage has occurred.
4. A helpful formula (stolen from Allen Golden of NC’s New Hanover County) is : Quantity X Time = Damage. In other words, the amount of damage that occurs is directly proportional to the length of time water has been leaking into the system and/or the amount of water that leaks into the system at any given time.
5. Serious and costly damage can be avoided if problems are identified and remedied quickly.
6. A comprehensive inspection and moisture test is critical to identifying and rectifying problems.
7. There are a lot of unqualified people performing EIFS inspections.
What about new houses with EIFS systems?
We have found excessive moisture in houses that are less than 3 months old. A few good rains are all that is needed, and inaction may result in costly repair bills.
Our home inspector said that the EIFS was not installed correctly and would have to be removed and replaced. Really?
The vast majority of EIFS houses in the Metro area are not detailed correctly (over 99%). I have never seen a system that was installed exactly according to the specifications. But that’s not always disastrous.
Many testers come to your house, perform their elaborate “dance”, and when you get the report it says ” The EIFS is not installed correctly and should be torn off and replaced.” Well Hell! I could have told you it wasn’t installed correctly over the phone! Let’s just save some time right off. Your EIFS is not installed entirely to the manufacturer’s specifications. The question is : Is the system performing and will it continue to? And if it’s not, are there any practical repairs short of removing the whole system?
My recommendations vary depending on the age of the house and the amount and location of excessive moisture that I find. For example : If the house is say, 9 years old and I determine that out of 40 openings, 10 have unacceptable moisture; I would probably recommend that the problem areas be retro-fitted and the non-problem areas simply be maintained with no additional upgrade other than normal maintenance. On the other hand, in a newer house with many incorrect EIFS details and excessive water at 10 out of 40 openings; I may recommend that the whole house be brought into compliance. Because the house has not been time tested, this is the only reasonable course of action.
Also, and this is very important : Builders in GA (and most other places) have the responsibility to install EIFS according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Deviations from this constitute violations of the Building Code, which is state law here. Typically, the builder is responsible for 4 years after closing (in GA). If your house is older, you may still have legal options. I’d recommend talking to good construction defect attorney.
How can I tell if the house has EIFS on it?
The mesh used with EIFS is fiberglass, not metal wire.
The outer layer of EIFS is approx. 1/16″ thick, and applied to foam board.
It is fairly easy to drive an ice pick through EIFS.
What should I look for to determine if the EIFS has problems?
You can’t make this determination based on a visual inspection. This is why testing is so important. Even with my experience, sometimes I find water where I don’t expect it and some areas that may appear to be wet are dry. Of course, sometimes there are visual signs that may lead you to believe there is a problem, such as de-lamination, cracking, etc. But there are many possible causes for these conditions. Even though these areas usually require repair, they may or may not be caused by water. There is only one way to find out if excessive moisture exists. Test correctly.
How do I find a reputable EIFS testing company?
This is a bit tricky. Unscrupulous people are entering the field with the intent of making easy money for a while and then moving on to the next scam. This kind of thing happens in all businesses and always will. Others may have good intentions but simply don’t have the knowledge, experience, business or financial wherewithal to make it and will soon disappear. Still others sell a discounted, incomplete service which doesn’t provide the client with anything of value. Both of the latter leave the client in basically the same position as the scam artist and none of the three should be performing testing.
A large part of my business involves verifying other company’s test results. I can tell you that there are a lot of “testers” missing a lot of water. These so called inspectors and testers give honest, hardworking professionals a bad name. To help avoid becoming a victim I recommend that you :
1. Make sure the company is licensed in their municipality.
2. Have them provide you with proof of personal injury and general liability insurance or provide a “hold harmless waiver”.
3. Find out how long they have been testing EIFS. (Unfortunately, 2 years is a long time relatively speaking)
4. Ask how many houses they have tested according to proper protocols. Experience is more important than length of time in business.
5. Find an inspector who is certified by the Exterior Design Institute (E.D.I.). E.D.I. was established in order to train and certify inspectors in order to raise the quality and consistency of EIFS inspections in the country. They are the only source of certified third party EIFS inspectors that has been approved by BOCA, which is one of the three code bodies in the United States. You can learn more about E.D.I. at www.exteriordesigninst.com.
6. Ask if they have a construction background, and how much experience do they have in that field? Construction knowledge is critical to making successful recommendations.
7. Some companies refuse to testify in court. You may well need this service. If your tester is not willing to stand behind his work in court, you may have to re-test using a company that is willing and more importantly, qualified to provide expert witness testimony.
8. Although it is tempting, do not hire companies that offer to repair the problems. They may overstate the amount of work in order to increase their fee. Many installers have branched out into the testing business. But do you really want the firm that installed the EIFS improperly to begin with, to test it for problems?
9. Call the Better Business Bureau. They may have useful information.
10. Ask to see a sample report. Verify that the company provides what you need. Ensure that the location of all trouble spots and the amount of excess moisture are identified exactly.
11. Check references. Really!
What is involved in the EIFS test?
The protocols call for the house to be tested extensively. A non-invasive scanner may be used, but only to identify areas of excessive moisture and determine which areas should be probed. This device will not read the exact moisture content. An invasive probe meter is required to perform this test, as the recommendations are based on the moisture content. The scanner will drastically reduce the number of probes needed and will typically identify more trouble areas than the probe alone. Don’t believe the companies that are too lazy or incompetent to do the job right and try to scare you by saying that probing causes hundreds and hundreds of holes. Since I’ve been using the scanner, the amount of probes needed has dropped 80-90%. An average house house may have 50 holes. After they’re filled, I’ll bet that you can’t find them unless I show them to you.
Very Important : A scanner cannot be used alone unless no areas of excessive moisture are found. The wet areas must be probed for rot and ACTUAL MOISTURE CONTENT, then mapped to meet the test protocol. It should also be noted that neither instrument will detect damaged areas that are not wet, although probing does allow you to feel the firmness of the structure.
But I have talked to companies that say probing is not needed. What gives?
With some exceptions, these folks usually fall in the realm of the uneducated. It’s not that I like probing houses. It’s way boring. But it’s the only way to verify water. I’m aware of one reliable instrument which does not probe. It’s the mysterious “special device” they talk about on BSA’s site. It’s actually called the Tramex WWD. It was designed especially for testing EIFS and does a very good job. And it should, it costs about $1100.00. It does have it’s limitations though. I have 2 of them and may be the most experienced user in this country. It does an excellent job of finding moisture quickly. However, it does not detect the actual level as a percentage. Since the protocol’s recommendations change according to the actual moisture content, the actual content must be determined. This can only be done with a probe type meter. It is also prone to reading “false positives”. This occurs when the Tramex picks up what it thinks is water but is actually something else. You have to confirm the Tramex reading with a moisture probe. There is simply no other way.
Example : There’s large company in Atlanta that claims that they can calibrate the WWD to determine moisture content of EIFS and as a result, do not have to probe. That’s really interesting. I can’t help but wonder how these ” inspectors” can achieve this feat but the crack engineers at Tramex can’t figure it out. Sure makes the Realtors happy though. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s the business that they’re really in, making real estate agents happy. Hmmm…
If you find yourself in court and your expert is deftly testifying about how he found the moisture using the Tramex by itself…well, your in for a rough ride when the other side’s attorney gets his shot at your “expert”.
It’s also not enough to know that there is water in the wall. You must know how much and you must know the source. This could be the difference in simply caulking a window or removing and retro-fitting all the EIFS around that window. A report that simply states “the area is wet and should be repaired” is of little use to anyone. I would not as the seller, allow a buyer to back out of a deal based on incomplete and inconclusive information such as this. A seller is entitled to know exactly what the recommendations are and how they were arrived at.
But hey, if you insist on having what I consider to be an incomplete test by a company that states in their letter to EIMA (see the whole text at www.eifsfacts.com/building.html ) the following load of BS:
“Just as important, however, is the issue that inspectors should NEVER recommend repairs to be performed. They have an obligation (usually under contract) to report only what they see. Rarely, if ever, are they a part of the transaction between buyers and sellers, and thus, have no right or responsibility to inject their belief or opinion into the contract process. When they make recommendations for repairs, they perform a significant disservice to the real estate sales process.
BSA as a company, strongly adheres to this principle of reporting ONLY what we see, NOT what we feel or think a buyer or seller should do!”
If this makes any sense to you then leave here and go to www.bsainspector.com/eifs.html. They’ll fix you up. If not, keep reading. I believe just the opposite of their philosophy. Interpretation of test results and what we see, recommendations, and our opinions are EXACTLY why our clients hire us. Anybody can see it. the value is in understanding it.
Will the holes be noticeable?
Usually no, and as I said before, the amount of needed holes has dropped drastically. Our typical test requires 20-40 probes. The holes are small, about 1/8th inch in diameter. Each probe consists of 2 holes, 1 inch apart. We carry every color of sealant available, and can usually achieve excellent color matches. Sample holes can be demonstrated for the owner and their approval received before any more probes are created. Unless they know where to look, most people cannot find our holes after they are patched.
How much does proper EIFS testing cost?
I can’t speak for other testers, but my fees are in line with those who do a comprehensive job. On houses up to about 4000 square feet (in the Atlanta area) the fee will range from $350.00 to about $800.00, depending on how much EIFS there is. We give quotes over the phone. ( If you’re an inspector and want to know our fees, you don’t have to pretend to be a real customer. Just admit it and we’ll tell you the fee too.) Houses over 4000 square feet will cost more depending on the size.
That’s a lot of money! Why does the test cost so much?
1. Cost perception depends on your point of view. Consider the following :
2. My fees are calculated at a rate of approximately $125.00 per hour. On an hourly basis, this is less expensive than most inspectors charge for a general home inspection.
3. I am more experienced in residential EIFS testing than anyone else I’ve heard of.
4. The EIFS tester must understand exactly how the house is put together and what is involved in locating and repairing the source of the water.
5. They must have excellent communications skills and an understanding of the emotions of buyers and sellers in order to keep the findings in proper perspective, yet honest and informative.
6. They must have the ability to make sound, cost efficient recommendations that will work.
7. The equipment necessary to do the job right costs thousands of dollars.
8. If there is water in the system, my clients expect me to find it and tell them what to do about it. This is meticulous, time consuming work.
9. Proper documentation that is understandable to the layperson is critical and is also extremely time consuming.
10. A $650.00 EIFS test that ultimately saves the client tens of thousands of dollars is a much better value than a $200.00 test that gives little or no useful information.
What information should the EIFS report contain?
In order to be of value, the report should contain a minimum of the following:
1. Basic Information : Date, Tester, Weather Conditions, Type of sealant, Test Equipment Used.
2. Installation Details : What details deviate from specifications. Are they causing problems?
3. Readings : Exact locations and moisture content of probed areas.
4. Recommendations : Specific recommendations concerning problem correction.
5. Photographs : Locations of problem areas and elevations.
How should the EIFS report be used?
A good report can be used for 2 distinct purposes :
1. It will identify areas that are in need of repair and state what is needed to achieve a good chance of success and what should have been done in the first place.
2. It can be used as a sales tool when the property goes on the market. Unlike a home inspection report, the report can be given to future prospective buyers. The client will then be in a position to prove to the prospect that corrective measures actually solved the problems, assuming they did of course. The longer the time period is that the seller can prove the house has been dry, the better. This should give the future buyer a pretty good level of comfort. Sellers please keep this in mind : Although the report can be used as an effective sales tool, I can’t write a marketing piece for your home. My reports are objective and we tell it like it is… the good, the bad, and the ugly. Even on dry houses, the report will include any details that are found to be incorrect, functioning or not. Realtors usually hate this, but in the long run I’m saving everybody’s tail.
How do I find reputable EIFS repair contractors?
We recommend that you call EIFS distributors and ask them for a list of reputable repair contractors. They are in a good position know the strengths of many contractors. From that point you should choose like you would any other contractor. For more info on picking out any kind of a contractor, check out “How to Pick a Contractor”.
How can I tell if the problems have been eliminated?
I recommend that the problem areas be re-tested 3 – 6 months after the repair. It takes many weeks for the existing water to dry but it will dry if the source is eliminated. The re-inspection fee is much lower than the original due to the limited nature of the test.
Can you “Certify” that my house is dry?
If I could do that, I’d be spending my mornings playing golf and my evenings catfishing. The truth is that no one can be 100% certain that a house is totally dry and damage free. The only way to do that would be to remove the EIFS completely. However, I can provide you with a report that states that I tested the house to the most demanding protocols in the country and the house tested dry, or that it tested dry after repairs were made (assuming it does, of course).
Due to the limitations of the test, no honest informed testing company will guarantee that they can identify all water intrusion and damage.
How will this affect future sales of the property?
No one knows the answer to that. There are just too many variables. I do know that every EIFS house should be tested. Testing and repairing early will allow the house to establish a track record of being dry. Again, the longer the period of time the better. Also, remember Allen’s equation : “Quantity X Time = Damage”. The longer you wait to test and repair, the more expensive it’s likely to be.
I purcased a 4 year old home 6 months ago. I am relocating and just sold my home. A home inspector just came out and found a leak in the roof. The original roofing contractor will not return my calls. The roof has a 20 year warranty that is not transferrable from the original owner. I am the second owner.
According to the home inspector, there was no flashing installed in the roof seams when the roof was put on. Any advice?
I believe your beef is with the Builder. In GA they are legally responsible for things like that for 4 years. The roof warranty is basically worthless. These usually cover material failure only, and on top of that are pro-rated.
Looks like you’re going to have to eat this one. Get the next house inspected first. It’s a lot cheaper than flashing.
I have a four year old, one story house on a slab. The foundation was treated with sheets of foam insulation and sealed with a lamina. Are you familiar with this practice? Where can I find info about removal, liability, etc?
Installing foam on foundations was required by many building codes for several years until a year or so ago. The purpose was to conserve energy by insulating the foundation Then, somebody figured out that termites could travel through the foam undetected and invade the house. That posed the question…”Save energy or save the house from termites? Hmmm…” It’s generally accepted that in order to conserve energy at home, you have to have to a home that isn’t in the mist of being eaten alive. In short, the foam’s got to go. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just one of those speed bumps on the road of life.
Foundation insulation is simple to remove and provides a good way to keep yourself out of trouble for a weekend. It’s just 1/2″ foam nailed or glued to the foundation and covered with a thin coating of cement. You can easily cut it away with a circular saw outfitted with a masonry blade, or a small grinder, or you can just rip it off by hand if you’ve got a lot of nervous energy. Just make sure that you produce at least a 2″ “vision strip” of visible foundation so that future termite tunnels can be seen. If you see existing tunnels, head for the phone and call the pest control guy.
Of course you could wimp out and pay somebody to do it for you. As long as you understand that you’ll be overcharged, it’s OK.
I hope that I’ve answered some of your questions concerning EIFS. I also welcome any other questions regarding the practical side of EIFS, home inspection, repair, or maintenance.