The acronym “EIFS” stands for “Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems.” Most people call it “stucco,” although it’s not true stucco. It’s synthetic stucco. In this article, the terms EIFS, stucco and synthetic stucco will all be interchangeable.
There was an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on November 4, 2008 about Post Properties, headquartered in Atlanta. Post owns apartment complexes all across the USA. Post will spend $40 to $45 million dollars repairing over 11,000 apartments that have water damage due to improperly installed EIFS.
“This is a construction method that was prevalent in the 90s. We don’t use it anymore,” David Stockert, Post’s CEO and president, told analysts Tuesday. Stockert also said that very little of the damage will be covered by insurance.
$45 million is just a drop in the bucket compared to the damages to single family homes across America that are covered with synthetic stucco.
Over the last twenty years, MILLIONS of single family homes were built using stucco as the exterior finish. Stucco looks great, is easy to install, has great energy-saving features and can be made to look like stone and other masonry finishes.
However, in my own experience as a claims adjuster, I’ve seen very little residential stucco that has been installed properly. Nearly every EIFS-clad house I’ve ever inspected had water, mold and termite damage behind the stucco. Sometimes the damage is so extensive that the houses have to be condemned and torn down.
I spent lots of time handling claims for Construction Defect liability that involved stucco. I don’t know of any single building material that has been responsible for more builder bankruptcies in America than stucco. And, as the stucco product ages, more and more home damages are being discovered.
I remember inspecting a huge, three story wood framed, stucco exterior home in a golf course community in Athens, Georgia a few years ago. The owners discovered the damage when the wife walked over to a dining room bay window and her foot fell through the wood floor.
There was water damage on all four sides of the house, and around every door and window opening. Worse, the water behind the walls made the perfect breeding ground for termites that had been eating the house for a long time. The estimate I wrote was for $439,000, and the home was valued at about $500,000. The house was demolished and rebuilt on the foundations. The builder’s liability insurance paid the claim. The new house DID NOT have a stucco exterior.
EIFS manufacturers issue shop drawings that builders are supposed to use when installing EIFS. They specify that flashing must be used around ANY door or window opening. “Flashing” are formed metal pieces that keep the water from getting behind the stucco. But in millions of homes, the builder simply butts the stucco up against the outside of the window or door, smears on the stucco finish, and seals the joint with caulking.
It doesn’t take too many months for exterior caulking to crack and separate. Once that happens, water gets behind the stucco every time it rains.
So, when water gets behind EIFS, it gets trapped. Lots of homes have a layer of “housewrap,” or plastic sheeting as a vapor barrier under the stucco. But vapor barriers that keep moisture out also keep moisture in. When water gets trapped behind the EIFS, it creates the perfect habitat for termites…food and water. They’ll stay until the food and water run out.
Termites can destroy a home unprotected by pesticides. However, termites can also damage or destroy a protected home. Termites only need THREE THINGS TO THRIVE:
1. Access…a way to get in.
2. Moisture to drink.
3. Food…which in an average house is wood. Walls, floors, plywood, trim, windows, doors…all wood products are on the termites’ menu.
The other big problem for stucco is that builders ran the product down the side of the exterior wall and then landscaped up to it. Stucco that comes into contact with the ground makes it super easy for termites to invade without detection.
Why am I telling you this about your stucco-covered home? Because your damage will likely NOT be covered by your homeowners insurance policy. Wet Rot is excluded in your homeowners policy. The standard HO-3 policy also has exclusions for damage caused by insects. The policy also excludes damage caused by mold and mildew, commonly found where the water damage is.
I urge you to have a home inspector or contractor inspect your home. Look carefully at the outside trim around your doors and windows. If you cannot easily see a metal flashing between the stucco and the door or window trim, your stucco was improperly installed by the builder. The chances are overwhelming that you have interior water damage all over your home.
The final insult is that you likely can’t sell your home without making the repairs first.
If you find damage, and your insurance company denies coverage for your damages, you’ll have to notify the builder who built your home that you’re making a claim against his Liability insurance policy. I recommend that you consult an attorney as you begin the process.
EIFS, improperly installed on ANY building, causes nothing but nightmares and financial ruin. Don’t be a victim…find out your rights and fight hard!