Saturday, November 8, 2008

EIFS: How Synthetic Stucco Can Cause Huge Damage to Homes Across America

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!

8 comments:

Phil said...

This column is the singularly most uninformed piece on the subject of EIFS I have ever seen written. The author's lack of knowledge on the topic is, to be perfectly frank, embarrassing.

I hardly know where to start in correcting this morass of misinformation as the author is wrong on virtually every count.

A logical starting point is the issue of moisture intrusion generally. Even the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) has acknowledged - years ago - that the reasons for moisture and mold have nothing to do with the cladding choice. Water that gets into the wall cavity causes exactly the same problems with brick, wood, vinyl, EIFS and stucco homes. In all cases inadequate flashing and sealants, as well as poorly installed or non-code compliant windows are the cause of moisture intrusion - NOT the cladding on the home. The simple and undeniable fact is that homes of all cladding types suffer equally from moisture problems, and for exactly the same reasons. A simple Google search will turn up hundreds of stories on water claims against brick and stucco homes too. To suggest that moisture is a problem related to cladding choice is simply ill-informed.

Secondly, the author fails to acknowledge an essential fact: the type of EIFS cladding he is referring to - the older, so-called "barrier" EIFS - have not been used in residential construction since 2000, the year when the International Residential Code (IRC) was amended to require a secondary weather barrier to protect the substrate and a positive means on drainage.

All of the major EIFS manufacturers have been offering drainage systems that function and perform exactly like any other cavity wall cladding system since the late 1990s. And, because of the aforementioned code change, they are the only EIFS used today.

Importantly, there is no loss history in the eight years since drainage systems were required by code, nor have there been lawsuits or claims on drainage EIFS homes.

The author here is trying to alarm homeowners needlessly - no doubt for his own personal business gain - by describing a product that is no longer used in residential construction and hasn't been for nearly a decade.

Readers would do well to ignore this clown.

Russell D. Longcore said...

Phil did not like my article, as you can see. However, I am an insurance adjuster that has handled hundreds of EIFS claims. I don't know what Phil does for a living, but the tone of his comments makes me think that he makes his living from EIFS.

I agree that some EIFS has not been used for over ten years. But that is the point. In most cases, the damages occur over time. No matter what old Phil says, there are millions of homes in the USA that have been built with EIFS, and the damages are still occurring.

Sure, the manufacturers offer flashing. But if the builder does not use the flashing, the water intrusion occurs.

Phil's assertion that there have been no lawsuits about EIFS is pure bull. I have a friend, Tom Campbell of the Campbell Law Firm in Birmingham, Alabama, that specializes in EIFS claims. I'm sure Tom would be surprised to hear that there are no lawsuits about EIFS. He stays pretty busy with EIFS claims.

So, readers, which clown should you ignore? If you find damage in your EIFS-clad home, is good ol' Phil going to help you?

Stucco said...

Though I agree that Phil went overboard, he does make a point in that EIFS isn't the trouble child Russell is making it out to be. Is barrier EIFS problematic? Yes. Are modern EIFS likely to cause the same problems? No, even less so than brick/wood/vinyl as Phil pointed out.

Dual Barrier EIFS has been developed to address the issues plaguing barrier EIFS, and to compare them is like comparing a basement surgeon in Mexico to ones in good American hospitals.

You also need to distinguish between properly installed systems and systems installed by fly-by-night contractors. As Russell pointed out -- the system may specify flashing, caulking and other precautions but it comes down to the contractor to actually follow through with the specifications. To compare it to a well known saying -- "guns don't kill people, people do".

The point is that as an author, Russell should be objective and not pushing one way or another, or at least properly present his opinions as just that, and not facts. Reversing what he pointed out about Phil -- his comments and article are written in a way to serve a purpose, as he seems to have something to gain from his fear tactics.

I do however, applaud him for leaving the attack up and replying to it.

architecturalmouldings said...

Though I agree that Phil went overboard, he does make a point in that EIFS isn't the trouble child Russell is making it out to be. Is barrier EIFS problematic? Yes. Are modern EIFS likely to cause the same problems? No, even less so than brick/wood/vinyl as Phil pointed out.

Dual Barrier EIFS has been developed to address the issues plaguing barrier EIFS, and to compare them is like comparing a basement surgeon in Mexico to ones in good American hospitals.

You also need to distinguish between properly installed systems and systems installed by fly-by-night contractors. As Russell pointed out -- the system may specify flashing, caulking and other precautions but it comes down to the contractor to actually follow through with the specifications.

The point is that as an author, Russell should be objective and not pushing one way or another, or at least properly present his opinions as just that, and not facts. Reversing what he pointed out about Phil -- his comments and article are written in a way to serve a purpose, as he seems to have something to gain from his fear tactics.

I do however, applaud him for leaving the attack up and replying to it.

Russell D. Longcore said...

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Russ here. Contrary to the comments posted here, I don't have ANYTHING to gain by writing about my experiences as an insurance adjuster who has handled many EIFS claims. Nothing my readers could do will put one dollar in my pocket.

Of course these are my opinions. This is MY BLOG, not court testimony.

However, go back and read the comments by the other two readers. Seems as if they make their living installing EIFS, and want you to know what a good product it is. I agree that it is a good product when installed correctly.

My blog posting centered its criticism on the fact that EIFS is installed incorrectly all over the USA. It is the bad installation that will facilitate the damage behind the EIFS.

I'm not pulling down a comment that disagrees with me. Honest debate is good, and you can make up your own minds about who is correct.

F. L. said...

What is the dual barrier system?

F. L. said...

I need to know what the proper way to install EIFS is. What barriers are effective if any. Should an air space be left behind the foam by spacing the foam out with slats? Is the glue covering with granules in it effective against water penetration?
If the water only comes in at top, is a 2' overhang adequate defense? Should the same foam and glue be applied to the underside of the soffit? I have seen that done, and I really like the way it looks, but I would worry about roof leaks? I want to see them! Educate a dummy, please.

Russell D. Longcore said...

The proper way to install EIFS is to flash every opening. The biggest problem is water penetration at windows and doors and such. Failed caulking at openings is the number one cause of water intrusion I've ever seen in hundred of claims.