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NOTE: The following is an article written for the Provo Daily Herald newspaper to be printed October 29, 1999 in the long running "Inspecting Your Home" column found in the Home Magazine insert.
You have been searching for homes for months and have finally made up your mind. You've decided on the newer model home with the seemingly flawless stucco and all of the decorative stucco trims. What you may not be aware of is the potential damage found in many of the homes with the newer EIFS synthetic stucco cladding.
Many home buyers, sellers, and real estate agents are familiar with the Dateline NBC segment that aired March 25, 1999, titled "Home Improvement? Synthetic Stucco Woes." The Dateline segment featured homes on the East Coast with damages ranging from $10,000 to $150,000. The startling fact was that the homes looked perfect on the inside and outside, yet the wall cavities and wood structural supports behind the EIFS were completely rotted out.
EIFS stands for Exterior Insulated Finishing Systems. EIFS has been touted by the industry as a superior product that was easy to work with and provided great energy efficiency. Installed according to the manufacturer's specifications, it is waterproof, but I have yet to find a Utah installation that has followed these guidelines to the letter. Installed improperly, it is prone to allow water to enter in behind the EIFS and rot out the framing. Experience has shown that EIFS holds water in even better than it keeps the water out.
Since the EIFS exterior surface looks perfect, it is often mistakenly presumed as being just fine. Utah homeowners have been lulled along with the myth that we have such an arid climate that there is no EIFS damage in our state. This myth is wrong, wrong, wrong!!! Whether the majority of the homes have major damage or not, if it is your home that has damage, it IS a big deal.
EIFS was originally designed to be installed over concrete buildings as a way of dressing them up. On a concrete structure there is no damage if the moisture gets in behind the EIFS. Then somebody had the idea to use it over wood framing and that is where all of the damage has been found.
It is interesting to see the placement of blame by manufacturers, builders and installers. Each seems to feel that the other is responsible and the homeowner is stuck in the middle being surrounded by differing opinions. Doing an internet search on EIFS will identify thousands of websites with EIFS information. I encourage my client's to visit www.eifsfacts.com and www.novashoc.org for details about EIFS industry contradictions, class-action lawsuits, damage photos, and EIFS news stories.
A website like novashoc.org stresses the nightmare side of EIFS. Although novashoc.org concentrates on the negative, it is a great balance for the overwhelming amount of "Everything is fine" opinions expressed by those being sued in the current and past class-action lawsuits.
The fact is that every wood framed structure with EIFS cladding does not have damage. EIFS is not a plague. It is also not the trouble-free perfect exterior cladding. There is no perfect exterior home cladding. Each building material has its own strengths and weaknesses. EIFS is just one more product that has weaknesses if not perfectly installed.
Most EIFS manufacturers have realized the EIFS moisture entry damage potential and have developed newer, self-draining EIFS systems. Builders nationwide have been extremely slow to adopt the new self-draining systems because of the increase in material costs. If you are building a home and want the perfect look of EIFS, then don't settle for an outdated non-draining EIFS system.
Homeowners and homebuyers need to realize that exterior maintenance and sealing are a normal part of a home with EIFS. It is important to have the EIFS professionally evaluated for both current moisture entry and potential moisture entry points so that proper repairs and future maintenance can be performed.
EIFS Moisture Intrusion Testing Specialists use a combination of non-intrusive moisture detectors and intrusive moisture detectors to identify areas of the home that have moisture damage. The testing generally runs anywhere from $600 to $1,600 depending on the size of the dream home. Testing can identify the need for small maintenance and sealing improvements and/or the need for major EIFS and structural repairs.
If you own an EIFS clad home with no plans to sell, you should consider a Moisture Intrusion Evaluation. The formula "Moisture + Time = Damage" applies to your home. The longer you wait to identify and prevent moisture entry into your wall cavities, the more rotting can occur. Stopping the moisture entry will allow the wall cavities to dry out and prevent any further damage.
If you are selling a home and don't know if it is clad with EIFS, you should ask your builder. If you are still unsure whether it is EIFS or traditional stucco, call in the professional. Sellers should consider having a Moisture Intrusion Evaluation done before the first buyer arrives to see how well the home has fared.
If you are looking to buy a stucco home, you should ask the owners if it is EIFS or traditional stucco. If the home is clad with EIFS then you should ask about any previous EIFS repairs or testing results. If there is damage or current elevated moisture in the walls you will want to know about it before you buy the home by having your own Moisture Intrusion Evaluation performed. This allows the need for potentially costly repairs and/or maintenance to be identified and addressed before closing on the home.
(Michael Leavitt is the owner of Michael Leavitt & Co Inspections, Inc. As an EIFS Moisture Intrusion Specialist he services all of Northern Utah. Questions can be answered by visiting www.TheHomeInspector.com or by calling his office at 225-8020.)
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