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Tulsa Home Inspection Services
Frequently Asked Questions

EIFS Moisture Inspection: How and Why?

EIFS (sometimes referred to as "synthetic stucco") had its beginning in Europe at the end of World War II, and quickly became popular as a building material because of its ease of installation and cost efficiency. It was introduced into the U.S. market in 1969 but was widely used in commercial applications, and became popular as a residential construction material.

Today EIFS buildings account for approximately 17% of the commercial market and approximately 3.5% of the residential market. The first company to manufacture EIFS in the United States was the DRYVIT Company in Sand Springs, OK, which is why EIFS is sometimes referred to "Dryvit."

The acronym "EFIS" stands for Exterior Insulated Finishing System. EIFS is a non-load bearing exterior wall finishing system that gives the building a stucco-like appearance. The system consists of four components:

1. Panels of expanded polystyrene foam insulation glued or screwed to the substrata or vapor barrier.
2. A base coat that is troweled over the foam insulation panels.
3. A glass fiber reinforcing mesh that is laid over the polystyrene insulation panels and fully embedded in the base coat.
4. A finish coat that is troweled over the base coat and the reinforcing mesh. The base coat, mesh and finish coat are usually 1/8 to 1/4 inches thick. This is also called the lamina.

There are two basic types of EIFS currently in use in the U.S., barrier and water managed. Barrier EFIS is designed to divert all water from the exterior surface. Water-managed EIFS anticipates that some water will penetrate the surface and incorporates redundant water-management features (flashing, weeping, drainage plan and water-durable substrates) to insure water that breaches the exterior finish will quickly exit the system. Most EIFS clad homes in the U.S. are barrier EFIS systems.

The advantage to EIFS as a finishing system is that it is energy efficient and economical to install. Unfortunately, barrier EIFS systems have been found to have problems, often serious, with moisture intrusion. In 1995, building inspectors in Wilmington, North Carolina discovered severe damage on hundreds of EIFS clad homes in that area. Similar problems have since been discovered on EIFS clad homes in other parts of the country, resulting in a class action lawsuit against the EIFS manufactures. In some cases, removal of the EIFS cladding has revealed extensive damage to the framing, jeopardizing the building's structural integrity.

Because of the EIFS system is water tight, water that penetrates behind the EIFS sheathing does not readily evaporate. The barrier EIFS system is designed to allow for small amounts of water vapor, but the system does not allow large amounts of water to readily evaporate. Water can become trapped and can soak the substrata and framing. Unlike more traditional facades, there is normally no secondary barrier (house wrap) installed behind the EIFS to protect the sheathing of framing. Severe damage could occur without any exterior signs. These problems can exist regardless of the age of the building or the quality of construction. Some of our inspections have revealed extensive damage to building's substrate and framing, of which the homeowners were completely unaware. If problem areas are identified, preventive measures can be taken before damage occurs, or it becomes extensive enough to jeopardize the structural integrity of the building. Early detection and prevention of moisture intrusion can save thousands of dollars in repair later on.

Water does not usually enter through the EIFS system itself, but through penetrations in the EIFS. The most common areas are moisture intrusion are around windows and doors, at the intersections between the EIFS and the roof, and areas where the EIFS has been penetrated by attachments such as mailboxes, shutters, decorative moldings, railings, deck attachments, vents, chimney caps over EIFS clad chimneys, and utility lines and pipes. Proper attachments of penetrations are essential to prevent water intrusion. EIFS systems also depend heavily on sealant (caulking) to keep moisture from getting behind the system. If the sealant is decayed, damaged or missing, water intrusion may occur. Moisture intrusion may occur if the EIFS is cracked or damaged.

An EIFS inspection is intended to identify areas of high moisture content in the sheathing and framing, to identify areas where the substrate has already been damaged by water, and to identify areas of potential moisture intrusion. Often, an EIFS inspection will detect leaks that are not related to the EIFS system at all. For example, our inspectors have located roof leaks, leaks from shower enclosures during EIFS inspections.

There are standard inspection protocols governing EIFS inspections, but each building must be evaluated independently. The nature and scope of the inspection may change according to what is discovered. The inspection may take several hours, and may span more than one day.

Before the inspection the buyer, homeowner, or other client is asked to complete a survey detailing what specific areas of concern should be addressed, if any problems have been seen and other information about the building. When the EIFS inspection occurs as a result of a real estate transfer, the EIFS inspector should coordinate with the home inspector and termite inspector to share information and findings. After the inspection, a customized report is prepared for the homeowner or client, including recommendations about maintaining an EIFS building to minimize the risk of water damage.

In a standard EIFS inspection a non-intrusive scanner is used to identify areas of relative high moisture content. In areas where the scanner indicates high moisture content a probe moisture meter is inserted to test for moisture content of the substrate and to test for damage to the substrate. The probe moisture meter is also used at random locations throughout the system, and in areas where potential moisture intrusion commonly occurs, such as near windows. A high moisture content in the probe readings indicate that water intrusion has occurred, and may be causing structural damage to the building. If the probe indicates that the substrate is soft, this could be a sign that damage has already occurred. The probe meter will make small holes in the EIFS, which are sealed by the inspector with an industry-approved sealant.

If the moisture meter indicates high moisture content, or if areas of soft substrate are found, it may be necessary or advisable to conduct an invasive inspection. This will involve removing sections of the EIFS to physically inspect the substrate or framing. Sometimes significant damage is discovered, which, if not repaired, could jeopardize the buildings structural integrity. The invasive inspection also allows the inspector to examine the building for insects.

Regular inspection of EIFS buildings are recommended by the industry to minimize the risk of serious damage and to identify potential problems before they become serious. Be sure to utilize the services of a qualified and trained EIFS inspector.

Note: NICK'S Inspection Service does not perform destructive testing. Destructive testing is to be performed by a qualified EIFS applicator under the supervision of the inspector.

This information is from an e-mail received from Professional Equipment, Inc, 11-26-06.

 

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