Considering all the talk about exterior insulation finishing systems (EIFS) in Florissant lately, you might be interested in learning more about them and why they've become such a in the city.
As Florissant Patch throughout the past several months, a number of businesses lately with plans for new or remodeled properties that involve the use of EIFS.
What is EIFS, anyway?
In a memo to the ’s Public Works Department, including all inspectors, Building Commissioner Philip E. Lum offered a brief history of EIFS.
According to Lum, EIFS are “an insulating, decorative and protective finish system for exterior walls that can be installed on any type of construction.”
EIFS are the exterior wall covering that insulates and provides weather protection. Lum said that they are offered in a variety of shapes, colors and textures and can replicate nearly any architechural style or finish material—or they can stand by themselves in an architechtural finish.
But, contrary to popular belief, EIFS are different than stucco.
“While similar in appearance to stucco, EIFS is an exterior cladding system that consists of components and installation requirements very different from traditional stucco,” Lum wrote. “EIFS is actually a multi-layered wall system.”
He said EIFS consist of the following components.
- Substrate–Concrete masonry units, OSB, plywood, other sheathing for EIFS
- Insulation board-Made of polystyrene (or similar material), which is secured to the exterior wall surface
- Base coat-Applied on top of the insulation and reinforced with fiber mesh
- Finish coat-Applied on top of the base coat giving a durable, crack-resistant finish
So what’s the problem with EIFS?
Susan Geerling, former Florissant councilwoman and mayoral candidate, said that some developers have been allowed to incorporate a certain portion of what is called “split-faced block” in combination with brick to help reduce construction costs.
“At the Shoppes at Cross Keys, brick was used as the material on the lower portion of the front of the buildings, and split-faced block was allowed above it,” Geerling said in an email to Florissant Patch editor . “Split-faced block is essentially concrete block colored to look like brick, and grooved to make one unit look like two bricks.”
She was on the city council when the and developments were approved and said that the council made some allowances to those buildings as well, specifically, the material that would be used on the backside of the buildings.
She said that EIFS is “weak and temporary” at best, and that “it’s kind of like spray-finished stucco on plywood and Styrofoam backing.”
“EIFS is a fake, smooth-or-textured, stucco-looking finish that costs developers a lot let than brick. That's why they prefer using it,” Geerling said. “Some EIFS is worse than others, but truly, EFIS is not a long-lasting, permanent material, as is brick (or even concrete block).”
Lum said the problems begin with the fact that people believe buildings can be made “waterproof,” but in reality, they cannot.
“Even when applied by professional caulking applicators, all caulk joints will eventually fail, even those caulk joints made under laboratory conditions,” Lum said. “No windows are fully waterproof—they are designed and manufactured to a water-resistant standard. Some water will always find a way in. When it can't get out, you have a problem.”
Unfortunately, he added, substandard installations are a big part of the problem too.
“The owner does not hire professionals in the first place and/or gets bad advice,” Lum said. “The original and replacement installations are an expense to the owner, and people condemn the material and builder.”
Scott Robinson, public manager for EIFS Industry Members Association (EIMA) told Florissant Patch that he doesn't understand what the contention has been over using EIFS on the old Value City building.
"With a unanimous favorable vote, I would assume that just learning more about EIFS was enough to address any concerns the council may have had," Robinson said.
Does a decade of EIFS improvements make a difference?
According to a 1992 report published by the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry (AWCI), the quality of EIFS was improved to be more mildew and fade resistant, as well as to eliminate the “chalking” factor.
Robinson said that's why most EIFS are now specially formulated with 100 percent acrylic binder, which gives EIFS superior resistance to fading, chalking and yellowing.
"As a result, the systems tend to maintain their original appearance over time," he said. "EIFS also have excellent resistance to dirt, mildew, and mold, which helps keep the building exterior looking clean and freshly painted."
In 2006, a three-year study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy actually identified EIFS as the “best performing wall system,” and said it outperformed brick, stucco, concrete block and cement board when it came to handling moisture and temperature maintenance.
EIMA reported that few, if any, other competing materials offer such a wide range of benefits—the biggest being that EIFS offers better energy efficiency and “virtually unlimited design flexibility.”
Robinson said that research conducted by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, supported by the Department of Energy, has validated that EIFS are the best performer when compared to brick, stucco and cement-based fiberboard siding.
"With energy upgrades being at the forefront of the initiatives currently outlined by the Obama Administration, EIFS can be helpful to both new construction and retrofit projects (that) seek to drastically reduce their energy costs and improve the efficiency of their buildings," Robinson said. "Recently in a comparative piece, a competitor of EIFS pointed out that 'EIFS have always been an energy efficient alternative to other sidings, especially in retrofits.'"
He added that, like masonry walls, the life expectancy for EIFS is "generally accepted to be 60 years."
A Brief History of EIFS
- 1952—Two big developments took place leading to the development of EIFS in Europe. The first patent was granted for expanded polystyrene insulation board. Also, the first synthetic plaster, an organic plaster that used water-based binders, was developed.
- 1969—EIFS technology came to the United States when Rhode Island-based Dryvit Systems, Inc. introduced it to American consumers.
- 1970s—During the oil crisis, EIFS became popular with energy-conscious buyers and builders. Some saw their energy bills shrink by half. Before long, EIFS was being used almost exclusively in the commercial building market. Later, it was gradually adopted for use in homes.
- 1980—EIFS accounted for one-half of 1 percent in the residential housing market.
- 1995—Nearly 200 million square feet of EIFS were being installed each year on exterior walls in North America. The industry also suffered a setback when several EIFS-covered homes in North Carolina were found to have moisture damage behind the EIFS cladding. Later, it was discovered that EIFS problems in homes had become a nationwide issue.