Exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS) earned a bad rap in the 1980s and ’90s. Water infiltration behind barrier EIFS (systems designed with no integral drainage) caused the panels to mold, buckle, delaminate, and more. Manufacturers and builders were subjected to numerous lawsuits. Homeowners and their real estate agents swore off the idea of purchasing homes with EIFS, and the cladding’s bad reputation endured.
Continuous insulation (CI): Insulation, usually in the form of foam panels, installed around a building’s exterior framing. Continuous insulation has very little thermal bridging compared with cavity batt insulation. By improving the wall assembly’s U-factor and reducing thermal bridging, continuous insulation helps boost a building’s energy efficiency.
Now, ahead of forthcoming code changes, EIFS is making a comeback, with manufacturers touting upgrades to their products and EIFS construction in general.
“Even with the news that there were failures, there were tens of thousands of homes that had no problems or were remediated,” says David Johnston, executive director of the EIFS Industry Manufacturers Association. “There have been gross generalizations condemning a whole category of EIFS, and we’re trying to move past that.”
Building science expert Joseph Lstiburek says that moving past the issue is exactly what the EIFS community is doing, with the hurdle of reputation management just ahead.
“The EIFS industry has stepped up to the plate and made significant improvements in systems and materials over the past decade-and-a-half,” says the principal of Building Science Corp., in Somerville, Mass. “The problem at this point is convincing the marketplace that they have, in fact, solved the problems. The bad taste left in everyone’s mouth from two decades of denials and litigation and failure still weighs on folks.”
Codes & Confidence
Pending code changes could give EIFS just the boost it needs to regain favor and some marketshare. The U.S. Department of Energy has mandated that all states update their commercial building codes by Oct. 18 of this year, including a requirement for continuous insulation (CI). Because EIFS incorporates a CI component, Sto Corp. chief marketing officer Rob Bottema says, “today’s drainable EIFS is the best option from a performance and cost-effectiveness standpoint,” for meeting that requirement.
Barbara Caltow, director of marketing for Dryvit agrees, anticipating that the code changes will trickle down to other construction segments. “The Oct. 18 code changes will affect mainly commercial construction,” she points out, “but the residential side will pick up shortly after that, and residential code changes will take effect.”
In addition to offering the energy efficiency of CI, new-generation EIFS incorporate drainage planes and water-resistant barriers to solve the moisture problems that many structures experienced the first time around.
Lstiburek says that he is encouraged by the improvements manufacturers have made to their panels and the research and development that went into them. “I have no hesitation recommending the systems today,” he adds. “The companies have some of the best building science support in the construction industry. They solve problems.” —Lauren Hunter is the senior products editor at REMODELING. Find her on Twitter at @LaurenHunter_HW or @RemodelingMag.