How Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems Work

Disadvantages of EIFS

Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS) installation can be technically challenging, sometimes making the cons overshadow the pluses. According to C-Risk, Inc., a risk-management consulting firm, installation problems are due in part to manufacturers' systems all being different: Different systems require different installation techniques. EIFS is either assembled in panels in a warehouse and shipped to the construction site or assembled and installed in the field. Contractors do the installation, so the builder is responsible for finding someone skilled at installation, which can be difficult. Inexperienced workers plus fast-tracked construction can equal compromised EIFS products that leak -- one of the many things that can go wrong during installation.

It's normal for exterior walls to have moisture within them, and most are designed to let water escape or dry. However, once water gets behind the EIFS, it has a difficult time getting out. If EIFS fails its waterproof claim and leaks, it can be extremely difficult to identify who is responsible since there are a number of people who contribute to the integrity of the system: homeowner, manufacturer, supplier, builder, designer, installer, electrician, roofer. In fact, it's common for insurance companies to add full exclusions for EIFS and other ruled-out provisions to their liability insurance policies for this reason.

The EIFS Industry Member's Association (EIMA) says reputable distributors don't sell to the public because EIFS should be installed by a trained professional, not an unskilled homeowner. EIFS is not a do-it-yourself product. Homeowners who have tried to do it on their own have ended up with problems like leaks and holes or worse. This situation has led to a flurry of class-action lawsuits; homeowners who've done their own installation end up suing manufacturers, distributors, builders and any number of people who have participated in the EIFS process. Sometimes building codes disallow the use of EIFS, but residential projects generally have looser standards, making them more vulnerable to EIFS glitches. It may be because of these disadvantages that EIFS is more popular among commercial construction than residential projects, citing one out of every 11 commercial buildings in the United States has EIFS on it [source: DryVit].

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  • Catlow, Barbara. Director of marketing communications, Dryvit Systems Inc. Interview. March 13, 2009.
  • EIFS Industry Member's Association. (March 9, 2009 and March 13, 2009)
  • Grenier, David L. and Jorgenson, William J. "Exterior Insulation Systems: An Overview." Consultants in Risk Management.
  • Hickman, Alan Rudd. "Insurers Slapping EIFS Exclusions on Insurance Policies." Associated Construction Publications. March 5, 2004.
  • Surina, Don. Construction engineer with Sundt Construction. Personal correspondence. March 6, 2009.
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  • Zwayer, Gary L. "Building Envelope Design Guide - Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS)" Whole Building Design Guide. (March 9, 2009 and March 12, 2009 and March 13, 2009).