EIFS Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is EIFS?
A: EIFS is a relatively new product which uses plasticizers to modify traditional cement stucco and make it more flexible. This allows application in a thinner coating which saves time and material. Part of the process is the use of foam substrates and fiberglass reinforcing mesh to make a total system.
Q: What is the problem with EIFS?
A: In order to protect the building from moisture intrusion, EIFS must be perfectly sealed at the outside surface. Any moisture that penetrates the outer coating can migrate into the walls and cause substantial damage. Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, and the material tends to leak. Sometimes it leaks quite a bit. The weak point of most applications is the penetrations like windows, doors, electric and other utilities, etc. Each of these is a potential leak.
Q: How do I know if my EIFS is leaking?
A: First, it is important to understand that ALL EIFS is leaking. The important question is: How Much? As long as a wall is built to dry faster than any leaks can wet it, there can be few problems. Problems occur when the water comes in faster than it goes out. Materials that stay wet for long periods tend to rot, to grow mold, and eventually to fall apart. Here in NJ, we find that many walls show signs of leakage and elevated moisture, but that the damage caused by these leaks is less severe than in other parts of the country. Still, over 90% of the houses we have inspected have at least some structural damage caused by water leakage and entrapment within the walls.
Q: So how can I tell if water is building up in my walls?
A: Only with a comprehensive moisture intrusion inspection. There are many different methods and tools that can be used to identify potential trouble spots. But regardless of how suspect areas are identified, you cannot know exactly how much moisture is trapped without penetrating the EIFS and directly measuring the moisture content of the building materials inside. There is just no other way. This has been established by a number of nationally accepted test protocols, including the one we follow. You can see our test protocol by visiting the GAHI website. Their protocol states in part, "The advent of the Tramex Wet Wall Detector has eased the process of inspection. This tester will indicate areas with high or elevated moisture content. This tester will not provide specific moisture content information. An intrusive probe is required for the determination of specific moisture content. "
Some other inspectors are touting their "non-invasive" inspections. Be very careful before deciding on this type of inspection. Almost Home also uses the non-invasive scanner ( A Tramex Wet Wall Detector, or WWD) to identify wet areas within the walls, but only as a part of the complete moisture evaluation service. The manufacturer of the most popular scanner (Tramex) indicates in their user's manual that, "When the WWD has been zeroed correctly on a dry area and set on the correct range for the EIFS thickness, a higher than zero reading normally indicates higher moisture content." Read this statement very carefully.
In order for the meter to behave "normally", the test technician must know the thickness of the EIFS and the moisture content of the wall behind it. There is no way to know these critical pieces of information without penetrating the EIFS for the calibration step. If the meter was acidentally zeroed over a wet area, then the technician would miss ALL other wet areas on the house. In addition, the manufacturer says that higher readings "normally" indicate higher moisture levels. It is common for metal inside the walls to provide a false positive reading, indicating that moisture is present when in fact, there is none. We often encounter high readings with the WWD and find satisfactory moisture levels inside the wall with an invasive probe. The manufacturer also recommends in several places in their user's manual that the WWD results be checked using a penetrating probe.
The bottom line is that the very smart Engineers at Tramex have not yet been able to find a way that the WWD can accurately measure the moisture content of the walls independant of invasive probing. What do the other inspectors know that the manufacturer's own Engineers do not? Use of the Tramex WWD is an important part of a comprehensive moisture intrusion inspection, but it cannot alone give the complete and necessary information you need to properly understand the scope of any moisture problems the house may have. A house is a big investment, and EIFS problems can be expensive to repair. Do yourself a favor and hire someone who performs a complete and proper inspection.
Q: When you talk about "penetrating the EIFS": just how big a hole do you make?
A: The moisture meter uses two narrow probes that require holes the size of an ice pick. Many people in the industry refer to this as a "snakebite." After testing, the holes are sealed with an appropriate caulk that is compatible with the color of the EIFS. Because of the texture of the material, the patches are generally invisible.
Q: Are there other problems beyond structural decay?
A: Yes. Some molds can cause injury or ill health to people sensitive to them. There is a surprising amount of air exchange between wall cavities and the indoor rooms in a house. The air currents can carry mold into the living spaces of a house. See our IAQ page for details.
Q: If my walls are wet, do I have to remove all of the EIFS?
A: Not necessarily. It depends very much on how wet they are, and how much area is affected. Corrections can range from simple caulking and sealing, to partial removal and repairs, to complete removal of the system and structural repair to the walls behind. A direct moisture measurement is required to make this decision.
Q: Is there a solution for the leakage problems?
A: Yes. All of the major manufacturers are now selling products that drain. They use different approaches to provide a drainage plane behind the EIFS so that any moisture that leaks through the outer barrier can drain away to the base of the wall, and seep to the outside. These systems are new so they have not yet been tested by time, but the physics works and they should certainly be an improvement over the current systems. Of course, they will still be sensitive to proper installation, like any siding system.
Q: Where can I go for more information?
A: You are welcome to contact us directly. We do our best to provide fast and free responses. If you want to hear the party line directly from the manufacturers, go to the EIFS Industry Member's Association, EIMA. If you want a homeowner's perspective, go to the Northern Virginia Homeowner's site. Please remember to think critically when visiting any website.