May, 2006
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



The Home Inspector's Guide to EIFS

FRANK LESH

CoverMay.gifIn a typical home inspection of a house clad with Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS), it’s important to know what to look for without doing an EIFS inspection/moisture analysis. A home inspector cannot learn how to be an EIFS inspector by reading an article, but an article can tell you what to look for so you know where to draw the line between doing a good home inspection and crossing into no man’s land.

The original and most common type of EIFS used in the United States is a barrier system. The EIFS is adhered directly to the substrate by fasteners or mastic, with no drainage plane for water to drain down. Obviously, if water does get in, it can’t get out. If the moisture level is high enough, it can cause the substrate to rot.  

The newer system is known by names including the words drainage system. As the name implies, there is a way for incidental moisture to drain. Chances are that the overwhelming majority of the EIFS you’ll see is the former.

Here’s what to look for when you’re inspecting what you believe to be EIFS.  

Use the following four tools.

1. Your Eyes.

Walk around the house like you would any other house, initially...from
a distance.  

ASHI Member Dan Friedman was the first one to tell me not to miss the forest for the trees. I cannot emphasize how important that is.  Get the big picture before you start with the minutia.

—  Look for dark streaks at the bottom corners of the windows and where the ends of the gutters meet a wall.

There must also be diverter (kick-out) flashing at the wall/gutter junction. If there are streaks or no diverter flashing, that can be a sign that water is overflowing onto the wall, or moisture is getting behind the EIFS and may be rotting the substrate.  

—  Look for obvious signs of physical damage such as dings or holes, exposed mesh and the like.

Be sure the homeowner does not have a barbecue grill too close to the house. The foam layer of the EIFS will melt. If this has happened, you’ll see a smooth indentation that follows the contour of the grill.  

—  How close does the bottom of the EIFS come to the finished grade of the land?
Technically, it should be 8 inches, but even a few inches are better than nothing. Too little clearance may allow insects or animals to get in.

—  Is the EIFS touching the roof shingles?

There should be about 2 inches of clearance, and you should see the step flashing. If there is less than that, debris or moisture may get trapped.

—  Are there any wrinkles in the EIFS?

They are usually horizontal and typically are a sign of compression. Dimensional lumber used in most houses will shrink, so if there are no joints between the floor lines, the EIFS may compress, which will cause wrinkles. There is no need for joints between the floor lines if engineered lumber is used. Also, if the house is more than a year old and there are no cracks, the cross-grain shrinkage of the wood has probably stopped. Be sure to call out cracks, however, because they may allow water to get into the cladding.  

2. Eyes and Hands.  

— What is the condition of the sealant (caulk) at penetrations, especially around the windows?  

If it is hard, loose or nonexistent, there’s a good chance there may be moisture intrusion. You will not be able to see this, but there should be a 1/2-inch gap filled with sealant between dissimilar materials (EIFS and anything else).

3. Eyes, Hands and Ears.

—  Tap on the cladding with your knuckles.  
If it hurts (and I’m sure you’re not a wuss), it may be stucco. If it doesn’t really hurt, it’s likely EIFS.

— Place an open hand flat against the EIFS and push.

There will be some give (more like aluminum siding than vinyl), but if you feel a lot of movement or hear a squishing sound, the EIFS may be loose or there may be moisture behind it.

4. Your Brain.


Of course, there are many other potential problem areas, but these ought to keep your client informed and you out of trouble. Remember, the purpose of this article is to give you a heads-up on what to look for. It is NOT to make you think you’re qualified to do a true EIFS inspection.

To learn more about EIFS, go to: www.exterior-design-inst.com or post the question on the ASHI Discussion Board. There are lots of members who know EIFS. And remember, if you think there is a problem, there probably is. Swallow your pride and refer to a qualified third-party EIFS inspector.