The EIFS Controversy
WOW! Talk about a controversy. If you want to get into a firefight in the building products industry, then start calling Exterior Insulation Finishing Systems (EIFS) manufacturers. This is warfare to say the very least. Why? Because huge corporations' futures are at risk. The stakes in the game are huge - I would say somewhere above the stratosphere. The synthetic stucco problem is bad and it is getting worse each and every day as more and more houses are covered with barrier EIFS systems that do not allow water to escape from behind the material.
For any number of reasons, it is a known fact in the building industry that water gets past (behind) exterior wall coverings, windows, doors, brick, vent pipes, hose bibs, electric service entrance cables, siding, etc. Old builders knew this well. That is why you see tar paper behind wood clapboard siding and asbestos shingles. Some builders and sub-contractors have never seen tar paper on older homes. I am convinced this is part of the reason why this barrier EIFS problem has arisen. The knowledge gained over hundreds of years by old cement stucco craftsmen was nearly forgotten in just one generation! Fortunately, some of us refuse to allow this knowledge to be discarded.
The Engineered Wood Association has published in their APA News data that supports that wood rot and decay can progress in wood that has a prolonged moisture content of 20 to 25 percent. Barrier EIFS homes can create ideal conditions for moisture contents that reach and exceed this level. Why? Because barrier EIFS itself blocks the movement of water and vast quantities of water vapor. Couple this with interior vapor barriers required by just about every model building code and you have problems.
Keep in mind that every other exterior cladding system for residential homes allows water and water vapor to escape back to the atmosphere. Some allow this moisture to be transported more quickly than others. This means that poor construction practices and lack of maintenance can cause wood rot problems in just about any residential home. Barrier EIFS homes don't give you a fighting chance. If water gets past the caulk joints between the barrier EIFS coating and those things on your house that aren't barrier EIFS, your wood sheathing and wood structural members will eventually rot to some degree.
The rate of wood rot will depend upon your climate, the amount of water that is intruding, the annual rainfall, etc. Trust me, wood rot happens in Arizona - it just takes longer than if you live in Louisiana or North Carolina.
If you currently own a barrier EIFS home you should be concerned. The newer water-managed EIFS products are only several years old. A vast majority of EIFS homes that are currently built are barrier EIFS. You can easily detect a barrier EIFS home by looking at where the synthetic stucco touches windows, doors, and pipes. If there are no flashings at these locations, you have barrier EIFS.
What Can be Done?
If you do have barrier EIFS on your house and there is wood rot damage, you can repair it. It is not easy to do. The absolute best method is to completely remove the barrier EIFS product and install a new water managed system. It is a painful process, but the only one that will afford you peace of mind. You also have the option of totally abandoning the EIFS system altogether. You can apply a siding product in its place.
Inspecting for Water Damage
People who have barrier EIFS homes who want to see if they have water damage should contact the American Society of Home Inspectors. By going to their web site, you can find a certified home inspector near you - searching by zip code.
Inspections can rarely be performed by the average homeowner. You need specialized testing equipment and sophisticated moisture meters. This task is best left to an experienced home inspector and/or a structural engineer who has performed EIFS inspections. Don't become someone's lab rat. In other words, don't let some company use your house as their on-the-job training for barrier EIFS inspecting.
If you want to see if you qualify for relief under a class action lawsuit, it is best for you to call the Attorney General of your state. Once certified, these lawsuits are monitored and tracked by these officials. Remember, the Attorney General is your attorney who is there to protect you and your rights. An efficiently run office will quickly tell you if there is an EIFS lawsuit in your state at this time. I predict that you will see more and more of these suits in the upcoming months and years.