Walls & Ceilings: What are some of the past strengths of CLAPCA?
Floyd Gordon Jr: One past accomplishment is that CLAPCA was able to keep EIFS from being outlawed in South Carolina, which would have taken away quite a few jobs. This happened in 1998. A member brought it to our attention and through a member we were able to convince the senator bringing it up to scrap it. He introduced legislation to add flashing and license EIFS contractors, get inspections on flashing installation before the inspectors would allow the job to be continued. No one else has tried to bring the industry down per se thru legislation and we are building a coalition with legislators to get our applicators licensed. One stipulation is that they have to go through some type of training and pass a written exam. Not just a $20 fee and you’re an applicator.
W&C: How’s the EIFS business in your region?
F.G.: EIFS is slow right now. The residential market here is basically dead. Commercial application seems to be picking back up. Residential was about 20 percent of the EIFS market. Now, it might be 1 percent. I attribute it solely to bad press. It is still breathing but I’d say it’s down about 30 percent. The work is picking up a little on larger commercial jobs. Everything is going to a drainable system. The secondary barriers are helping to encourage the product. Architects are in the middle of other controversies, so they are looking for any safeguard to protect them.
W&C: How should contractors be trying to sell EIFS?
F.G.: Most of our contractors know what the problems were and those were on residential. On commercial, there were very few problems. It’s not a hard sale for commercial customers to continue with the product. They have the roofer, the waterproofer all on the project, and that takes away some of the fear that some of the owners had.
I’m repricing a project for the third time because the owner has an existing EIFS building we did 12 years ago that had no problems and he wanted EIFS. But during the installation of sheathing on this project, we had a local newspaper do an article on the “so-called problems” of EIFS and I had to reprice using conventional stucco. I was later able to convince him to stay with EIFS and we installed the Dryvit Outsulation system.
Basically, we went in and showed him the details and sold him on the basic premise that EIFS was originally sold on. The insulating factor and now, with secondary waterproofing membrane on projects, it’s basically a cladding that is the same as any other cladding. Once you waterproof the building, the cladding will do its job. We went in and showed him some of the details the brick industry had come out with and they were the same details as the EIFS industry. It sold him on EIFS.
W&C: Regarding the difficulty of EIFS applicators obtaining insurance coverage: Can you recall another insurance situation that compares to this?
F.G.: There was asbestos but that didn’t hurt the applicator so badly as it did the manufacturers. Up until 1973 or so, all ceiling sprays had asbestos. That shot the manufacturers’ insurance out of the roof. I think the EIFS industry has been targeted as a scapegoat to recoup a lot of losses from other possible defects. The biggest issue facing us is insurance. The situation is the result of a combination of both bad press and product failure. We have to convince the insurance companies that it is not a bad product, then sit down with some underwriters and show what we’ve learned, and what the construction industry in general has learned.
W&C: Why was EIFS picked on and not other claddings that also allow moisture intrusion if improperly installed?
F.G.: A lot of people figured the EIFS industry had deep pockets and the pockets aren’t there. When we first started installing EIFS, we were getting one price and 10 years later, we had to do it for less than when we first began. The market got savaged and everyone was able to get the product by some means. Some never had any training. That didn’t look good. Part of that could go back to manufacturers and their certification programs.
W&C: What about the manufacturers and their role?
F.G.: They’ve stepped up some but other than the AWCI training program, I still don’t see a very intense program anywhere else out there. It shocks me because you would think they would go back to a training session from Basics 101 through all these new elaborate systems that they have out. At one point in time, you had a card when you attended a training session you put in the wallet for a certain period of time. I would like to see them go back to that, renew it every two years or so—take a refresher course—this is something CLAPCA is looking at. We’re big into getting folks trained in correct application and get as much information out to members as we get in.
W&C: How can a contractor reassure customers about EIFS?
F.G.: Spend a little time with the customer. One of our downfalls is that we looked to the distributor to give a brochure to customers and they would go from there. We need to take the time and understand all the aspects of EIFS before we sit down and give that customer step-by-step details of how it’s installed and why it works this way. I’d like to find out from homeowners who had EIFS removed the difference in their utility bills and let them track it for a year. One of the selling points of the product is the insulation.
W&C: Any words of encouragement for contractors going through hard times right now?
F.G.: EIFS will make a comeback. You may not be able to do any huge projects right now, but there are still some trim or gable applications, that type of work to do for now. But it will come back because people love the look and the flexibility of all the designs. Once this period goes by, in two or three years, residential EIFS will pick back up. But we need to make sure we get out there and cover ourselves. No more shortcuts and let’s be proud of our work and exhibit professionalism at all times when dealing with customers. That goes a long way in assuring that customer that you understand what you are doing and how to do it.
W&C: How can the contractor sell reassurance in his or her aptitude?
F.G.: Tell your customer to check references and not always go with lowest price. Tell customers to check with distributors for contractors that they are willing to stand behind. If a contractor has no references, don’t hire him.
W&C: Are you still installing non-drainage systems?
F.G.: Only for commercial application. Most of our stuff we try to get changed to some type of drainage system. It depends on the substrate. If working on a masonry wall, it’s not that big of an issue. Anything else, we try to push moisture drainage to the architect.
W&C: Any progress in your region with the insurance situation?
F.G: I only know of one company that is writing it right now. Most are exempting EIFS on wood frame for residential multi-family projects. It’s available but it’s very steep. Some other companies are writing it but if you’re an exclusive EIFS contractor, that’s a penalty. If you do other things, drywall, metal studs, acoustic ceilings, most of your EIFS is a part of your package and companies that are writing will do it with multitasks. We’re 60 to 70 percent hard coat, 30 percent EIFS.
W&C: Do you feel these EIFS lawsuits awarded excessive dollar amounts to plaintiffs?
F.G.: Yes. They always call for having the house stripped, and that’s when you actually see minimum damage from moisture intrusion, maybe from no kick outs, or a leaking window not properly flashed. I’ve seen houses that only had to replace one sheet of 4-by-8 plywood on the whole house. The problem is that on most of the lawsuits, the house is already stripped. Homeowners are already having proved there is a problem, not the extent of the problem. The lawyer says, “You have an EIFS house, and it’s $200,000 to strip, repair and reclad that house.”
The lawyers usually have a contractor, get an inspection report that always says it needs to be declad and reclad, and then the contractor will give a price on the job to which they of course add on living expenses because the homeowners are supposed to have to move out of the house for the reclad, and they need money for inconvenience and attorney fees.
A job that the applicator may have received $20,000 on may cost $125,000 to redo and all it ever needed was just some repairs. Most of it is mediated and doesn’t go to court but that doesn’t help the insurance company’s perception that a lot of money given out. It’s cheaper for them to mediate than to fight.
W&C: Any other suggestions on meeting this insurance situation?
F.G.: I think we’ve reached a time when all the associations should get together and have some type of big pow wow and get insurance information from all the applicators across the country, and come out with a unified statement as to how we’d like to see the industry move forward. CLAPCA has been talking about it for the last five or six months. We’re going to press the issue and get something going. Whether in Minnesota, Florida or the northeast, we need to know what’s working for this area and what’s working for that area, and we can maybe move and get some of these insurance companies to come in and listen to a national group instead of a regional.
The insurance industry need reassurance that applicators are willing to get any training the insurance company requests and will sit down with any insurance company and workout whatever problems their underwriters are having with EIFS. W&C