Sometimes, the "can-I-do-this?" inquiry relates to a weird application for EIFS or changing the components of a commercialized EIFS into some sort of hybrid system, which in fact is not a real EIFS at all. So, if you get a bright idea about somehow modifying an EIFS, here is a list of things to consider before doing so.
SystemsI must have said it a dozen times in this column but I'll say it again: EIFS is a system. That's why the word "system" is in the name. They perform properly only when composed of a specific set of materials that are designed and installed in a certain way. EIFS producers are constantly trying to figure out a faster, cheaper, longer-lasting EIFS and believe me, in my EIFS consulting business, if there were a way, it would probably exist. The design of modern EIFS has been distilled to such a point that it'll take some new material technology or a stroke of genius to make one that is better in the overall sense, including cost.
In the early years of the U.S. EIFS industry, there was considerable control of how EIFS components were sold and who could install them. That is not true anymore and it is tempting to go out onto the open market and buy individual components from separate sources and thus to create your own EIFS. You can in fact do this, but what you have is a non-system of your own, and for which you are fully responsible as a "manufacturer." You'll also find that this approach has problems meeting architectural specifications that require the use of name-brand products and which require submittal of data, such as test report. The moral: Buy a real proven EIFS product.
CodesKeep in mind that EIFS is also considered to be a system by the building codes too, and specific systems are recognized as such as being code compliant only when configured as part of an EIFS producer's specific system design. For example, polyisocuanurate-based EIFS is rarely used on tall buildings due to fire code limitations. Likewise, mechanically attached systems are used mostly on lower-rise building, where high strength attachment is not needed because of the reduced wind loads on lower buildings. Making a customized hybrid EIFS can thus violate the EIFS producers code approvals even though all the materials used in the custom EIFS are approved for use in some other, real, commercial EIFS product.
CompositionThe law of unintended consequences applies to hybrid, DIY EIFS designs. It's hard sometimes to visualize all the things that need to be right, in order for an EIFS to perform properly, to be easy to install and to be cost effective. For example, there are a few high-performance EIFS that used sophisticated air and water management techniques to make for a more leak proof wall. The problem is that these system are complex to install, and often builders and designers opt for adding extra flashings and caulking to more traditional designs because it offers the same performance at less cost.
WarrantiesProbably the biggest single factor against making a one-off customized EIFS is the issue of warranties. Since the EIFS producer may not know for sure how well it will work, or may not be willing to take the risk that it not work, they may simply not be willing to warrant the system. This places building owner in an odd situation if this issue is not dealt with. A variation on this theme is the all too common mixing and matching of components of one manufacturer with another. Sometimes, not only are the material physically and chemically incompatible but the big issue of "whose EIFS is this?" comes to the forefront the moment that problems occur.
Intended useWhen my consulting clients ask me if "they-could-do-this" with an EIFS, I sometimes respond asking if this is what EIFS is supposed to be used for. A common example is roof-like uses of EIFS, which tend to make lawyers salivate. One way to address this problem is to ask if there is a product on the market that is intended to be used in the manner for which the customized EIFS is proposed. Often, there is but it rarely looks like EIFS and hence causes aesthetic problems. Sometimes, clients who think I am too cautious about forging ahead with untested hybrid EIFS designs tell me that they have been doing it "this way" for years without problems. What they really mean is usually that they are not aware of any problems, not that there are none.
Sometimes, there are special circumstances that point toward doing something unusual with an already commercialized EIFS product. An example would be some odd way of using EIFS that is not mentioned in the EIFS producer's literature. If this need arises, here are some pointers to consider to better serve the special needs of your project.
CommunicationsTalk with the EIFS producer. Go through proper local channels to reach the technical people at the EIFS producer's headquarters. EIFS producers have staff that reviews the application of their products on specific buildings. Having been a person who routinely did this type of work for a major producer, I can say with certainty that these specialists see all sorts of odd ways of using their products and often can give quick input on whether it'll work or not, and why. Keep in mind that local EIFS rep and distributors, who are not technically employees or officers of the EIFS producer, rarely have the authority themselves to change the producer's requirement for the composition, design and installation of the products they promote.
Get it in writingWhen playing with the notion of doing a hybrid system, get the details in writing. This especially includes issues relating to warranties, and regarding the costs of installing a system that does not "install" in the same way as commercialized products.
System designerDon't become the building designer. EIFS producers are what the name says: producers of products. Likewise, contractors are contractors. Neither are building designers. Neither should you be. By taking on the task of designing the wall, you might inherit the liability for whatever goes wrong, if anything, due to design issues; some zealous lawyer or judge, as practicing a regulated profession without a license, might construe it. The moral: Make sure the architect of record is in on the deliberations.
If the hybrid EIFS design is really unusual, double check with the building department to see if they will allow its use. Often, they will accept it if it a similar to an existing, approved product. But you do not want them to tell you to take the EIFS off after it's in place just because the local inspector feels it doesn't "meet code."
Get helpNot to tout my own abilities but sometimes the help of an independent EIFS specialist is useful, as an intermediary to work with an EIFS producer. For example, I am on retainer with a number of large owners who use EIFS and review their design before construction. It's money well spent. I too have to guard against becoming the system designer when in fact it is the product of a company that I do not work for. For example, I once worked up a special EIFS design that installed EIFS upside down, as an indoor ceiling, in a huge hangar-like building, and the EIFS was used for projecting celestial images, as a gigantic, jointless movie screen. It would have worked, but the code people nixed the idea for fire reasons (rightly so).
Many trade groups, such as EIMA, AWCI and the NWCB, also have staff that are quite knowledgeable about EIFS and can help. Often though, in the end, they'll want you to contact the producer of the specific EIFS product being considered to get the final OK for a hybrid EIFS.
The bottom line is that when EIFS and especially when EIFS-like products have problems, EIFS gets a black eye, regardless of who's really at fault. This is an industry problem and requires leadership and vigil to inform the public and guard against unwarranted bad press. At this point, I do not believe that EIFS should yet be a DIY product and thus the current structure of the industry, of primarily selling EIFS materials to trained contractors through specialty building supply outlets, is a good idea for years to come. I like Home Depot too but wouldn't buy my EIFS there.
Ask Dr. EIFSI have often thought that this concept of bringing forth bright ideas about innovations for EIFS would make for a good topic for this column in terms of creating a forum for EIFS information, a sort of "Ask Dr. EIFS" concept.
For example, W&C readers could contribute ideas and ask for feedback from me as part of the column. It would no doubt make for some interesting reading and possible even evolve into some improvements to EIFS in general. If interested, send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will assemble the ideas and run them past W&C's editors as possible content for this column.