Wait Before Taking it All Off
I frequently get asked if it is really necessary to remove all the EIFS on the building when all the EIFS is not malfunctioning. Usually, the mantra "take it all off!" comes from an inexperienced consultant who does not know enough about EIFS to properly make the decision as to which areas to repair and which to leave as-is. To avoid the risk of being wrong, such consultants sometimes take the easy way out by simply recommending to remove all the material; he can't be wrong, since, in essence, the whole wall is then rebuilt.
I do not care for stripping; it's an overly simplistic approach. The problem is that it is often unnecessary, time-consuming and can cost a fortune. This month's column gives insights into how to decide, in a rational way, whether or not to strip.
Keep it onLet us keep in mind that the following discussion relates mostly to water intrusion, where the supporting wall is damaged. In other words, the EIFS must be removed to get at the damaged supporting wall. This does not apply so much to problems with the EIFS itself, such as cracking, for which a number of options other than stripping are available.
First, consider the fact that it is rare that the EIFS itself is failing so much that it needs to be removed. Usually, the repairs to the EIFS portion of an EIFS-clad wall assembly can be done topically-from the outside, without removing the EIFS. Thus, the EIFS does not need to be removed due to the EIFS itself. Usually, a problem with a wall that requires the EIFS to be removed is that the supporting wall is failing and that does require that the EIFS be removed to repair the supporting wall's problems. There's really no other way in such cases.
Second, it is rare that the entire supporting wall of a whole building, in all areas, is failing, thus there is no need to remove non-failing supporting wall areas to repair a non-failing EIFS.
Third, most of the time, the area of failure of an EIFS wall assembly is limited to the area immediately around where water intrusion takes place. In other words, when have you seen the supporting wall damaged in the middle of a large, blank EIFS wall area? It's rare. Problems occur almost always where the EIFS terminates, such as at windows, penetrations, flashings and caulking joints. Thus, the area that is actually in need of repair is a small percentage of the total EIFS wall area.
Fourth, often wall failures are limited to a few of the many sides of a building. For example, often damage occurs on the sides exposed to prevailing weather and other sides that are unexposed or protected by overhangs are performing fine. Why replace entire wall areas that are totally unaffected? "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," as they say.
The issue of stripping occurs mostly on wood frame buildings but is not limited to them. It can also occur on walls with metal stud wall assemblies, especially those with gypsum substrates. It is much less rare on solid substrates like concrete and masonry. Let's use a house as an example of how to determine how much EIFS needs to be removed.
First, the presence of a few areas that are "bad" is hardly a reason to remove all the EIFS. All too frequently, inadequate investigation of the entire building leads to erroneous conclusions about the persuasiveness of problems with the walls. The moral: Fully investigate the entire building before concluding that the whole building needs to be taken apart. This will require extensive probing of the wall, by making moisture readings and removing small areas of EIFS to expose the wall's interior, and noting how far the damage extends until undamaged areas exist.
Sure, this may require more up-front expenditures for investigators to determine the state of the walls but the benefits are twofold. First, you will know where you stand; all the conjecture about what is wrong, such as "the whole building is affected" is simply not an issue; you know. Second, from a clear picture of the state of the walls, you can determine how much needs to be fixed and where. Then it's easy to figure out how to repair the problems and determine the cost.
In wood frame buildings, the damage often extends past the edge of one stud and into the area between studs. Thus, the area that needs to be repaired can extend past the area of damage simply because the replacement sheathing needs to be attached to the next unaffected studs. This requires that more EIFS be removed than is actually supported by damaged sheathing.
In home construction, openings, which are frequently the source of water intrusion, are often close together. This can result in damaged wall areas that are close together. These damaged areas sometimes come close to overlapping but do not overlap. This means the easiest fix may be to sacrifice the small, undamaged area for the sake of the ease of repairing a single, slightly larger area, even though, technically speaking, some of the area being stripped doesn't need to be replaced.
To determine how much wall area actually needs to be replaced, here's a simple, workable approach. First, draw elevations, to scale, of the whole building. Next, overlay onto these drawings the information gleaned from the full investigation into the location and limits of the damaged areas. Allow some space around the damaged area for splicing the existing areas into the replaced areas. Now, do a bit of quick math and determine how many square feet of damaged area exists in relation to the undamaged areas. Think of this as an exercise in estimating. From this information you can figure out how many square feet actually needs replacing, and hence the cost.
Enter with cautionKeep in mind that when removing areas of EIFS that do not actually need to be removed because they are not defective simply for the ease of reapplying the EIFS in one large "pass," that the supporting wall is often damaged during the removal process. This is especially true when removing adhesively-attached EIFS from gypsum substrates. This means that undamaged substrate area will most likely also need to be replaced, adding to the time and cost. In a sense, you make even more work for yourself by doing so.
If you are confronted with a case in which the consultant for the repairs of the so-called widespread EIFS problems calls for taking it all off, it's worth a moment to sit back and consider the big picture ... In other words, to carefully scrutinize the consultant's recommendations to understand where a conclusion to "take it all off!" came from. I am frequently asked to give second options on the work of other consultants. I often find the logic for a full strip-off to be weak.
Since I am often working for a contractor or owner who doesn't want to fix what's not broken, I have an obligation as their advocate to look after their interest. The idea is to understand the nature and scope of the problem, how to resolve it properly and not to induce an adversarial mode into the proceedings. The point is to be rational, not personal, about the matter. Sometimes, it is clear that in the end, the correct and easiest repair is not strip it all off but most of the time it is not.
During the above process, it is prudent to also think of the repair as an overall process in terms of the way in which the work would take place, from a contracting standpoint. For instance, if the drawings you made show a lot of areas that need to be repaired that are right next to each other on a single elevation, then perhaps it might make sense to remove all the EIFS on that elevation. The reason this might be sensible is that by having a repaired wall that is peppered with patches, the possibility exists that the wall, when completed, will look like it is covered with patches. This can occur despite best efforts to feather-in the new areas. An analogy to this is a burn victim who receives multiple skin grafts and the final result looks like a patchwork of scabs. In cases like this, it may simply be easier, from a contracting standpoint, to start from a wall with no EIFS at all on it. In others words, to take it all off.
It is difficult to patch EIFS walls and have the patches be invisible. The color and/or the texture will likely vary from that of the adjacent, original EIFS. This difference may be visible where the two areas meet. One solution, if the color does not match, is to paint the whole area to the nearest corner, joint or change of plane.
The decision of whether to strip or not should not be based solely on simply the technical issue of whether or not a given wall area is damaged and needs to be replaced. Other factors are involved, such as insurance, resale values and personal issues.
For instance, the owner may have strong but irrational feelings about EIFS and simply does not want it on his building anymore. This can have side effects, such as losing a lot of the insulation value of the wall, if a noninsulating new cladding, such a brick, is issued. There can also be problems with getting new claddings to properly interface with adjacent wall elements, such as window, as well as additional weight, if a heavier or thicker/thinner material is used.
These "people factors" can be more difficult to resolve than more straightforward technical problems, such as "what is actually wrong?" So, before you decide to take it all off, consider all the implications. Usually, it's simpler to fix just what's wrong and to stick with the original proven product: EIFS.