The other day, I got an interesting phone call. An EIFS contractor was asking where he could get insurance so he could continue to do EIFS work. The renewal cost for his insurance, he said, if it were to continue to be available, was going to be so high that he would have to stop doing EIFS. He was frustrated.

Not being in the insurance business but having some clue to his situation and being sympathetic, I listened to him some more. He went on to explain that he could not even get insurance to do repairs on EIFS projects. Where does this end? Are even insurance agents not going to be able to get insurance to allow them to insure EIFS contractors? This situation is getting out of hand.

Rather than moan about this sad state of affairs, here are some thoughts about doing something about it. This list is the result of bits and pieces I have heard over the last year or so from insurance people about things they’d like to see done by the EIFS industry to help them feel good about issuing insurance. Perhaps these insights can be used in discussions with insurance carriers to piece together a program that would make insurance available sanely priced.

Paper trail

First, insurance people like paper. Whatever the solution is going to be, it is going to have to be in writing. It needs to be detailed, like an insurance policy. Verbal assurances and requests from clemency will not work. Whatever the EIFS industry might propose to the insurance industry, it needs to be a comprehensive program, not a series of unrelated efforts. The insurance industry needs to be convinced that the program will work, so that its industry is sure that its risk will be rewarded.

Next, this is an EIFS industry problem. Make no mistake about this. The solution to the EIFS insurance matter needs to be an industry effort, not one of individual companies. Insurance companies do not see a distinction between Joe’s brand of EIFS and Fred’s. To them, EIFS is EIFS, and it’s all suspect. They do not want to have different programs for insuring quality that depend on whose product it is. This means that the EIFS manufacturers would have to get together and propose something as a group. Doing such a group effort will be a big step for an industry that is known for the independence and competitiveness of its manufacturers.

Third, the program needs to have teeth in it. This is not a time to be timid. It’s time to cut the wheat from the chaff. Let the contractors that care continue to prosper and let the other ones find other work. If some people cannot get insurance because they won’t sign on to a rigorous program that assures a quality, finished project, then so be it. This is a period when conservative behavior and discipline is needed, not fairy tale verbal assurances.

Some type of independent verification that the EIFS is being installed properly is needed. It’s not enough to have the GC or EIFS contractor self-certify that it’s being done right. The process of attesting that the EIFS is installed right needs to be done by someone who doesn’t care, in a sense. They need to report independently to the owner, and get paid regardless of whose ox gets gored.

Whatever the program is that ensures quality of the completed EIFS installation in terms of the on-site verification process, that program needs to be reasonable. What is not needed is someone who is relentlessly crawling all over the contractor and whining about every booger that gets into the basecoat. The inspection process needs to be just enough to be sure that it is being done right. Similarly, the level of inspection needs to be tailored to the nature of the project. A lot of inspection may be needed to ensure the job is done right on a fancy boutique on Rodeo Drive, but is any inspection at all needed on Jessup’s used-once-a-year duck blind? Continuous inspection is not only expensive, it’s unnecessary.

Information pool

There needs to be a national database of EIFS contractors that have been trained. It needs to indicate who and where they are, and what EIFS systems they are trained to install. The public needs access to the database, in order to be able to find qualified people. This is something that could be easily implemented on the Internet: Just type in the zip code, and a list of the nearest trained contractors appears.

There needs to be an national EIFS training program that covers the common basics of all EIFS, that is also coupled with training offered by the EIFS manufacturer. This is needed to ensure that contractors understand the idiosyncrasies of specific EIFS products, especially the various EIFS with drainage systems. Periodic retraining should be part of the program. The training should be for the individual person, not for company. Thus, as the trained person changes jobs, his training stays with him, as it should be: People install EIFS, not companies. Every job should have at least one such trained person on the site at all times.

A set of industry standard EIFS construction details needs to be developed for all the basic conditions that happen repeatedly on almost every building. Confusion currently reigns as to how even basic details should be done. This does not help the inspector.

Earnest dialogue needs to occur between the EIFS industry and industries that make products that come into contact with EIFS. In particular, the window industry comes to mind. One of the reasons water is getting behind EIFS is that a surprising number of “good” windows leak, and some window designs do not integrate well with EIFS. As an example, having to cut off the nail flange at the sill of a window does not do wonders for the window warranty. But how else can one get a decent flashing back into the wall where it can do some good? One would think the window people would do something about this, since EIFS is hardly the only product affected by the nail flange design.

Whatever training program is developed needs to be required by statue. In other words, the building codes need to require it. This will get around it being optional, and therefore influenced by the whims of individual contract circumstances. It’s the only way to put real teeth in the enforcement process.

Lastly, there needs to be a national “road show” of presentations that explains to the contractors and designers, as well as the insurance industry, the presence and details of this program. Making noise about it on the Internet is not enough. It needs to be done in person on a large scale. This would take a year or more, if done at all the major metro areas. The program should be free, to eliminate excuses for not attending.

If the above suggestions sound like a conglomeration of some existing programs, with some new twists put in, it is. What we have now is a series of separate programs that do not address this insurance issue as a whole, but rather, deal with parts of it. The insurance people want an overall integrated solution. Arriving at such a solution will require getting a lot of people with differing interests to one table, and coming together as a group. This will be quite a feat but the prospect of decreasing availability of insurance makes overcoming the obstacles to intra-industry cooperation essential.