The title of this column is a quote from the late John Winston Lennon, M.B.E. I thought apathy a very appropriate topic not only because ‘tis the season for empathy and not apathy, but in response to an article on the challenges facing the EIFS industry in a recent issue of a competing construction magazine. (W&C will be publishing the results of our own EIFS industry study in February 2003, with feedback from 178 contractors).
This recent article quoted a handful of contractors saying quite frankly that the greed of EIFS manufacturers is to blame for the failure of the product (in some residential cases, though the article makes it seem like every EIFS installation is a failure). While everyone can be more proactive in the quest for quality, to me this seems like blaming General Motors because a drunk driver’s Buick killed someone. When are we going to take responsibility for our own failures as well as successes?
I meet some readers at trade shows who say, “you cover too much EIFS,” in the magazine. It may appear that way, only because of the continuing issues with insurance and lawsuits. Only a couple of issues each year focus on exterior cladding as the main topic. However, just because EIFS isn’t every contractor’s primary trade does not mean there are not lessons to be learned from its situation. To my thinking, observing EIFS’ unfolding challenge prepares one for the potential of having to face trials in one’s specialty or daily life.
This recent article is alarmist. It suggests almost a conspiracy of EIFS manufacturers “aggressively” selling product to the “pickup brigade,” an undefined genre of contractor easily recognizable by his lone truck and incompetence. Were these contractors hired to work on quarter-million-dollar-and-up homes? That seems unlikely. We know EIFS failure is a result, not necessarily of one contractor’s incompetence, but of not being thorough enough in installation among more than one trade. It is the marriage of the EIFS to other building components that have failed, not the cladding itself.
However, none of this is really the issue with EIFS and insurance. It’s the outrageous lawsuit settlements awarded to plaintiffs. The article mentioned an EIFS plaintiff receiving $30 million in settlement for his $250,000 home. And we wonder why insurance companies won’t insure EIFS contractors? It isn’t because of the product or the contractor; it’s because of numbers like those. Those who sought and awarded that amount are to blame for this insurance problem. Unfortunately, the article didn’t include any feedback from manufacturers at all. It was one-sided.
In last month’s W&C, I quoted Marc Weissbach, a principal of Israel Berger and Associates Inc., of N.Y., an exterior wall and roof consultant firm, who suggested the insurance industry start taking an interest in its own contractors’ projects by hiring experts to make sure the job remains as risk-free as possible, thereby protecting insurers. That is one way the insurance industry can demonstrate less apathy. EIFS manufacturers could respond to what the contractors in this recent article say by limiting the sales of their products only to qualified contractors. Legal professionals can quit awarding outrageous monetary settlements to plaintiffs. Customers can demand credentials from those they hire to build their projects. Lastly, the contractors themselves must work together to ensure that every component of a construction project add up to a unified design with a healthy lifespan.
Apathy isn’t where it’s at.
A happy holiday season to all readers from the staff of W&C!