I recently noticed that the most popular free download of EIFS information on my Web site was the Frequently Asked Questions for Homeowners. I had added the list of homeowners FAQ to my site in an effort to stem an avalanche of phone calls from homeowners who were looking for EIFS information. Based on that list, below is a list of the Top 20 most FAQ.

1. How do I know if it's EIFS?

Rap on it with your knuckles; take care. If it sounds hollow, it's probably EIFS. If it feels hard, or has a very coarse texture, it's probably Portland cement plaster ("stucco"). Be aware, however, that EIFS coatings, without insulation, can also be applied directly onto hard sheathing boards, such as cement board. These, too, have the "hard sound," like stucco.

2. How do I know whose EIFS product it is?

Lots of luck. Most brands look the same when installed. Try contacting the general contractor who built the house, or better yet, the contractor that installed the EIFS. They may remember what brand it is. Remember that just because the building's written specification cite a certain brand, does not mean that was what was actually installed. You may also get lucky and find a pail of EIFS material in the garage, which has left with the house (when it was built) for use in doing repairs. Also, see the next question.

3. I've heard you can tell what EIFS brand it is from the mesh color. True?

Sometimes. Certain brands use certain colors for their mesh. But that's no guarantee, since meshes of various colors are available on the open market. However, the color may give you a starting point to tracking down whose product it is. However, keep in mind that once the mesh is buried within the basecoat that I wish you good luck to figure out what color it is. On a positive note, here are some common colors for EIFS brands: Dryvit = blue; Sto = yellow; Senergy = green; Parex = red; Texas EIFS = white. Don't quote me.

4. Can I repair EIFS myself?

Unless you are very good with a trowel (make a living as a plasterer), you're better off hiring an EIFS contractor. EIFS is not a DIY product.

5. The EIFS is leaking. How do I inspect it?

Whoa. Normally, the EIFS itself is not leaking. The leaking is almost always at the edge of the EIFS, at either an opening (window, etc.), at a penetration (deck beam, etc.), or at a flashing/sealant joint. As far as inspection goes, you can do a quick visual inspection yourself, for obvious flaws (such as lack of caulking or cracks) but detailed inspections are best left for professional inspectors.

6. I got a great deal on a moisture meter on e-Bay. How do I use it?

Whoa again. First, certain types of meters work well and others do not. Ones that work well are pricey and have long, insulated probes. Next, it takes some skill to know where to take readings and also to properly interpret them. This is yet another good reason to hire a professional.

7. What's involved with removing and replacing EIFS?

EIFS can be removed by carefully cutting away the entire EIFS (including the foam), back to the supporting wall. The old EIFS cannot be reused, and thus it is discarded. Then the supporting wall is inspected for damage, and whatever damage is found is repaired. Please be aware that this could involve removing studs and/or sheathing, a major operation. The new EIFS is then applied over the repaired wall, and is blended into the surrounding EIFS.

8. I have a barrier EIFS on my house. Can I add drainage EIFS to it?

No. The drainage capability is between the EIFS and the supporting wall. To add drainage, you'd have to entirely remove the old EIFS and replace it with a new drainage EIFS. Not a cheap proposition.

9. How can I tell if I have the newer drainage EIFS?

Drainage and barrier EIFS look virtually identical from the outside, But you may be able to tell if you have drainage EIFS as follows: Look under the horizontal edge of the EIFS where it stops, such as at a window head or at the bottom of the wall near the ground. A drainage EIFS will have some sort of gap, or flashing, or perforated piece of metal or plastic trim, to route water from the drainage cavity to the outside. However, the presence of such a gap is not a foolproof indication, as such accessories can be incorporated in barrier EIFS too. Also, cutting through the EIFS and seeing building paper between the foam and the sheathing is not surefire either, as some barrier EIFS put paper there too. The problem is that the paper alone does not produce a true drainage cavity. You can now see why it makes sense to have someone with experience inspect the EIFS.

10. My EIFS has "dots" all over it. What's causing this?

A lot of residential EIFS is attached to the supporting wall using "mechanical fasteners." These fasteners consist of a large plastic washer and a metal screw. The washer sits on top of the EIFS insulation, and is covered by the EIFS coatings. The washer is thus a fraction of an inch from the outdoor air. Because the fastener is made of metal and plastic, the washer is at a different temperature that the surrounding layer of EIFS insulation. This temperature differences means that the EIFS coatings retain a different amount of moisture at the fastener than in the surrounding wall. This, in turn, makes the EIFS finish look like it's a different color. Hence, the wall appears to have "dots" on the surface. The dots rarely do any harm, and usually disappear, as the wall's temperature becomes more even, such as during the middle of the day. There's not much you can do about this "effect," except that a thick initial EIFS basecoat helps even out the temperature of the EIFS surface, thus reducing the "dot" effect.

11. How do I repair "leaky windows"?

First, it depends what's wrong with them. If the interface between the EIFS and the window is what is actually leaking, then sometimes this can be corrected easily without removing the window. For example, simply adding caulking can help. Keep in mind that removing windows from an EIFS wall can be difficult, as many residential windows use a nail flange to mount the window onto the face of the wall sheathing. This prevents sliding the window out of the opening. If the window itself is leaking, sometimes this can be repaired in-place, while at other times the problem is within the frame (for example, an old, rotted wood window), and cannot be repaired; replacement is necessary.

12. Do repaired EIFS areas "show"?

With expert workmanship, repairs are hard to spot, especially if they extend back to a nearby corner or joint. Normally, however, the patch is visible, at least right after it is done. As the wall "ages," the patch blends in and becomes less visible.

13. Can I paint EIFS?

Yes, but keep in mind that some EIFS finishes contain additives that make it hard for the paint to adhere. When in doubt, contact the EIFS manufacturer and ask them which of their paints will work on their various finishes. Most normal EIFS formulas are pure acrylic, which means that normal, exterior grade acrylic houses paint will work fine. Before painting, of course, you can do a small trial on some inconspicuous area. Let the paint dry for a number of days, and see if it stays bonded. Paint is usually applied with a roller on large flat areas, while a brush is used in small areas, such as at windows and grooves.

14. There's a "bash" in my EIFS. Can I fix it by just applying basecoat and finish into the hole?

No. The "plug" will fall out eventually. The way to do repair this is to cut the EIFS away (back to the substrate) and to apply new foam and coatings to the new insulation. EIFS manufacturers have photos and instructions of how to do this. Use an EIFS contractor, if you want it to look decent.

15. How long does EIFS last?

It depends on how well it was installed initially and how well it was maintained. For example, caulking eventually wears out and must be replaced. The oldest EIFS projects I've personally seen go back to the '50s in Europe and the late '60s in the US. They're doing fine, other than needing a paint job to make them look new.

16. Is there a difference in quality between EIFS brands?

Sure. Each brand has its own formulation. Within a given brand, there are often various levels of EIFS, with "quality" in proportion to the cost. In many cases, the real key is who installs it, not the brand itself.

17. I'm buying or selling an existing EIFS house. Should I have an EIFS inspection done on it?

Yes. Even though it may be just fine, it's hard to know by walking around and staring; most problems, if any, are hidden within the wall. You'll want an inspection to assess the proper value of the house, and also to give piece of mind to the buyer or seller. An inspection also helps reassure realtors and insurance agents.

18. We're building a new EIFS house. What are the key things that we need to do?

Have complete drawings and specifications of the EIFS developed by the home designer.

Carefully follow the EIFS manufacturers published design and installations.

Follow the local code general requirements for EIFS in general, including whatever EIFS product-specific code-type requirements have been developed for the EIFS.

Hire a qualified EIFS contractor.

Enlist the input of the EIFS manufacturer.

Have inspections done on the EIFS as it is being installed.

19. We have a house that is stucco, with some EIFS "foam shapes" on it. Our insurance guy is giving us a price based on it being an EIFS house. Is he right?

No. From a functional standpoint, the house in question is a "stucco house," if the "base walls" are stucco with EIFS applied over it as decorative trim. The presence of EIFS used in this way is simply for looks, and has little affect on the performance of the wall.

20. When was the use of drainage EIFS "required"?

I depends on who does the "requiring"? Some EIFS producers required drainage EIFS on houses in the early '90s. However, in the same rough time period, various building code groups mandated the use of drainage EIFS on wood frame buildings. It's thus sometimes hard to know when the "requirement" to use drainage EIFS actually occurred. For instance, some code jurisdictions still do not require drainage EIFS on houses. Also, from a practical standpoint, in some climate areas it makes little difference whether it's a barrier vs. drainage EIFS, because the climate is not an issue.

Example: In Sante Fe, N.M., there is a 7,000-plus feet and has little rain, while Portland, Ore., is damp for 6 months each year. Do you really need drainage in Sante Fe?