I'm frequently asked for a second opinion regarding someone else's EIFS inspection report. The reason is almost always that the person paying for the report is not satisfied with the original report. The basis for the dissatisfaction is usually the logic or completeness of the report and not with how much it costs. Here are some thoughts about how to approach doing EIFS inspections and about the content of a good report.

What's included and what's not

First, the scope of the investigation needs to be defined. It should hopefully be based on whatever has been agreed-to in advance as to the nature of the investigation. It helps if this is in writing somewhere, to avoid later finger pointing. In my case, I always submit a brief proposal, prior to stepping on the site, which outlines my understanding of what I am being asked to do, as well as schedule, payment terms, etc. The reason for this is simple: When someone requests an "EIFS inspection," what does that mean? The truth is that it has no specific meaning; one has to define what it means to do an "inspection," since standards for doing EIFS inspections do not exist.

It's also important to describe what is not included in the scope of work. For example, poking a lot of small holes for moisture reading may be OK (make sure the building owner understands this before you do so!) but do not assume it's OK to maul the building. But clearly, the intention to tear off big sections of EIFS needs to be made very clear, lest the building owner freak out when they see walls that look like the Taliban's last stand. I know of a case where the sale of an expensive EIFS house was halted because the inspection caused so much damage that it turned off the buyer. The owner was mad enough to go after the inspector. Similarly, if removal of large areas is anticipated, who's going to fix it and when? The moral: These things needed to be arranged for prior to digging into the wall.

Another example: Areas that should be looked at, or were planned on being looked at, need to be defined. But if somehow those areas were not investigated, then this needs to be made clear and an answer is due as to "why?" A classic case is areas that simply cannot be reached; there is no access, short of a helicopter. This is common on houses, where often the first and only time the investigator sees the building is when he does the investigation. How is he supposed to know what he is up against? Sometimes, houses are on the edge of cliffs, or some other impossible configuration exists that makes looking at every area impossible except for Spider-Man.

Especially with EIFS, it is very important to have the people requesting the report understand that it is difficult to draw iron-clad conclusions about the overall condition of an EIFS building without digging into the wall to some significant degree. This is obvious to those of us in the EIFS business but frankly, it not apparent to the average homeowner.

One of the biggest faux pas I see is drawing sweeping conclusions in reports that is not supported by the limited amount of time and money that the requestor of the report is willing to pay for in investigation. You get what you pay for and investigators need to make sure the report describes the limitations that were placed on what could be done during the investigation. One approach I use is to advocate that certain things be done and then let the building owner turn me down. In that way they cannot later say that they were not aware that such-and-such was recommended. And if they accept, as they should, then I get some additional work. It's a win-win deal. Most clients, I have found, appreciate straight talk, and being open and well informed to them help curb their anxiety about what may be found once the inspection takes place.

Normally, unless I have a carte blanche to do whatever I want during an investigation, there are some significant constraints placed on digging into the walls. This fact of life is a good reason to do investigations in a series of phases.

For example, first, do a non-intrusive, visual-only inspection. This initial phase will probably uncover some issues that require further work but the point is that it gives some breathing room for the inspection requester to decide how they want to proceed.

Sometimes, this rational approach is not possible, such as when you have only one day to do the whole inspection, and thus only one opportunity to do so. This can occur, for instance, when summoned abruptly to do a quick EIFS inspection during a house sale. For myself, when I need to go out of town by plane to do an inspection, I almost always try to go to the site the day before, to do a quick visual review of the building that day, and then do the detailed stuff the next day. This gives an opportunity to discuss initial impressions with the client later the first day, and also allows for some relief against the time pressure of getting to/from airports, etc. It also allows the client a little bit of time, while you are still there, to consider whether he wants to delve further into the mysteries of their EIFS walls.

A good typer may not be a good writer

These days, it's easy to create impressive-looking documents. But good writing is not the same as good typing; even monkeys, given enough time and a fast PC, cannot write Hamlet using Microsoft Word. To help in this matter, various professional software packages, designed for writing inspection reports, are available. These can be very handy in that they give a professional appearance to the report, as well as a logical organization to the document as a whole.

Along the same lines as good organization of the document, consider how the person who will be reading the report will perceive it. For instance, one approach is to do the report as if you are walking around the building and viewing it elevation-by-elevation. This is more like what an investigator actually does at the site. Compare this approach to, for instance, hopping all around building and doing the report layout by "problem type" (windows, decks, etc.) vs. by "side of the building."

Conditions during inspection

It's smart to note the weather during the inspection (and immediately before, if, for instance, a tornado just came down the street), as well as who was present and who he represents. It's also smart, when making statements of "fact" in the report, that come from other people, to say where the information came from. For instance, a statement like "it leaks when it rains" may be true but the inspector may not have personally observed this, and it is better to say where such information actually came from.

This is often the main source of contention: the observations that are made do not support the conclusions that are stated. Keep in mind that conclusions and opinions are not the same thing. For instance, just because one or two windows have water instrusion does not mean you should tear off the whole EIFS. Expressed another way, it's often cheaper to do a more thorough investigation and to know what is (and is not) wrong, than to denude the entire structure.

To be honest, the "tear-it-all-off" approach is often a sign that the investigator does not have in-depth knowledge of EIFS, and thus, to be sure he can't be wrong, takes the ultra-conservative approach of removing and replacing the whole EIFS. This is a disservice to the building owner, and could even open the investigator to liability, if the owner gets mad and asks, "Why did I have to take this all off? There's not much that is really wrong!"

It's equally important not to inject opinions about products that are strictly opinions. I've seen ludicrous statements about EIFS in a few reports that border on slander, such as "EIFS is a bad product" and "brick doesn't leak." Keep in mind that many times the purpose of field inspections is to document the condition of the walls, not to provide expert opinions, design services or repair procedures. This is why defining the scope of the investigation is important. If the report contains so-called professional expert opinions, such as those used in litigation, then the "EIFS inspector" goes from being an inspector to being a consultant. In my case, I usually do separate reports for these two very different types of services: one report to document the facts and another to analyze them and give opinions.

Organize the data

I've seen reports from some forensic companies that are not safe to lift. Some have hundreds of pages of numbers, and only a few that explains what it all means. Most of the report should be used to line the bottom of a birdcage. I suppose they get paid by the pound. In this age of easy collection and publication of information, there's no need for this.

In terms of making the report useful, it is important to provide photos of views of the structure from all angles, and to link those views with the tables of data, such as moisture readings and comments. I know of several investigators who put the actual readings right on the photos. This is very convenient but makes production of the report more laborious.

The common and convenient PDF computer file format is an excellent way to transmit documents, especially by e-mail. The recipient can print out high-quality originals, yet cannot edit the content. It can also be done rapidly, an important factor in cases where, for instance, time is of the essence, such as an in-progress real estate transaction.

A good report should have an executive summary at the very front. Usually, people want to get a quick idea of the overall status of the building and not to have to wade through reams of data. Along the same lines, it's smart to place all the tables of data in their own section at the back of the report. This makes the report easier to write but has the problem of having to hop back and forth from different sections of the report to correlate the text of the report with the photos and data. This is a matter of style, because the data, regardless of where it is located, should speak for itself.

A good report is written and signed by the person who did the inspection, not by someone back at the office who is transcribing notes taken in the field by someone else. It's also prudent to list the qualifications of the person doing the investigation, keeping in mind that the company that the inspector works for may hold some form of recognition for their expertise in a given area, such as for EIFS inspection but what is more important is that the person who actually did the investigation is qualified.

There's a bit of a trend developing to create a standard protocol for doing EIFS inspection reports. This is especially true for residential EIFS inspection where the current quality of reports varies from excellent to useless. I think this concept has some merit, especially if the standard "template" for a report would were developed by an organization through some type of peer review process. In that way, once such guidelines are published, they would have some veracity, and could be referred to as the proper basis for determining if the report is thorough. This would be a good project for some type of national technical association organization. I know from talking with real estate sales people that they would like to see such a "system" for doing EIFS reports. Meanwhile, since the current crop of reports varies so much, business is good for me in giving second opinions on other peoples work.