Perhaps the most common phone inquiry I get is to do an "EIFS inspection"-whatever that means. The word "inspection" has a lot of connotations, such as checking the EIFS application process while it is occurring on a new building and investigating known problems on EIFS walls. It also can mean checking the general state of the EIFS on an existing building.

The last one is by far the most commonly requested service and is what I call a "condition assessment," which I feel is more descriptive of what is actually happening. Condition assessments involve determining whether the EIFS is OK or not. This month's column will give you some idea of how I deal with this type of service. I bet you too are occasionally asked to do "condition assessments," so this article may have some practical use for you also and will offer some bright ideas.

Cold call

The first thing I do when a prospective client contacts me and before taking the time to go to the site is to chat with them informally and try to figure out if they know what they are asking for. Some clients are spectacularly ignorant about EIFS and need to get educated before they can decide what they really want to do. For instance, sometimes clients think that what they have on their building is EIFS, when it is actually stucco. One guy even told me that the type of brick he had was a form of EIFS. Right.

To avoid spending endless hours on the phone with clueless clients, I ask them to first download a copy of a free EIFS "primer" document, called the "EIFS Homeowners Guide," found at I ask them to read it and then call me back if we are still on the same page. This 32-page booklet explains the basics of EIFS. It saves me a lot of time in explaining and re-explaining what EIFS really is, and clients say they learn a lot from it. Once the prospective client has more of an understanding about EIFS, then we get down to their actual situation. Here are some questions I ask right off the bat:

• Do they want only the EIFS inspected or the whole wall system (including the windows, doors, etc.) looked at? Or perhaps they also want an assessment of other wall products, such as stucco or brick? Usually, what they want is the whole wall assembly checked but sometimes they want the roof too or some other part of the building that I do not normally deal with. It's hard to do an EIFS inspection without dealing with adjacent wall components, as EIFS is always part of a wall system, so inspecting "just the EIFS" is rarely what clients ask for.

• Will the client permit more than just a visual-only, non-intrusive assessment (i.e. can I poke holes in the wall or remove samples?). Sometimes, clients want absolute assurance of the condition of the walls-a risky thing to do in this litigious world. This can be a sticky point; see below.

• Do they want to know more than just "what is wrong" or do they also want to know how to fix it and perhaps what it might cost? Determining, in a complete way, the nature and full extent of the condition of walls can be a big project and can cost a lot more than some client's are expecting to pay. The "you-get-what-you-pay-for" mantra applies here and I make this fact clear so they don't feel they'll be getting something, when they never asked or paid for it. I love my clients. In most of my "inspection" work, the process of determining how best to do repairs and what it will cost is a separate contractual adventure. I usually exclude this type of work from initial investigations (since I obviously can't know what the state of the walls are like until I do a look-see). Thus, I handle such work as an add-on to the original work, based on what I find in the initial investigation.

The above questions are very basic and serve to clarify what is expected and what will be provided as a result of the inspection. This leads to one of my non-negotiable service requirements, namely, a written report of my work. I have found that somehow clients often do not "recall" what I told them about what I have found. Sometimes, they get pretty ornery about their memory loss. I like to keep my affairs regular. Such reports, especially for small buildings like homes, need not be "War and Peace" in size but the key issues do need to be carefully codified. This is simply being professional.

I also do not undertake inspection work without some form of written agreement that includes: what I will be doing and what I will not be doing, the estimated cost, and the schedule. Homeowners especially do not seem to be used to paying for typical consultant fees and they tend to take such matters personally, making such work sometimes tedious. Commercial projects tend to be much more "business, not personal, Sonny."

Often condition assessments need to occur in the context of a tight time schedule, such as a real estate closing, where wallets and egos are very much on the line. Thus, the on-site work and the report need to be done quickly and transmitted pronto to the client. To speed-up this process, for my proposal to do the work, I use a standard form as a template for the proposal (to also make sure I do not leave out any important boilerplate), customize the proposal to fit the needs of the client, and send it back and forth by e-mail or fax. I send my reports as PDF files, which bypasses the delay of using ground-based mail services. The client can then print out themselves as many copies as needed.

If the inspection is limited to simply staring at the wall (i.e., visual only), it is most important to have the client realize that the amount of in-depth information that can be obtained about the condition of the EIFS, and the walls in general, is quite limited when using this technique. We all know that problems may be lurking within the wall and are essentially undetectable without poking into the wall at least a little bit.

Often, if the inspection is part of a buy/sell transaction, one or both of the parties with be averse to mutilating sections of the wall to check it out. Thus, a written report of an initial, limited-scope, non-intrusive inspection needs be carefully caveated, indicating that the reports findings are limited to the agreed scope of the investigation, and may not necessarily reflect the full condition of the wall. It is important that this type of caveat be in writing so you can be sure that they were advised, should the client gripe in the future about some problem that turned up, that you were not permitted, by them, to look into.

Speaking of non-intrusive inspection, there is a version that I call semi-intrusive. This version is the poking and prodding of the wall and flashings and sealant joints in a manner that is not especially detrimental (in my view), and which often is not objected-to by the client. This semi-intrusive mode does not involve cutting out sections of EIFS that will need to be patched. A good example of the semi-intrusive approach is using a moisture meter and placing small holes in the wall to get the reading. If properly executed and carefully plugged with caulking, such telltales of the investigation are barely visible, and hence many clients often will not object. But it's smart to make sure they agree beforehand. Get it in writing.

If something is discovered during an initial non-intrusive inspection that points toward digging deeper than a full-blown inspection may be needed at some point. The point is that provisions need to be made in advance ("time is of the essence," etc.) to deal with such circumstances, such as having the correct tools, equipment and bodies present, and to be able (having the permission) to immediately proceed while still at the site.

In-the-wall test

For instance, the client needs to be aware that small (or perhaps large) sections of EIFS may need to be removed to see what is really going on within the wall. Clients also need to be aware that the wall materials removed cannot often be re-used, that patching is required, and that time and money is needed to do the patching. They also need to be clear that the patch will probably be visible, and that patching can be weather dependent, (patching isn't normally possible in Nome during the winter).

The whole issue of who does the patching is a factor too. In my case, I do not usually do patches, as I am not much of a genius with a trowel, but I do often help clients locate someone local who can do the work. I let them make the arrangements for the work directly. On homes especially, I find it simply too fussy to micro-manage small patch jobs, but I do sometimes provide basic written guidelines so that the client can properly communicate with the contractor regarding what is needed in terms of services.

In my inspection work, I am very careful to avoid making grandiose statements about the condition of the walls and what to do about them, unless I have the data to back up my statements. I have seen some inspection reports, written by people who are EIFS-impaired, who say boldly, and in writing, to "tear it all off," based on very little investigating information. This "remove and replace" approach, in theory, will result in a guaranteed proper completed repair (i.e., getting it right this time), but can also be dangerous. If the client goes ahead and spends a fortune doing things that are not necessary, the inspector may be on the hook for the necessary work. My approach is different: request more time to do a more thorough look-see and fix only what is broken. If the client doesn't want to work this way, at least I can say that I asked. Good for me, good for the client.

Some inspectors are of the mind that if an EIFS condition does not meet EIFS "industry standards" (what are they?), that such a condition is wrong and needs to be replaced. I am more of the mind that if it works now and probably won't cause problems in the future, and then let it be. Some inspectors also go a step further and point toward the EIFS producers standard details, saying that "this is the way it should be done." It may be true that a "standard EIFS producer's detail" is actually applicable to a certain condition on a specific building, regardless whose EIFS product it is. However, sometimes it's not. EIFS producer's "standard details" are guidelines and non-project-specific. It is prudent to remember, also, that EIFS are proprietary systems and "industry standard" details don't always apply.

When I do non-intrusive, visual-only inspections, I concentrate on the edges of the system, where water tends to get in. Usually I first take a look at the building as a whole, to see where the EIFS is (and if it is actually EIFS), and to look at the field of the wall for obvious problems, such as delamination, staining, cracks and other visually apparent defects. Openings are the number-one focus of most of my condition assessments, especially windowsills, wall-roof intersections, penetrations, caulking joints and near-grade areas.

I also usually drill the building occupant or owner to see if they have any known specific issues, and when the problems, if any, occur (such as during big storms only, or all the time, etc.). I also ask if there is anything odd going on inside (like leaks, drywall stains or mold). If it seems like there may be mold and mildew issues, I make sure that the owner realizes that he should retain a specialist to deal with this type of issue.

In general, from a business standpoint, I find that small- and medium-size commercial projects are the most enjoyable and profitable, and that inspections of single family homes are really only cost-effective for clients that are within a few hours of my office. After you've done a few inspections, you can develop a system that makes generating the reports quick and accurate. If you do inspections at all, it also helps to get some specialized training, such as via the courses offered by the Exterior Design Institute and AWCI. The credentials they offer as part of their respective courses can help promote this type of EIFS service, perhaps as an adjunct to your regular EIFS business.