Did you know that EIFS projects are supposed to be inspected? There is a building code requirement for special inspections that is specifically for EIFS and it's in the International Building Code, published by the International Code Council.

This requirement applies to all EIFS projects that use EIFS but relax-there are important exceptions where inspection is not required, such as when EIFS with drainage is used and when certain EIFS substrates are present. If the inspection requirement is enforced on your projects, you need to know what it's about. This month's column will give you the basics.

The codes

As background, the United States previously had three model building codes, the ICBO code, the BOCA code and the Southern code, which formed the technical basis for the building codes used in most parts of the U.S. (some major jurisdictions had their own codes-New York, for example). Although the same in many ways, these three model building codes were formatted differently and had some different requirements. This made knowing what was required for code compliance difficult, especially for entities doing business throughout the U.S., such as manufacturers, large contractors and developers. These codes were merged in the '90s into a new series of codes by the ICC. Two of the new ICC codes (there are others) that are of interest to us are the IBC and IRC. Both these new codes are published and are in use or in the process of being adopted on a wide basis throughout the country. From an EIFS perspective, what makes them different from the old-model codes is that they do have sections that mention EIFS by name, which was not previously so. The IBC and IRC have different requirements for EIFS but the IBC is the subject of this month's column.

At the point in time when the IBC was being compiled, there was considerable activity regarding water intrusion problems on buildings in general, including those clad with EIFS. Many of EIFS buildings had the traditional EIFS (barrier), i.e., not EIFS with drainage. The code people, in the end, decided to require EIFS with drainage on certain buildings and also to add the special inspection requirement to the IBC.

We all know that the local building department does inspections during construction. These are not the "Special Inspections" specifically described in the ICC codes but are the normal inspections done by the building department for things like wiring, framing and so on. Special inspections are used for unusual or complex building components or systems for which specialized expertise is needed to properly inspect them. The people that do special inspections are not usually the building department itself but are private contractors who do so on behalf of the owner. Self-inspection by contractors of their own work is rarely allowed.

Below is the section of the 2003 IBC, which describes special inspections in general:

SECTION 1704 SPECIAL INSPECTIONS 1704.1 General. Where application is made for construction as described in this section, the owner or the registered design professional in responsible charge acting as the owner's agent shall employ one or more special inspectors to provide inspections during construction on the types of work listed under Section 1704. The special inspector shall be a qualified person who shall demonstrate competence, to the satisfaction of the building official, for inspection of the particular type of construction or operation requiring special inspection. These inspections are in addition to the inspections specified in Section 109.

Special inspections are not required for work of a minor nature or as warranted by conditions in the jurisdiction as approved by the building official.

Special inspections are not required for building components unless the design involves the practice of professional engineering or architecture as defined by applicable state statutes and regulations governing the professional registration and certification of engineers or architects.

Unless otherwise required by the building official, special inspections are not required for occupancies in Group R-3 as applicable in Section 101.2 and occupancies in Group U that are accessory to a residential occupancy including but not limited to those listed in Section 312.1.

The section below describes the inspection requirement for EIFS. Note the exemption for EIFS with drainage, and for masonry and concrete substrates. Note also section 1704.13.3, which explains why there is a specific section for products like EIFS, i.e. for alternate materials.

1704.12 Exterior insulation and finish systems. Special inspections shall be required for all EIFS applications.

Special inspections shall not be required for EIFS applications installed over a water-resistive barrier with a means of draining moisture to the exterior.

Special inspections shall not be required for EIFS applications installed over masonry or concrete walls.

1704.13 Special cases. Special inspections shall be required for proposed work that is, in opinion of the building official, unusual in its nature, such as but not limited to the following examples:

  • Construction materials and systems that are alternatives to materials and systems prescribed by this code.
  • Unusual design applications of materials described in this code.
  • Materials and systems required to be installed in accordance with additional manufacturer's instructions that prescribe requirements not contained in this code or in standards referenced by this code.

The requirement in section 1704.12.1 is interesting. Inspection would not be required for prefabricated EIFS panels made with EIFS with drainage but would be if drainage was not used. Have you ever tried to incorporate drainage in an EIFS panel? It's a real trick, since the fabrication sequence does not easily allow doing the inspection (where-at the panel plant?) when the wall design has adjacent windows or the drainage components must be incorporated between stacks of panels.

Special inspections can be expensive and can slow up a project. But as a matter of fact, special inspections for EIFS are infrequently required (the code requirement is not enforced) and the above snapshots of the actual IRC code sections show why-lots of discretion is given in determining if special inspections are really needed.

What is a special inspection?

To be rationale, an EIFS special inspection must have some sort of basis. At this point, there is no national consensus standard for how to perform an EIFS special inspection. But there are guidelines available from various parties, such as manufacturers and trade groups but they are only used in limited local situations.

This means for the purpose of specific buildings, in cases where the inspection program needs to be formalized, that an agreement (an inspection manual?) needs to be created that outlines:

  • What gets inspected
  • Where (on the building)
  • How often the inspections are to be done
  • Who does the inspection
  • What qualifies as passing the inspection
  • How disputes are handled

Coming to such an agreement requires the inspector, general contractor and EIFS contractor, and perhaps the EIFS producer and its local rep, to get involved. Developing such a program can be tedious but sometimes ready-to-use "templates" for inspection programs are available, which can greatly help expedite the process.

Obviously, special inspections need to be tailored to the needs of the building at hand: huge prestigious projects require more inspection than an EIFS chicken coop. The most basic EIFS special inspection would be a walk around the building after the EIFS is in place. This is not very effective because errors can be covered up and can't easily be discovered without tearing into the wall. The next best thing would be at the start of the project to get things off in the right direction. Another simple approach would be just when all the three basic layers (foam, basecoat and finish) are being applied, one can see how each is done. Obviously, continuous inspection is possible but costs a fortune and is rarely justified.

Thus, EIFS special inspections are done at certain key points during the application process, namely: the substrate, insulation layer, basecoat, finish and perimeter of the EIFS (opening, flashings, sealants, etc.).

There are several aspects of special inspections that affect what should be inspected. Clearly, the drawings and specs for the building are needed. Also, the ICC code itself plays a factor, as do any special technical reports (evaluation reports) for a specific EIFS product that has been issued by ICC's technical group, ICC Evaluation Services. There are also local and national standards, such as those from groups like the ASTM and various trade associations. In the end, the inspector and the other parties need to agree on what exactly the inspection entails, if for no other reason than to figure out what it will cost and to avoid a lot of bickering when some issue surfaces during construction.

Who does the inspections?

The codes require that the special inspector possess the skills to do a proper inspection and that the inspector be acceptable to the building department. Where do you find such people? One source is the Exterior Design Institute, which trains EIFS inspectors. Another is AWCI, which offers EIFS courses. The Moisture Warranty Corp. also has contacts. The EIFS producers themselves can offer names of people they know who do the inspections. Another source are local EIFS reps and distributors, who more than anyone, would know who is in the area that is capable.

Since special inspection is sometimes a frequent activity, it's usually best done by someone nearby who can get to the site easily without incurring too much cost. The person (or firm) used to do the inspection, however, does need to be reviewed in terms of qualifications. Qualification varies in this specialized area of EIFS and can range from bona fide technical experts to people with limited EIFS-specific knowledge. Personality, cost and availability are also major factors, as you are frequently dealing with a specific individual inspector.

In the end, inspections are intended to get the building built right in the first place. They are not an end unto themselves and what is usually prudent is the minimum it takes to ensure that things are being done right. In most cases, this does not involve being on-site all the time but rather making visits at keys points and resolving any basic issues at the beginning of the work.

If you read this article, please circle number 342.