Being able to implement creative shapes in EIFS is an important part of the total package contractor Brian Mead, owner of Commercial Builders in Pompano Beach, Fla., brings to the table in negotiations for new jobs.
A veteran of 25 years in the EIFS business, Mead started his company in southeast Florida in 1991, right after Hurricane Andrew ushered in a building boom that has continued virtually unabated. Mead’s firm does only commercial work and specializes in large projects, ranging from superstores to shopping centers, auto dealerships, and stately university buildings.
Much of the company’s work is in EIFS, and some involves complex EPS shapes. “A month ago we had 45 EIFS mechanics on the job, on one project,” Mead explained. “EPS shapes give developers and architects so much more latitude to get creative in a building that they can’t do with conventional stucco.” He added that there is more to being successful in implementing a project than winning a bid. “The key is having a skilled mechanic who can read the plans. It all boils down to people knowledgeable enough to read the plans and work their way through the puzzle.”
WORKING ON THE DETAILSAfter his firm wins a bid for a job requiring EPS shapes, “we do a detailed material and labor summary, and from that material summary we come up with the different shapes we’ll need,” he explained. He buys his foam shapes from Architectural Foam Supply in nearby Pompano Beach. “I give them a cut sheet of what I’m looking for, with quantities, sizes and dimensions based on contract documents.”
Sometimes, however, the drawings supplied are less than thorough. “Architects don’t always have all the information in the drawings, and it’s usually in the detail where they are lacking. We will give actual copies of drawings to our supplier. Using their software, they’ll come up with accurate drawings.”
John Belcher, owner of Architectural Foam Supply, said when contractors bring their drawings to him, his crew–which includes three CAD artists–creates the required shapes in foam.
“They usually bring us blueprints, and most of the time they have all or most of the measurements, so we go through all of it, then do our own shop drawings. We get them approved, and proceed with the order. We manufacture all of the materials on site,” Belcher said.
The shapes are created in EPS foam–widely recognized as Styrofoam–with a computerized hotwire machine. More complex shapes are hand-carved by Belcher’s artisans.
“Most architectural shapes take just a few weeks to complete,” he noted.
If necessary, in a complex design, the parts for the shapes are numbered in the shop and shipped to the customer. On site, they are assembled with adhesives. Simple shapes are covered with the standard EIFS materials; mesh and a base coat, followed by a finish coat. Complex shapes, such as 3-D figures, which are fairly rare in most commercial projects, are covered with spray polyurethane.
IT TAKES ‘REAL TALENT'Mead’s firm recently finished a project for a credit union that required an intricate custom design and a fairly complex installation. The customer wanted the company’s logo, which features a torch with flames, on the side of the building. The customer was very pleased with the completed project, which prominently features a 12 x 20-foot logo raised two inches off the wall of the building. “All of this takes some real talent,” Mead said.
Contractor Perry Weidenbenner, who started SPD Construction 14 years ago in South Florida’s Broward County, said his firm’s 120 employees have been busy on some large profile jobs, including a local landmark, the Cartoon Museum. He too appreciates the extra edge he has in being an expert in EIFS and EPS shapes.
Weidenbenner said Florida’s weather presents special challenges, but those have been met by the EIFS industry. “The main thing is to follow the manufacturer’s recommended instructions and make sure it’s an approved substrate it’s going over,” he said, noting that he works with Sto products. “Our key people are certified to work with new products and Sto has seminars down here.”
One of the most interesting aspects of working with EPS shapes for Bill Miller, field superintendent of Eifstech Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, is the wide diversity of what he has seen in his 14 years with the company.
“Just about every job is different. We never do the same shape twice,” Miller said. “The customer can get whatever he wants.”
THE HEAT AND EPSOver at Architectural Foam Supply, John Belcher is taking EPS shapes to dramatic levels.
Belcher is proud of one of his more unique projects, 16-foot-tall EIFS statues of Miami Heat players Shaquille O’Neil and Dwayne Wade, commissioned by the Heat in 2005 when the team was in the NBA championship playoffs.
“By the time they get to us, they can’t find anyone else to do it,” Belcher said in describing his typical customer. His crew can put form to specific ideas–for shapes on buildings or stand-alone structures–or will come up with ideas for customers looking for something unique. “We take it from concept drawing through digital into the computer and then it comes to life.”
To showcase his firm’s capabilities, Belcher designed and constructed a new exterior for his formerly non-descript, cinderblock building. The transformation is dramatic as the multi-colored building features columns, quoins, medallions and a wide assortment of other shapes.
By far, the most interesting items in his shop’s showroom are the 3-D sculptures. “When people see it they say ‘Wow!’ and they like that they can walk up and touch it.”
Additionally, he has used EPS shapes in the bedrooms of his two young daughters. One has a “tree house” theme featuring a passage from one bedroom to the next, and the other is a “princess bedroom.”
HISTORIC RESTORATION IN EPSThat 3-D creativity is opening doors for Belcher, as he is able to bring his artists’ skill to the task of recreating complex shapes from historical buildings.
“Because of our technology in the last three years we’ve been doing 3-D medallions, wall relieve structures, and other complex shapes,” Belcher said. “We are currently working on a project in the historical district of Miami South Beach where they can’t change the look of an existing building. There’s a 19-foot sculpture made of plaster that is falling apart, and the city is making the contractor put it back up.”
The problem is–or was–that the figure was so badly deteriorated that the new figure had to be created from photographs. “We will be making this 19-foot-tall sculpture of horses and chariot on the side of the building. This has happened to us several times. We recreate things that have been removed and we have nothing to go on except for pictures.”
THE RAIN FOREST IN EPSAnother notable project is the T-Rex Cafe in Kansas City. “It has been billed as the largest themed restaurant in the United States. It’s a rain forest on steroids, with four dinosaurs.” He added that he’s looking forward to working on the second T-Rex Cafe, to be located in Orlando, Fla.
In May, Belcher opened an Orlando office and shop, managed by EIFS pioneer John Treadway, formerly a partner with his father, George, in Treadway Industries. The Treadway name is known among those who work with EPS shapes, since the duo invented and perfected the hotwire that transformed the industry in the early 1980s. Treadway recalled those early days, when business exploded as the new technology attracted the interest of architects and developers worldwide.
“Architects were going crazy–we were going like gangbusters creating all sorts of things for the EIFS industry. It escalated very quickly.” An early and prominent customer was Walt Disney World in Orlando, which is an international showplace of cutting-edge innovation.
“In 1987, Disney’s lead architect contacted us and said, ‘We have a project, and we are considering going with EIF systems and heard you can create shapes out of foam and coat it.’ The project was Disney’s MGM Studios. They were doing the back lot to look like a New York street scene. Originally it was specified to be in fiberglass,” Treadway said. Disney hired the Treadways, leading to exponential growth for the company and the industry.
Treadway and Belcher see service as essential to success. “Anyone can cut a shape. We provide service, and we work back and forth with the client. When we get the job, we get involved in the design and scheduling of how the shapes will be installed.”