The Finish Line: Unusual Situations and Interesting Solutions
Most of the inquiries I get for help with existing EIFS projects have something to do with an odd problem that no one can figure out how to work around. Some inquiries also are about strange uses for EIFS on new buildings. Here’s a handful of strange situations and how they were resolved–or not resolved.
Outside InIn the upper Midwest a pair of new EIFS buildings were constructed across the street from each other. The buildings each take up an entire block and were the same design. The street was closed off, and became an outdoor pedestrian mall, with benches and trees and vendors with carts. The buildings were four stories tall with retail shops at ground level, and offices on the upper floors.
The owners decided they wanted to make year-round use of this street space, so they put a greenhouse roof over the street from one building to the other, and glassed in the end walls with curtainwall doors. Effectively, the street area became an indoor area. At the top of this page is a photo of a similar building that gives an idea of the type of space we are talking about.
The EIFS building had developed leaks, so they called me to sort it out. Before I showed up to find out what the cause was, I gave the owners one of my books on EIFS so they would be conversant about the subject. But, before I left for the trip to their building, they called on a related matter. They had spotted my comments in my book about not using EIFS indoors. Being fairly honest, they had also called the local fire marshal to see if he had a problem with the fact that the EIFS was now indoors–sort of. He did. Now what, they asked?
The owners were not interested in removing the EIFS and replacing it with something else like stucco, nor did they want to put some other cladding over the EIFS. Here’s how it was fixed:
The problem was that the EIFS was not separated from the habitable space by a 15-minute thermal barrier (ie: gypsum board), as required by code. I suggested we run a horizontal line of sprinklers parallel to the wall at the top of the wall. That way, if a fire began, the sprinklers would come into action, and keep the EIFS from getting too hot. The fire marshal gave this plan his OK.
They installed the sprinklers and unless you know they are there, one can’t really see them. This was an economical solution.
Where's the Stud?When using mechanical fasteners, sometimes it is a challenge to get them through a thick foam shape and into a stud. A lot of the time the fastener will miss the stud and go into some sheathing that will not accept screws. A slick trick I saw was using screws or finish nails as guides like this: Before placing the insulation against the substrate, run a nail or screw into each stud. The nail length should be the same as the insulation thickness. The nail should be driven in so that it will not quite pierce the outside of the foam. Impale the foam on the nail, and then use a metal detector to locate the nail. If this is done on every stud, it’s a cinch to run chalk line to show exactly where the studs are.
Nice Idea Gone AwryI was working with a guy in Asia who wanted to get into the prefabricated EIFS panel business. However, he had a major problem -- his warehouse was way too small to accommodate a lot of panels.
He also wanted to make the panels quickly, and knew that drying time for the coatings was an issue. So he built a huge dolly-like cart that allowed stacking the panels horizontally on racks. He then built a walk-in oven into which he could roll the panels on the rack system, a dozen or more at a time. He could then force-dry them with circulating warm dry air. The oven walls and roof were made of huge pieces of EPS. Unfortunately, his temperature control system was not accurate, and the oven, with panels inside, melted and collapsed. He replaced the walls and roof with corrugated sheet metal and fiberglass, and it worked fine.
The EIFS BeachThere was a well-known heavy metal type rock’n’roll band in New England that called about using EIFS on the new home of one of the band’s members. The house was to have a guitar-shaped pool with red laser beams (like those handheld pointers you use to give a photo slide presentation) below the surface of the water to look like guitar strings vibrating as the water rippled. It’s kind of a neat idea if you are on drugs. They wanted to use EIFS finish over the concrete pool apron and into the pool because it looked like beach sand. Again, a good idea if you are on drugs.
I asked if they’ve rubbed up against EIFS. “No”, they said. I told them, “It’s like sandpaper, dude, and not a smooth texture. It’ll eat your skin away if you rub against it.” I also told them I doubted the finish coating could withstand the pool chemicals. I thought the problem was solved.
Month’s later I get a call from the builder who decided to try this EIFS pool paint idea anyway, and he wanted to let me know that the coating had fallen off, messed up the pool filters, and that the hot babes at the band’s wild pool parties did not like the rough texture at all.
Never Made ItIn the 1980s there was talk of a 60-story EIFS building in downtown Chicago. It was to be the tallest EIFS building I know of. The building had a concrete frame and exterior walls and the EIFS was to be applied in the field directly, on site, onto the concrete frame and walls. Experienced EIFS applicators would immediately exclaim: “You have got to be kidding!” The use of EIFS was considered because it saved a lot of money by reducing the amount of reinforcing steel in the frame. The architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) were smart, and I talked with them several times about performance requirements and other technical details.
But the big issue that needed to be resolved was how to install the EIFS in the winter! SOM felt the way to do it was to build a custom 3-story tall swing stage that wrapped all the way around the building, sort of like a square doughnut. It would be heated so that work could progress all year long. The top level of the swing stage would be for the crew installing the insulation. The middle level would be for the base-coat crew. The lower level would be for the crew that was applying the finish. We figured one floor could be completed in a week, so that each week the swing stage would be raised one floor, and the next layer of EIFS would be installed.
The problem of tackling such a large structure came to a head when we talked to the few contractors who were capable of this huge project. Basically, they didn’t want to bid it. So SOM went back and changed the cladding to normal precast concrete and glass. The building was built that way. It is quite handsome, but is not EIFS.
EIFS CeilingIn Asia there were plans for an indoor theme park that would take up an entire city block. It would have one huge seamless ceiling, and all the rides and concessions were on the ground level. At night they wanted to project moving images of planets and spacecraft onto the ceiling, and they wanted a seamless smooth surface.
They asked me about using EIFS, and since EIFS have never been tested on a horizontal orientation, I was not clear how they would build it. I’d seen EIFS applied to the walls of buildings outdoors as projection screens for summer outdoor film festivals, so I knew the concept would work.
In the end, they ended up using thin perforated sheet metal. It turned out that the ceiling was so far above the floor–100 feet or more–that the perforation holes were invisible. It turns out they got this idea from the people that do the 3D curved motion picture screens – the Omni-Max theatres.
EIFS with Super DrainageWhen EIFS with Drainage first came into use, there was quite a bit of discussion about different ways to add a drainage cavity. The solution basically settled down to using:
• Thick vertical beads of adhesive, or
• foam with vertical channels cut into the back, or
• plastic mesh spacer.
I got a call from an architect who had a brainchild idea of using a very large open drainage cavity, and using the cavity as part of the roof drainage system. The EIFS would literally be the gutters. He also wanted to make the cavity large so it could handle a lot of water, as he did not want gutters and downspouts on his façade.
I explained that it was a dumb idea as the drainage capability is designed for incidental amounts of water and is definitely not a way to deal with massive amounts of roof water. I also told him that by having such a large open cavity, that outdoor air would circulate in the cavity, thereby rendering the insulation ineffective in stopping heat flow. He saw the point and went away gracefully.
There are so many things one can do with EIFS that there are countless amazing and sometimes crazy “war stories” about people, events and buildings in the EIFS industry. I’ve toyed with the idea of posting some of the doozies on my Web site. If you’ve got a good story, send it to me as an email to this address: rgt@rgthomas W&C