The Finish Line: Inspecting Existing EIFS Structures
November 1, 2008
The term inspection has different meanings to different people. To some it means an assessment of the condition of an existing building. To others it means an I-depth probe for possible problems on existing buildings. Some think of inspection in terms of monitoring the process of new construction as it occurs. To still others it means diagnosing known defects on existing buildings, determining their cause and advising how to fix them. This month’s column deals with basic, nondestructive visual-only inspections on existing buildings for the purpose of assessing their condition.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
When doing inspections, you need to clarify what the person asking for the inspection is expecting and what authority they have. For instance, if it’s a home purchase and the prospective buyer wants to know if the EIFS is OK, do they have the authority to tell you to dig into the wall? I doubt it. Similarly, is it really just the EIFS they are interested in? I doubt that, too. Usually, they want the whole wall assessed, including windows, penetrations, joints and so on. Sometimes they even want the roof looked at. This raises the question as to the areas of competence of the inspector. I sometimes partner-up with a colleague who is a roof specialist to make sure I have someone with plenty of knowledge about various types of roofs.
WHICH EIFS PRODUCT?
Most traditional barrier-type EIFS are installed very similarly. However, the newer EIFS with drainage systems vary quite a bit from brand to brand. It helps if you can find out whose system is on the wall but just looking at it often doesn’t help much. Sometimes local EIFS distributors and contractors can recall a specific project and that knowledge can help you determine whether or not the system was correctly installed.
If the inspection is visual-only and is nondestructive, all you can know for sure is what you can see. Since EIFS cannot be taken apart and reassembled, there are limits to what you can determine about the internal condition of the EIFS and the wall structure. The person requesting the inspection needs to understand these limitations. For instance, without taking apart the wall, it’s hard to know the condition of the stud cavity, or the degree to which the EIFS is firmly attached to the supporting wall.
THINGS TO CHECK
Here’s a list of common defects that should be looked for:
- EIFS not wrapped at its perimeter, especially at the bottom edge
- Missing sealant around openings
- EIFS used below grade
- Large, shallow-sloped areas, such as window sills and parapets
- Lack of floor line joints on wood frame buildings
- Lack of kick-out flashing at the low end of sloped roofs
- Heavy objects attached to the EIFS lamina, rather than through it
- Cracks where the insulation thickness changes, such as at foam shapes, and at the bottom of aesthetic reveals
- Lack of flashings where they should be used, such as at window sills and parapet caps
- Sealant that has failed (splitting down the middle or de-bonded)
- Impact damage
- Bulging or looseness of the EIFS
- Efflorescence on the surface of the EIFS (indicates possible water behind the EIFS)
- Crack in the field of the wall, such as at insulation board edges
- Exposed reinforcing mesh
- Erosion or flaking-off of the finish
ALMOST NONDESTRUCTIVE TESTING
Moisture intrusion is often one of the biggest concerns and is the main reason for doing an inspection. In the absence of known leaks that have shown up indoors, it’s hard to know if there is moisture lurking within the wall that is affecting the building.
The use of probe-type moisture meters can tell you the moisture content of the wall structure but each reading leaves a pair of holes the size of a welding rod. These holes can easily be plugged with a colored-matched dab of sealant from a squeeze tube, and the dabs are hard to see. However, the owner may not want even this small amount of defacement. Get an OK first.
ENGINEERING, ARCHITECTURE AND CONSTRUCTION VS. INSPECTION
It’s very common to be asked how to fix a problem that has been detected. Owners will sometimes ask inspectors to repair the defect or give recommendation on contractors. You need to be careful not to overstep the bounds of your inspector role. This is not to say that you can’t do so-especially if you are qualified and licensed-but the decision to do so needs to be made consciously.
Usually when I do an inspection, I do it in phases. The first is a visual-only, nondestructive assessment with a brief report that lists the issues that have been found. I also usually then offer suggestions for how to proceed, if at all. For instance, if it’s obvious that the wall has major water intrusion problems or safety issues, some sections of the wall may need to be removed and investigated.
Many building owners do not realize that the large holes that are created by such destructive investigations create unattractive patches and need to be patched quickly. This requires an EIFS contractor, and several days of work and the correct materials. This can get expensive.
If the concern is that the wall structure (the sheathing and studs) is in bad shape, you can sometimes more easily remove the drywall on the inside of the building than tear up the exterior.
The same errors seem to be made over and over again, and this ends up becoming a pattern for defects throughout the building. This is particularly true at the edge of the EIFS. Windows, doors, penetrations and areas using flashing are prime examples. For instance, if you detect a problem at a windowsill, you certainly want to check other windows that have been similarly installed.
You’ll usually want to document what you’ve found in your inspection, and a written report is the normal means. These reports should include overall photos of the building and close-ups of specific defects. Keep in mind, however, that sometimes a written report is not desired (sometimes lawyers don’t want them on the record) or sometimes the additional time and expense is not in the budget. At the very least, usually the client wants an immediate debriefing on the results of the inspection, especially if a property sales transaction is in the works.
Courses are available on how to do EIFS inspections. For instance, the Exterior Design Institute offers several levels of training via online and in-person training modes, for EIFS and other materials. EDI’s courses (the next one in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 20-23) include testing of the knowledge gained, and recognition of passing the exams is available. Having such training can be useful in bolstering the credentials of people wanting to offer inspection services. W&C