The Finish Line: FAQ's About EIFS Part 1
This is the first of a two-part series about common EIFS questions. My Web site www.eifs.com generates a lot of e-mail and phone inquiries. Usually they are basic questions from people looking to learn more about EIFS. Over the last 30 years of working with EIFS I’ve seen or heard of almost anything that can be done with EIFS. Some of the answers to these FAQ’s are my opinion, and by mentioning brands, I am not doing so for any sort of gain. You’ll enjoy some of these “EIFS War Stories.”
Two enormous buildings that use EIFS come to mind: the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and the Atlantis resort near Nassau, Bahamas. Once you get near or into these buildings, they seem to go on and on. How many square feet of wall area is there? I’d hate to have been the estimator on these mega jobs.
Speaking of EIFS buildings that might be in the running, but never used EIFS, I once got an inquiry from NASA about retrofitting EIFS on the outside of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. The VAB is the tallest single story building in the world. It’s where the Space Shuttle is assembled. The VAB is 716 feet tall, covers 8 acres, and has an interior volume of 129 million cubic feet; it’s positively gigantic. The building currently has metal siding on the exterior. They were having climate control problems (condensation and rain) in the vast main bay - “clouds” would form and sensitive equipment would get wet. NASA thought the addition of more insulation might help. Putting it on the outside would be the easiest way. The idea of adding EIFS was just a concept, and went nowhere, but it’s an interesting approach; do the re-insulating job from the outside using exterior insulation.
The tallest one I’ve seen myself is a 42-story condo in Miami. It was built in the early ’80s. There are many EIFS jobs in the 30- to 40-story range - usually offices, condos or hotels.
There are twin 43-story towers in Toronto but the tallest I’ve ever heard of is in Wuhan, China - a 58-story apartment building. Wuhan is the eighth largest city in China with a population of more than 9 million - about the size of the entire Chicago metro area. The EIFS is applied directly to the concrete building frame. The EIFS finish is paint, not a textured EIFS coating. By the way, in China, EIFS is called “ETIC” (external thermal insulation components) and does not include the finish coating, as it does not contribute to energy efficiency; you can use whatever works for the “finish.”
In the early 1980s, there was serious talk of a 60-story EIFS building in Chicago. It was to be done in-place by applying the EIFS directly to the cast concrete building frame. It was not to be done with prefab panels. It was never done using EIFS; concrete panels were used instead. The problem with using EIFS was getting EIFS contractors to try to tackle this monstrous building with a year round construction schedule and a one-floor-per-week EIFS schedule. Here’s why: the building, which is basically square in plan and covers an entire city block, was to have a custom, liftable monstrous swing stage system that wrapped around the entire building, like a giant square doughnut. This mega swing stage system was to be three stories high and heated. The top level would be for the insulation layer, the middle for the basecoat, and the lowest for the finish. At the end of each week it would be lifted one story and the work continued.
The addition of drainage to EIFS was a big and important change. The codes now require it on new wood frame buildings. I’m not clear that having drainage in the field of the EIFS helps much (the wall is seamless in such areas - so how can it leak?) but the attention to details at the perimeter of the EIFS does a lot to keep water out and gives a way for incidental water to get safely back outside.
MOST IMPORTANT NEW PRODUCT USED WITH EIFS
To me, undoubtedly, it is the advent of DensGlass Gold sheathing. It’s much more durable than the older exterior grade gypsum sheathing, and immediately grabbed a huge market share as a sheathing substrate.
OLDEST EIFS BUILDING
The oldest one I know of is in Providence, R.I. It’s a retrofit of a wood frame house and was done in the late 1960s.
STRANGEST EIFS BUILDING
The Disaster Museum, in Orlando, Fla., takes the cake for this honor.
BIGGEST SELLING FEATURE OF EIFS
I’d say it’s the combination of looks and price. In my experience, a lot of people don’t buy EIFS for its energy efficiency; rather they see EIFS energy efficiency as simply an added benefit.
Two things: tainted image of EIFS in minds of owners and designers due to problems on homes in the 1990s, and pricing is too low; the former could be handled by industry educational programs. As for price, I’ll bet that the price of EIFS could be raised at least 20 percent and still retain the same number of sales. EIFS has so many features that it’s easy to sell against competing products for a higher price. EIFS is less expensive nowadays then it was when the industry first got started.
What’s wrong with this picture? The only product that I can think of whose price has dropped at least as much, is computers. EIFS used to be sold - not order taking - and the margins were much better. EIFS has become a commodity, with commodity type pricing.
DUMBEST USE OF EIFS
A guy contacted me once about keeping his outdoor in-ground swimming pool warm in the winter by lining it with EIFS. How would you like to rub up against that while swimming? There’s no telling what the pool chemicals would do to the EIFS coatings and insulation.
MOST COMPLEX EIFS FACADE
This is a tough one. The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas is pretty complex. So is the Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas.
A GOOD SENSIBLE WAY TO USE EIFS
The building (as shown above) uses large solid concrete exterior load bearing, flat, tilt-up walls. The floor framing is connected to the panels, and the outside is done with flat EIFS and foam shapes. For a quick and cost effective office, it looks nice and would be very durable.
The above EIFS War Stories make for good conversation with colleagues in the EIFS business. If you know of any other exceptional EIFS projects or have any nagging questions about EIFS, please let me know so we can share with W&C readers. W&C