The Finish Line: The Many Facets of Inspecting EIFS
November 4, 2009
Sometimes, a project’s specifications require inspection of the EIFS. This type of inspection is a matter of a private contract-part of the business agreement to do the work. Other times, inspection is required by statute, as in cases where the building codes require inspection. Most EIFS jobs are not formally inspected: EIFS has not been relegated to the must-be-inspected world of critical construction, such as structural welds or elevators.
But when EIFS does need to be inspected, doing so adds time and cost to the EIFS bid, and hence can be a source of considerable discussion as to “how much is needed?” and “why?” to ensure a good, completed wall. So, is inspection going to become more common? Good question, but be aware that there is work underway to develop a national consensus protocol for doing EIFS inspections. This article will give you a headstart in seeing what might be coming down the road in terms of inspection requirements.
WHAT IS INSPECTION?
First, this is not a dumb question. Ask a group of people, and some will say inspection is checking the process of installing an EIFS as the original construction occurs. Others will say it is checking the EIFS after the system has been installed, such as during a real estate transaction or for a condition assessment for building evaluation purposes. This article concerns the former, and focuses on an effort to develop a standardized way of doing inspections.
IS INSPECTION NEEDED?
There are several sides to this question. The first is that inspection protocols are needed to standardize how inspections are done-to make inspections consistent and comparable in their coverage of key inspectable items. In the case of code-mandated inspections, the codes do not give details about how EIFS inspections are done.
The second side of this question is that there are inspection protocols already available that are offered as courses, including accreditation. These programs were developed based on input from members of technical and trade organizations. Some of these programs are designed for checking out the condition of existing EIFS installations, while others include EIFS as it is being installed. Some of these programs have been around for years and have hundreds of trained inspector/members. Some of these programs are quite good, yet none of the existing programs were developed by an independent, national consensus process. A consensus process is what regulatory organizations and specifiers seek, as it provides a broad-based agreement as to what is a proper program. ASTM is currently working on developing a consensus-based standard for inspections. Thus, ASTM’s work will complement existing programs.
WHO DOES THE INSPECTION?
To be effective, inspection needs to be done by a party with no interest in the outcome of the inspection, namely, an independent third party. For example, a contractor should not be inspecting his own work.
Usually, the owner hires and pays for the inspector. This is done directly by the architect or his agent. If problems arise, they are resolved by working down the contractual chain from owner to GC to subcontractor.
VISUAL INSPECTION OR TESTING OR SAMPLE-TAKING OR …
In the development of inspection standards, the key to efficient, cost-effective inspection is to keep it simple and focus on the things that matter. Splitting hairs over things that do not affect the performance or appearance of the completed EIFS is a waste of time. This means, in theory, that visual-only (non-destructive) methods should be used if possible. Taking samples and running tests are time-consuming and expensive, and should be avoided if possible. With sufficiently frequent inspection visits, critical errors should normally be caught in time to make changes without slowing down the job.
Thus, a good inspection program should be basic, and if the owner wants to add extra layers of inspection to ensure that certain aspects are right (such as flatness of the completed wall), then they can add-on such requirements, and pay for them as an extra. For example, is it really necessary to do moisture level readings of substrates on a job in Reno when it hasn’t rained in two weeks?
WHAT MUST BE INSPECTED?
For any inspection worth doing at all, certain aspects of EIFS itself must be inspected. For the EIFS product itself, these include:
Job site conditions, especially weather.
Correct EIFS products, as specified and as approved by the EIFS producer.
Condition of the substrate: type, flatness, fastening and condition.
Attachment adhesive (if used): storage, preparation and pattern.
Mechanical fasteners (if used): type and spacing.
Reinforcing mesh: weight and overlapping of ends.
Basecoat: storage, preparation, thickness and full embedment of mesh.
Finish: storage, preparation, color and texture.
Final appearance: color variations and flatness.
Of particular importance is also the interface of the EIFS and other wall components at the EIFS’ perimeter. This especially includes openings, such as window sills, sealant joints, penetrations, and parapets.
WHAT ELSE MIGHT BE INSPECTED?
The list of possible items to be inspected is endless. These optional, inspectable items are project-specific and should be developed to address concerns for the project. For example, if the project is the façade in a fancy shopping district and there are large flat wall areas, and if down-lighting is used to light the façade at night, then extreme flatness tolerance for the finish layer may be prudent. The final inspection of the wall might be backed up by observations (inspection?) of the finished wall at night.
THE INSPECTOR’S ROLE
It may seem foolish to say but the inspector’s role is to inspect. This means, at its most basic, to report on what is going on and has happened. Literally, this can be making a record of how things have been done, but may also extend to getting involved with mediating solutions to defects, of running tests, taking samples or even designing solutions. Normally, inspectors do not take on these additional roles-it’s not normally part of their contract. For instance, re-engineering construction details is the architect’s job, not the inspector’s.
HOW OFTEN IS INSPECTION NEEDED?
Continuous inspection is horribly expensive and almost never warranted. Only on huge projects with a myriad of complex wall conditions should a full-time EIFS inspector be justified. Random, unannounced visits at key times are usually enough. The times include:
Condition of substrate and installation of insulation.
Application of the basecoat.
Application of the finish.
Final check, including interfaces with adjacent materials (sealants, flashings, windows, etc.).
One of the ways to trim inspection costs is to have all the parties involved sit down and go over what is involved with the inspection program. This involves a pre-production meeting where everyone gets to know each other and the inspection process is presented in detail. This sort of meeting can do a lot to avoid all sorts of misunderstandings-especially involving coordination and scheduling-for the job in general.
What is to be gained from inspection? Potentially, quite a lot, but there’s no need to go overboard most of the time. EIFS has been around for decades and contractors do know how these systems are installed. The time when inspection really makes sense is with unusual, complex construction details, and with specialty types of EIFS systems that go together in ways different than the standard barrier type EIFS.
In my experience, problems with EIFS walls are usually due to basic errors in the way the product is installed and detailed, particularly in relationship to adjacent wall elements. Catching these errors at the outset prevents the whole job from being done wrong, and can save a fortune down the road.
You’ll be seeing more action in the area of inspection, especially regarding the development of specifiable national consensus standards, which will work their way into project specifications. W&C