The Finish Line: Selling EIFS
February 1, 2010
When EIFS first appeared in the U.S. market, designers and contractors didn’t know what to make of it and were reluctant to specify it, thinking it was flimsy and cheap. Little did they know that EIFS would quickly become a mainstay in the wall cladding business. In those early days, EIFS had to be sold. Then the oil embargo in the ’70s sent designers and owners scurrying to find more energy-efficient walls, and EIFS quickly became popular.
Things have changed and EIFS is now pretty much a commodity, and pricing is now critical. In fact, EIFS, on a per-pail basis, is less expensive now than it was in the 1960s. And although the EIFS market continues to grow, it has become so common that now “selling” it is more a case of order taking-such as “How many pails do you want?”-rather than actually selling it on a feature-for-feature basis, against competing products.
EIFS has so many good features that even during the current sluggish economy, there are many prospective EIFS projects to be had, especially when selling against competing wall systems. This month’s article reviews the key features of EIFS: the good and the bad. It’s a handy overview of EIFS when selling it.
EXTERNAL INSULATION CONCEPT
The concept of applying insulation to the outside of a building’s walls (external insulation) had been known for hundreds of years but was hard to implement as the necessary material technology was not available. The external location for insulation is technically important-it keeps the supporting wall at a more constant temperature. This results in less energy usage to maintain a constant indoor temperature. The external insulation concept, and its various technical benefits are rarely exploited as a selling feature when promoting EIFS.
The lack of joints in EIFS drastically reduces the movement of air through a wall. This reduces heating and cooling costs. EIFS is the only product that I can think of that can be made joint-free over large areas.
When EIFS was first introduced, one of the negative aspects that its competitors harped-on was the ease by which EIFS could be damaged when struck. This problem was resolved with the advent of heavy reinforcing meshes that increase the penetration resistance of the EIFS lamina by a factor of 5 or more. This is enough for many EIFS uses, but sometimes more is needed.
A common technique to beef up the impact resistance is to use a hard material at the vulnerable wall locations and to use the EIFS finish coating to make an aesthetic match to the nearby full EIFS wall area. An example would be EIFS used next to a sidewalk of a business that uses shopping carts. An EIFS wall that has the lower few feet made of a hard material, such as stucco with EIFS finish on it, gives a wall that matches the EIFS above.
A nice selling point for EIFS regarding impact resistance is that you only need to beef up the EIFS lamina in areas where impact is likely. This can result in substantial cost savings, compared to materials that have to be applied at fixed, heavy thicknesses throughout an entire building-even on wall areas where high impact resistance is not needed.
EIFS MANUFACTURER SUPPORT
Most EIFS producers offer a variety of support services that can help you sell EIFS, including switching to it from another type of cladding. Among these services are:
Review of architects drawings
Ready-to-use CAD details
Moisture analyses (water vapor)
Thermal performance studies (energy)
Hands-on application training
Detailed literature for applying their systems
Sales literature, including case studies and specifications
Seminars about the design and use of EIFS
These support services are usually free for the asking, and getting input directly from the manufacturer can bolster the credibility of the information provided.
Let’s be honest: EIFS is installed by hand, in a series of thin layers, and the possibility of inadequate thicknesses and poor appearance (poor texture and non-flat walls) does exist. This problem has been addressed. The development of more in-depth training programs for EIFS contractors, presented by EIFS producers and industry associations, has gone a long way to improve the quality of EIFS.
IMPROVED SHEATHING SUBSTRATES
The use of ASTM C79 Exterior Grade Gypsum Sheathing (“EGGS”) as a substrate for EIFS was a major source of concern for many years. EGGS is sensitive to water and if the bond between the EIFS insulation and the EGGS is damaged, the EIFS can come loose. The availability of DensGlass Gold and similar products improved this situation a lot.
BUILDING CODE ISSUES
Although EIFS has been in the North American market for more than 40 years, it was only recently mentioned by name in the major building codes. In a sense, EIFS was a regulatory orphan and was relegated to being covered by technical reports issued to specific products. In the last few years, a comprehensive general specification for EIFS was developed by ASTM and adopted into the widely used codes promulgated by the International Code Council.
For many years, some specifiers were not convinced that EIFS was strong enough for extreme wind conditions. The building code agencies realized this too, and required testing of wall mock-ups to determine how strong the wall actually was. The result was basically that by using the right studs, sheathing and fasteners, you can make an EIFS wall that can handle even the strongest winds.
The water intrusion problems in the 1990s that occurred on wood-framed homes gave EIFS a black eye in some people’s minds. This included some homeowners, real estate and insurance companies. The perception that somehow EIFS caused these problems still remains to an extent, and is a tough problem to sell around. The key to dealing with this issue is to get the facts straight, as numerous reputable studies show the EIFS works just fine if properly detailed and installed. This image problem is exacerbated by the Internet, whose unregulated nature has allowed all sorts of misinformation about EIFS to be posted. Fortunately, as the chart shows, the market continues to grow at a respectable pace.
When EIFS first started in North America, the playing field for EIFS products was not level. There were only a few brands and there were many conflicts about what should be the standard way of doing things. That has all changed, and now there are generic training programs and test methods and application guidelines. This standardization of EIFS has allowed for many more manufacturers to offer EIFS products, as well as more competitive pricing.
I think EIFS is underpriced, and that you could still sell it if it were 10 to 20 percent more expensive, since there is nothing quite like it in the material’s price range. This would allow for improved customer support service and higher quality installations.
The use of foam shapes in conjunction with EIFS, and with other claddings, has been increasing steadily. But the fire last year at the Monte Carlo hotel in Las Vegas-an EIFS building that uses lots of foam shapes-raised some eyebrows. It appears the foam shapes in question were not actually EIFS at all but a hybrid, look-alike product. There’s recently been activity in ASTM to develop a standard specification for foam shapes. The document is in its infancy but is based around the requirements for EIFS.
In the ’90s, EIFS got blamed for leaky homes in the southeast. In fact, EIFS was not the source of the problem. It was really due to lousy flashings and caulking (or lack of them). Nevertheless, the codes dictated that there needed to be “drainage” behind EIFS. The good news is that what the legislation did do was to force the use of proper flashings and water diversion methods (caulking and sealant tapes) at the edge of an EIFS wall cladding.
I would hazard a guess that the ability for EIFS to look good and be flexible in terms of appearance is EIFS’ biggest selling point. I can’t think of any other product that can take on some many different “looks” at its price.
SEALANT JOINT REPAIRS
If caulking joints in an EIFS wall wear out, repairing them can be a fussy, time-consuming job. During joint repairs, it’s easy to damage the EIFS and then have to rebuild the joint area. If you do a proper long-term life-cycle analysis of EIFS, this is one area where some other products have an edge: they don’t use caulked joints at all or the remove-and-replace process is easy. One way to forestall this situation is to use a premium commercial sealant from the outset. The really good ones, such as low modulus silicones, are more expensive but seem to last very long.
EIFS is now a mature product. The discussions above explain a number of key selling points, and how issues have been resolved. This steady refinement of the design of EIFS and of ways to install it, is why the EIFS industry continues to grow and thrive. W&C