Weathering the storm was all any of us could think about during the 1996 EIFS moisture intrusion crisis. It all started in a lovely upscale neighborhood in Wilmington, N.C. Almost overnight, class-action lawsuits against the EIFS manufacturers, distributors and those hard-working applicators were making headlines across the country. Needless to say, my livelihood and that of many of my customers and fellow employees were suddenly in jeopardy. These were the darkest days of my life as I spent the next several years doing my part for a local trade association by speaking with state legislators and working with several national associations trying to revive the industry.

The culprit was mainly due to shoddy construction practices: roofers leaving out critical roof to wall flashings and window installers leaving out pan flashings were found to be some of the early instigators.

Afterwards, a comment was made by a close friend, the president of CLAPCA, that our industry could not stand one more massive blow. From there forward, it was up to those of us who made our living off of the EIFS, stucco and plastering trades to get it right.

A perfect application for washers and fasteners over a weather-resistant barrier.

Washers, Nails and Screws

EIFS, stucco and plaster fasteners are a critical component for mechanically attaching EPS boards to the substrate. We see almost every day how companies are opting to use cheap substitutes like galvanized roofing nails, 8d nails, or substandard washers. We suspect it’s because they are cheap and can be hidden from view when coated. We turn away orders for these and other items like the small, thin (weak) green plastic tabs. Zinc, phosphate and oil screws that are used almost exclusively for interior drywall applications are being used to secure EPS to the exterior substrate.

I would offer this scenario. If someone were willing to cut corners by using non-qualified screws and washers, wouldn’t they also scrimp on the amount of adhesives, mixing method or the application process they use to apply it? If this seems as likely to you as it does to me then why not strengthen this method by mandating, “To be used with only manufacturer approved fasteners.”

Your EIFS manufacturer should approve the specific fastener, screw and attachment pattern that you are going to use with the system. If in doubt, contact an EIFS supplier and request a letter showing which suppliers are approved sources for mechanical washers and fasteners, or contact the manufacturer of the fastener-they will be able to provide you with a letter from the EIFS manufacturer showing that its fastener has been approved.

Statements such as, “I am installing a non-warranted system so I don’t need anything expensive” are not new to any of us. But does anyone really believe that an EIFS manufacturer provides a non-warranted system? In the 23 years I have been in this business, I have never seen a shred of evidence that an EIFS manufacturer has a non-warranted system. I would dare say this goes for reinforcing mesh also.

Independently tested fasteners are made up of a coated screw, appropriate for the substrate and framing, and a quality 2-inch diameter finger-closure washer. This is the minimum requirement. Simply saving money on an inferior screw will not cut it. An inferior screw will fail and set up the conditions for an EIF system failure. Use a screw that meets or exceeds ASTM-B117. Thin plastic washers that have not been independently tested for wind-load pull off are simply not worth the risk.

While often overlooked, the screw hole flaps serve a critical function by sealing off the screw and preventing thermal shorts that could occur on the finished wall. Today’s engineered manufacturer approved fasteners have keyholes that form a strong mechanical bond with the basecoat. Recent development improvements to the cone design allow use on EPS thicknesses down to 1 inch; this came about by a total depth of 7/16 inch of the washer while still maintaining the maximum wind-load requirement.

Depth control is an essential step in the installation process. Think of it in the same way you would when properly installing drywall screws. Install a fastener too deep into the foam and you will have a build-up of basecoat that will cause a crack and a visual “cat’s face” on the finished product. Also, if the fastener is driven too deep, the wind-load that you want to achieve will be negatively impacted. It is recommended you use a “depth stop” on your drill gun to control pull-through of the manufacturer-approved fastener.

Proper fastening patterns are a critical process in attaching the foam board to the substrate. Always consult the specifications of your EIFS manufacturer to ensure proper spacing for maximum wind-load resistance. 

Get Attached

Manufacturer-approved fasteners have been used for years in lieu of adhesives. A function of the approved fastener allows the application of EIFS over substrates that cannot be adhesively attached; additional applications can proceed in adverse weather conditions. Architects will have peace of mind that the system they have specified is firmly attached to the substrate.

Fastener attachment can also be used with great success when mixed with adhesives. Many things can adversely affect an application using only adhesive; weather outside of the manufacturers’ specifications (too cool or wet), rasping the foam before the adhesive is cured, or improperly mixing the adhesive. These are issues that will cause a system failure. All of these can be overcome by introducing manufacturer-approved fasteners into the mix.

A side benefit to the adhesive and fastener use is rasping of the EPS, which can commence immediately due to the fastener holding the EPS firmly to the wall while the adhesive cures. In my opinion, it should be used in every EIFS application.

A quality application of fasteners and washers cannot be stressed more.

Show me the Money

Want proof that a combination of adhesive and basecoat work well together? Myrtle Beach, S.C., had a tornado form from two water spouts that landed just south of the famous Pavilion on Ocean Boulevard. These two powerful water spouts churned their way between four high-rise hotels, causing $8 million in damages to the hotels and surrounding area.

According to the EIFS installer, Danny Bonnell, founder of Commercial Systems Inc., the company had just completed the EIFS on two of the hotels using a combination of adhesive and manufacturer-approved fasteners. The damage inflicted was superficial and repairs were limited to areas where flying debris scuffed the surface.

Bonnell stands by his record of no failures in a high-risk hurricane prone part of the world. Also, he sleeps very well at night knowing he has done the best he can do for his customers’ projects.

Bonnell went on to say the other two hotels, in which his company did not do the EIFS installation, did not fare so well. The first one was applied using only adhesive. This project had massive failures in the form of huge areas that were ripped off the substrate. The other was a traditional, hard-coat stucco building in which the lath had been attached using only stub nails. Large sections of the stucco ended up on the ground.

Finish Up

In a world where a field mix can be altered from what the EIFS manufacturer intended, a manufacturer-approved fastener can and will be the proverbial belt and suspenders.

During the years I have been involved with EIFS, stucco and plaster, I have witnessed many evolving improvements that make me proud to be around so many great people and companies that are forward thinkers. Let’s not dwell on the past; instead, learn from our mistakes and continue to lead the exterior wall industry with new components, many of which have come from our ranks.

What a great system EIFS is. It offers unlimited design flexibility, awesome energy efficiency, and tremendous curb appeal. We all want to see EIFS be around forever. For this to happen, we all need to be vigilant and collectively do what we can to protect this great industry. Our EIFS industry has provided hundreds of thousands of people with employment. We don’t want to shortcut what we have built.