I am a lath and plastering contractor in Texas and was asked to share the impact of what a major storm has on exterior claddings in coastal areas.
In September 2008, we had no idea what we would face in the next week or two. We were so convinced that Hurricane Ike was heading to South Texas and not coming to the Galveston area that my wife and I set out to Dallas early the previous morning to pick up two new Shar-pei pups. Half way home, I received a call from my dad. He wanted to use the spare generator I have at the shop. He said that the storm was going to hit us head on. I thought he was caught up in all the media hype. We came to find he was right.
Our home and office are in Seabrook, Texas, 25 miles north of Galveston. This area is no stranger to tropical storms and hurricanes. In 1979, it was Claudette; in 1983, it was Hurricane Alicia; in 1989, it was Allison; in 1995, Tropical Storm Dean. In 2006, we were on the outer reaches of Hurricane Rita. There have been many more.
When we returned from Dallas, it was the afternoon. This was 26 hours before expected land fall. We had enough time to secure our home, office and two neighbor’s homes. We made plans to stay and ride it out. Of course, we had been through large storms in the past-but just in case, we had escape routes and back up plans.
We were very lucky. We came through with little damage to our home and office. Unfortunately, some homes just two blocks from our office took on two feet of water or more. The closer to the bay, the higher the water rose in those homes. Seabrook was hit very hard. On my back porch, I witnessed wind gusts to 115 mph. Within a few hours of the storm passing, our town of 9,500 people was closed to all traffic. Nobody could get in and if you left, you were not allowed to return.
A week after the storm, the city was getting back on line, although many businesses would not open for many months and some never returned. At this time, travel was allowed to Galveston Island. I jumped into my truck the first day and headed south. You would not believe the amount of people going to the island: construction workers, clean up crews, emergency personnel and property owners were in line to get the rebuilding underway. This normal 30-minute trip took me an hour and a half.
As I began to get closer to the Causeway Bridge, I saw hundreds of boats, cars and any other thing that was stored under these beach homes lining the freeway and access roads. At one underpass, I could not believe the height of the water line shown by the debris.
Rebuilding TimeOur firm helped repair some of the historic properties in the Strand District, many of which were built right after the Great Storm of 1900 that took an estimated 8,000 lives. We also repaired homes that we did ten or twelve years ago. These were stucco homes with high-quality products. Pure zinc trim, 3.4 metal lath, and Dow 795 sealants.
The building codes require the lower floors of a house to be constructed with breakaway walls. This allows the house to remain while the walls break away and allow water to pass under the structure leaving the building. Other then superficial gouges in the finish, most of the damage was limited to the lower floors with the exception of roofs. Homes built before the breakaway code went into effect were washed away completely.
This was the most compelling thing I saw and documented about the damage to buildings caused by a nearly Category 4 storm. Roofing systems were almost nonexistent. Exterior cladding suffered different levels of damage. The greatest damage I observed was to siding materials. This included vinyl siding, as well as cement board siding. This may have had something to do with installation. Vinyl siding is not installed with the amount of fasteners as metal lath. Cement board siding usually has the fasteners over-driven, thus compromising the holding capabilities. Keep in mind that a negative wind load has as much destructive potential as a positive wind force. These materials were sucked off the walls. My estimate of buildings with these claddings suffered at least 60 percent material loss.
Buildings with EIFS cladding also suffered damage. I was surprised: the most damaged was the mechanically attached EIFS. This was not from impact damage but rather an installation issue, as well. I can only figure these installations were a result of the building officials’ lack of knowledge of correct installation or a result of a contractor not intending to be around when problems start. I saw almost in all cases the EPS started out as 1 inch foam board. It was rasped (sanded) down to 3/4 inch or less. In some cases, the EPS was attached with the little orange or green plastic roofing washers, most of which were screwed to the wall with black drywall screws, none of which exceeded 1¼ inch in length. Even some system applications using the proper washers and screws shared the same installation defect.
Maximum Over-DriveIn every case where I evaluated the EIFS installation, all of the washers were over-driven by as much as 1/2 inch. The other thing that stood out is most of the board did not have the recommended fastener patterns. On a large job, if you fasten three times in the center of the board and in the joints of adjacent boards, you can save a few boxes of washers, screws and labor. The systems that failed, but had the correct washers and screws, failed because the fasteners were so severely over-driven that the screws were still in the plywood substrate and the EPS, mesh, basecoat and finish were washed to sea. Almost every mechanically attached system suffered as much as 30 percent EIFS loss.
On the other hand, the damage to adhesively attached EIFS was far less. Yes, there was some impact damage but I did not see entire elevations ripped from the structure. The fact is the only damage to this type of installation I observed was where the brown paper-faced sheathing was used behind the EIFS (remember this). Both the EPS and the face paper were ripped from the gypsum core or the sheathing was gone as well. Almost all of the newer buildings that have glass mat sheathing behind the EIFS showed no visible signs of delamination.
The last, and by far the system with the lowest amount of damage was the conventional three coat stucco assembly. I did see some damage but not to the extent of the others evaluated. As I stated earlier, the greatest amount of damage was to the breakaway walls. This damage was minimal to the homes where the contractor installed a two-piece joint with the lath cut at the joint. This was our installation procedures. The cement stucco systems that showed the most damage were the aged systems that were not properly waterproofed and were already in a state of decay. Most of these systems were installed with 6 mil poly behind them. (Some of you older guys will remember when we used poly as a back-up behind stucco. That was 25 years ago. Then an engineer found that the non-permeable poly created a dew point on the face of the plywood, creating rot and rust behind the system. This is why we use building paper and wraps today.)
The cement plaster systems installed over the last 10 to 15 years showed almost no damage, and both stucco and EIFS out-performed other claddings. This is not to say they were all installed to design specifications or with high-quality materials, but the storm had little impact on the system. We did not evaluate any brick or other masonry buildings because this is not the choice cladding in coastal areas and all beach homes are elevated at least 12 feet.
When I shared what I saw with other members of the TLPCA, one leading manufacturer suggested that we push for the City of Galveston to adopt the Miami-Dade County EIFS Building Code. The contact I made with the Chief Building Official of Galveston was also part of my mission. When I saw the destruction first-hand I wanted a chance to tell our side of the story about the failures. I did not want Galveston to outlaw EIFS or stucco. I am the past president of the Texas Lathing and Plastering Contractors Association and very active in this industry. I offered to bring an educational seminar to Galveston to teach them the Dos and Don’ts of our products. These are very good products for coastal areas in the hands of a quality contractor. At the time, there was so much chaos, that the CBO said they would like to do this but they needed to let the dust settle. I see their point but I felt that this was the time to learn how to do it right.
With the new energy codes at our doorstep, you will see much more EIFS-clad buildings. This will entail low-income housing, as well as high end. I only hope that we as an industry can have a handle on proper installations. All of this revolves around education of contractors, architects and building officials. For more information on what EIFS-clad buildings can do, look up and read the Oakridge Laboratories Report (which can be found at www.eima.com).
The TLPCA is willing to help all municipalities provide education on installation of our products to any building inspector or design firm in the state of Texas. I encourage all to contact the Texas Lathing & Plastering Contractors Association and/or other local bureaus, and EIMA for any technical support or education programs.