This product is also known as EIFS, which stands for Exterior Insulation and Finishing System. This product has been used in the United States since 1969. It was first used in commercial construction but gained wide use in the residential housing market by the early 1980s.
If it is applied correctly, the process is as follows:
- The exterior wall framing of the home is covered by a substrate (wafer board, plywood, etc.)
- Adhesive or mechanical fasteners attach an insulation board over the substrate
- A waterproof base coat is added
- Reinforcing mesh is applied
- An additional waterproof base coat is added to sandwich the mesh
- Finally, a durable acrylic polymer topcoat is applied
The product was used widely in the Atlanta area from the mid-1980s until about 1996 when its use dropped rapidly as problems surfaced with previous installations. There are many homes in the Alpharetta area that have this finish on one or more exterior sides.
- Excellent insulating value, which increases home energy efficiency
- Provides a virtually waterproof seal if installed properly
- Reduces air penetration into the home by 55% compared to wood or brick
- Versatile product is easily formed into any shape
- Available in a wide range of colors and textures
- Rarely needs to be painted due to integral final color coat
- Durable – a surface scratch is not prominent since the color is not on the surface but exists throughout the top coat
- Flexible surfacing does not crack easily (whereas real stucco does) as the home settles or goes through the expansion and contraction of the seasons
The system is solid if it is installed properly. Unfortunately, at the time it was used in this area few builders or contractors had experience with the product. Since the system has to be installed meticulously, problems do arise if steps are missed or shortcuts are taken.
One of the biggest benefits of the system (the ability to provide a virtually waterproof seal and a 55% reduction in air penetration compared to brick or wood siding) can also be the biggest weakness.
If the EIFS is installed improperly or materials such as windows, doors, decks, roofs, and other features penetrating the stucco finish are not properly sealed, water enters behind the walls and becomes trapped. Once water is inside the wall, it can’t easily escape. Now, the problems begin.
The scene is set for the following to occur:
- Structural wood begins to dry rot
- The insulation board of the EIFS extends into the ground and allows termites easy and hidden access to the home
- Since subterranean termites need moisture they can now live in the walls and have no need to return to the soil, thus they destroy the home even more quickly
- The moisture creates a favorable environment for mold to grow
Testing and Evaluation of EIFS
How do you determine if a home you are considering has synthetic stucco?
The easiest method is to knock on it with your knuckle as if you were knocking on a front door. Synthetic stucco will sound hollow and give a little, while hardcoat stucco will feel like you are knocking against concrete.
This information will also be documented on question 5(h) of the Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement. This question asks the home seller if any of the exterior siding contains synthetic stucco.
Class Action Lawsuits
Litigation has been brought against EIFS manufacturers. In at least one instance a judgment was won against a manufacturer. There may be similar cases in the future. Does this mean you are protected by a class action lawsuit when buying an EIFS home? NO.
The deadline to file a claim in this class action suit was June 5, 2004.
Jeff’s Note: Never purchase a home based on the hope or expectation of a future settlement.
The Home You Love Has Synthetic Stucco — Now What?
First, realize a synthetic stucco home will sell for less than a brick home with all other things being equal. Ask your Realtor® to help you determine a fair offer based upon sales of other synthetic stucco homes in the neighborhood.Since one day you may resell your new home, be aware that a synthetic stucco home will take approximately 20% longer to sell than a home that does not have synthetic stucco. This figure can go up substantially if it has problems that the seller will not address.
Why does it take longer to sell? Since a percentage of homebuyers in the market place will not consider purchasing a synthetic stucco home, it takes longer to get the same number of qualified prospects to see it.
ALWAYS hire a qualified EIFS inspector to perform a complete synthetic stucco inspection as part of your home inspection process. Do not rely only upon the opinion of your general home inspector.
STRONGLY CONSIDER a Moisture Free Warranty Corporation Stucco Bond. This will protect you, as the owner of a stucco home, from most potentially expensive future repairs. To qualify for this warranty, a stucco inspection must be completed per the specifications of the Moisture Free Warranty Corporation. Any corrective work specified in the inspection report must be performed and a re-inspection will follow. Once the home passes the re-inspection, the warranty term and amount of protection is selected. To learn more about pricing for this warranty, visit MoistureWarranty.com.
Be sure the suggested repairs are addressed during your negotiations with the Seller.
You should not depend on the lottery to fund your retirement any more than you should plan on a stucco settlement to fund repairs of your home. If you win a damage claim, great, but you need to purchase assuming that you and you alone will be responsible for any corrective action required after completion of the sale.
Information on how to maintain your EIFS (stucco) siding is available through the manufacturer. For a nice overview of the problem and moisture testing procedures, download this Moisture Testing Guide (Warning: This is a large file).
Jeff’s Note: If you thoroughly inspect a synthetic stucco home, get a Moisture Free Warranty, make suggested repairs, and properly maintain it, you should feel as comfortable buying synthetic stucco as you do purchasing any other type of home.