Exterior insulation and finish system (“EIFS”) has been around since the 1970’s. The older systems are known as “barrier” EIFS because they are designed to be face-sealed barriers to water penetration and do not incorporate any secondary drainage mechanism. Thus, any moisture that gets behind the barrier EIFS may be trapped inside the walls and can cause serious damage to sheathing, framing and other building components. In about 1997, EIFS manufacturers introduced drainage EIFS that incorporated a secondary drainage mechanism behind the EIFS. That would allow incidental moisture that gets behind the EIFS to drain out without harming sheathing and framing.

The drainable EIF systems were intended to stem the tide of a significant wave of litigation against EIFS manufacturers seeking recompense for damages caused by barrier EIFS. The manufacturer’s installation specifications and details generally have to be strictly complied with. Unfortunately, while the drainable EIF systems should work in theory, in practice, they are exceptionally difficult–if not impossible– to install. In our experience, drainable EIFS is typically misapplied in the field and winds up functioning as a barrier system. This, in turn, often causes severe damage to sheathing, framing and other building components, including mold.

Stark & Stark is handling many cases for condominium associations involving claims that drainable EIFS was not installed in accordance with manufacturer’s installation specifications, details and the building code. Three of these involve claims worth in excess of $6 million. One particular claim demonstrates the severe damages that can occur when the manufacturer’s installation specifications and details are not strictly complied with.

We are handling a complex case in which the decks on numerous condominium buildings were designed to be constructed using parallam beams. The beams were not wolmanized because it was assumed that the drainable EIFS would keep water away from the parallam beams. Unfortunately, the EIFS applicator failed to comply with the manufacturer’s specifications and details requiring that the deck/wall interface be properly flashed and have a half-inch joint with backer rod and sealant. In addition, there was supposed to be a drainage mechanism in the bottom of the EIFS cladding on the face of the EIFS clad beams that was not installed. As a result, water accumulated inside the EIFS that drenched the non-wolmanized parallam beams, essentially damaging them beyond repair. Moreover, cracks and other openings developed between the decks and the EIFS clad walls further damaging the sheathing and framing of the walls and the non-wolmanized parallam beams.

The Association’s engineers issued a warning to the association that no one should use their decks in the affected units. An emergency repair costing over $1 million was done to replace all of the damaged beams, to rebuild the decks and to reclad the decks with a functioning exterior cladding. The buildings have been extensively inspected and massive failures to install the EIFS have been documented in all of the buildings. Additional testing proved that there is an enormous amount of moisture inside most of the walls of all of the buildings. The damages are massive.

The point is that drainable EIFS is a product that has to be very carefully applied in strict compliance with manufacturer’s specifications and details if it is to have any chance of working as intended. In our experience, this is almost never done. Applicators are poorly trained and general contractors do not know what the manufacturer’s installation specifications and details are. As a result, the general contractors pay the applicators without realizing that the job has been badly done and that they are all going to be open to massive claims a few years later when moisture penetration produces severe damage.