What Is EIFS Stucco?

Date Published: May 20, 2024

Siding is a crucial component of a building’s exterior. It works tirelessly with its teammates – the roof, windows and doors- to keep the house protected from Mother Nature. So needless to say, siding material matters! There are a multitude of siding types out there, but in this blog, we are going to discuss EIFS stucco.

If you don’t know what EIFS stucco is, it’s more than likely you’ve seen it. You might even live in a home with it! This material has been praised for its lightweight design, insulating qualities, lower installation costs and sleek, modern look. However, many US homeowners have reported serious issues with their EIFS siding for homes built in the 1990s – early 2000s. What happened?

What Is EIFS Stucco?

EIFS or Exterior Insulation Finishing System, is a type of multi-layered siding that combines insulation, weather proofing and a decorative finish. This material started to be utilized on residential homes in the 1970s, and its popularity grew in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

EIFS (commonly pronounced “ee-fiss”) is generally comprised of three primary layers. First, an insulating material – most commonly a foam board like Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), but also Mineral Wool (MW), or Graphite-enhanced EPS (G-EPS).

This material is fastened to the exterior surface of the building by a strong adhesive and mechanical fasteners. Then a polymer and cement mixture, reinforced with fiberglass mesh, is applied over the insulation board to create a strong and durable base.

Finally, a textured or smooth finish coat, available in a wide range of colors and textures, is applied over the base coat to create the desired aesthetic. This trifecta of layers is meant to add an extra level of continuous insulation, and a water-proofing seal to the envelope, all while giving the home a sleek and modern look.

EIFS siding

EIFS vs Traditional Hard Coat Stucco vs Directly Applied

Although it is commonly referred to as “EIFS stucco”, this material is different from regular stucco. Traditional stucco is a cement-like mixture that consists of Portland cement, lime, sand and water, and modern mixtures will usually incorporate certain polymers that increase flexibility. Stucco is harder, denser and thicker than EIFS, and is often referred to as “hard coat” stucco.

Siding pro applying stucco to concrete. Image sourced from: https://quikspray.com

Modern Hard Coat stucco is typically applied to panels that are affixed to the home. This is similar to modern EIFS, but it doesn’t have a insulation layer. This provides the stucco protection, but the panels leave a small gap called a drainage plane between the wall and the material giving space for water to drain. You typically see a weep edge at the bottom of the product.

Directly applied stucco is the oldest form of stucco. In this style, the stucco is directly applied to the wall. Generally you will only see this applied over concrete block or bricks. If the wall is framed, other methods are generally used.

The Big Issue with EIFS

EIFS did indeed prove to be a solid alternative to traditional hard coat stucco, with a similar pleasing aesthetic and several additional benefits! As a result, its popularity skyrocketed, especially in the 1990s and 2000s. It became an iconic look of the 90s high-end homes.

Unfortunately, moisture issues soon became commonplace with this type of material. In its early iterations, EIFS was a completely sealed system, designed to keep the exterior of the home completely water proofed. But unfortunately, unlike traditional stucco, once moisture enters the siding there is no way for it to exit.

Age-based wear and tear, damage caused by weather or other outside forces, or installation error can cause cracks and gaps to develop along the exterior layer of EIFS. Moisture can then make its way into the siding with no way to drain out. This accumulating moisture within the EIFS can now lead to mold growth, rotting of underlying materials, and structural damage. This became such an issue with homes throughout the US, that several lawsuits were filed against EIFS manufacturers.

After it became clear that the closed EIFS system had too much potential for moisture issues, a new version of EIFS was soon developed that incorporated a means for drainage (shown below). It copied the drainage elements from modern hard coat, but it kept the insulation benefits. Despite the new upgraded design, there are still many houses out there with original EIFS stucco siding.

EIFS siding with drainage

Inspecting EIFS Siding

During our standard home inspections, we examine all the major systems of the home. That, of course, includes the exterior. So our inspectors always keep a close eye out for EIFS siding, especially if the house was built in the 1990s to early 2000s.

To learn more about the scope of a Scott Home Inspection standard inspection, read this article.

As mentioned above, EIFS and stucco do look very similar. The best way to determine the siding material is to the press firmly on it. If it has a hard, stone-like feel with no give, that means it is traditional stucco. If it has a softer, spongy feeling when pressed on, it is EIFS stucco.

Once the material of the siding is determined, our inspectors will perform a full visual evaluation around the exterior. Any signs of damage, cracking, missing sealant, water staining or water intrusion will be noted. We also look to find out whether or not the siding has a built-in drainage system. We can do that by looking at the bottom edge of the siding. If there is a drainage plan, there will be weep holes, a metal edge, and a gap. If its an older style of EIFS, the bottom edge of the EFIS outer coating will be flush with the house.

Damaged EIFS stucco

Damaged EIFS siding. Image sourced from: https://www.yelp.com

EIFS siding with drainage is certainly more ideal than without. However, just because a house has an older EIFS exterior, that does not necessarily mean that there are any issues. If there are no apparent signs of damage, our inspectors will recommend monitoring the siding periodically and consulting with an EIFS specialist if any concerns develop.

On the other hand, if blatant signs of damage or moisture are noted, we will always recommend further evaluation and, if necessary, repair. A complete EIFS moisture test is beyond the scope of our inspections. It requires a specialist who can probe the siding and determine if moisture issues are present.

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Need a Colorado home inspection? Feel free to visit us online for more details or contact us for more details.

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About the Author: Chris Kimmel

Chris Kimmel worked as an Associate Home Inspector for two years, handling numerous services including sewer scope inspections, pest inspections, mold air sample testing, radon testing, and water quality testing. Chris now works with Scott Home Inspection as a Content Writing Specialist.

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