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Nashville Scene Rotten to the Core

Beware of EIFS caulkers

By Walter Jowers

DECEMBER 13, 1999:  Remember EIFS? It's the synthetic stucco cladding that became quite the center of attention late in 1995. That's when homeowners in Wilmington, N.C., discovered that their EIFS houses were rotting from the inside out. The National Association of Home Builders then issued a report detailing the trouble with EIFS (pronounced "eefs" or "eefus").

Since then, EIFS manufacturers have been pummeled with lawsuits, and EIFS was the subject of a scathing report on Dateline NBC. Meanwhile, home inspection guys (including me and co-inspector Rick) have been testing EIFS-clad houses for leaks and rot. I'm here to tell you: Finding problems with EIFS is like shooting fish in a barrel--when the barrel is full of fish and there's no water in the barrel.

Long story short: EIFS leaks. Water gets in behind the soda-cracker-thin coating, and it rots the house framing and sheathing. Because EIFS lawyers walk among us, I'll include this weasel disclaimer: If there's a house on this planet where the EIFS was installed precisely according to the manufacturer's specifications, there's a fair chance that the house might not leak and might not rot. Problem is, I have yet to see a house where the EIFS was put on exactly right, and I don't know of anybody else who has.

To be fair, I will say that I've inspected EIFS houses that didn't show any signs of leaks. Dry EIFS houses are rare, truly the exceptions that prove the rule. When I find a dry EIFS house, I figure it's because of one of three things: 1. The house never leaked. (Unlikely.) 2. It leaked, but the wet spots dried out before I got there. (It can happen.) 3. The house was wet, but I missed the wet spots. (Unlikely, but possible.)

Today, there's a new EIFS threat, more horrifying than the original leaks-and-rot news. It is the threat of the caulk-it-up guys. They prey on EIFS-house owners who've been made delirious by their own anger and denial.

Here's how the caulk-it-up guys get you: Imagine that you own a $300,000 EIFS house. It looks nice. You like it. You think you made an excellent decision when you bought it. Then, all of a sudden, you start hearing about leaks and rot in EIFS houses. But you don't see any rot in your house. Then some smartypants tells you, "That's part of the problem. You can't see rot behind EIFS. You actually have to pay somebody to cut into the house and find it." You don't want to hear that.

But one day, you work up the courage to have the house checked out. You ask a few of your fellow EIFS-house owners to recommend a contractor. The same contractor's name keeps coming up, so you call him. He takes one look at your house and says, "All this stuff about leaks and rot is a bunch of hooey. Scare tactics, that's all. Tell you what: I'll caulk around all the doors and windows, and you won't have any problems at all. In fact, I'll guarantee that for a year." Best of all, the work is cheap.

Now, that's what you wanted to hear, right?

I'm sorry. The caulk job is a scam. It's the inevitable quick-buck follow-up to the initial bad news about EIFS houses. We've got caulk-it-up guys here in Nashville. They've got 'em in Atlanta too. And Seattle. If somebody doesn't find the nest and stomp the guts out of the caulk-it-up queen, we're going to be up to our armpits in caulk-it-up workers.

Y'see, what we've got here is the Outgro Factor. What's Outgro, you say? Well, it's a product that promised to stop ingrown toenail pain "without affecting the growth, shape, or position of the nail." Sounds good, right? But if you read the claim closely, you'll see that Outgro is nothing more than a topical anesthetic. It kills the pain but allows the toenail to dig deeper into your flesh, until you get a king-hell infection that'll send you crawling into the podiatrist's office, begging the first person you see to cut the toenail off. Sooner or later, you have to face up to the ugly reality. You can take it from me; I've lived it, bro. I'm a nine-toenailed man.

Whatever you do, don't hand over any cash to somebody who tells you that caulking up your EIFS house will fix it. Eventually, you're going to have to pay somebody to put in all the fancy gaskets that should've been installed in the first place. You're going to have to cut the EIFS up above ground level, so termites won't be able to hide between the EIFS and the sheathing, living off trapped water and the wood that holds your house up. Eventually, you're going to have to fix the place right.

You don't even have to take my word for it. Hop on the Internet, go to http://www.novashoc.org, and read chilling tales posted by an EIFS-homeowners group in Virginia. Have a jug of wine ready. Fire up the whirly tub. You'll need to unwind when you finish your studies.

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