EIFS—Poised to Soar

Ulf Wolf

September 2009

It is no secret that the exterior insulation and finish systems industry has outperformed the construction industry in general over the last 25 years, nearly tripling the square footage sold and installed over that period. And even though current sales have dipped slightly in the face of the current economic downturn—which does show signs of reversing, finally—they remain healthy.

What may be news to some—though by no means all—is that EIFS now finds itself on the cusp of exponential growth rather than a continuation of the current comfortable, but straight, upward trend. The EIFS Industry Members Association is now working at putting all the pieces in place to take advantage of this opportunity.

The EIFS Opportunity
With the rising cost of energy and the change to a much greener administration in Washington, EIFS suddenly finds itself in the driver’s seat when it comes to exterior cladding, both in commercial and residential construction.

David J. Boivin, EIMA president, is the person closest to these developments, and AWCI’s Construction Dimensions recently discussed this and other matters with him.

"Commercially,” Boivin says, "I think our future is very bright. That is if—and I mean if—the government, along with the market, remains serious in its initiative to make buildings more energy efficient.

"Today, 40 percent of the world’s energy is consumed in heating and cooling buildings. We—the EIFS industry—have a solution that can dramatically reduce such heating and cooling needs by greatly improved exterior insulation.

"When energy prices go up, the market panics and begins to look for alternative approaches to building materials, and that’s precisely where we are right now.

"The only caveat is that when oil prices dip below $40 a barrel, the market as a rule stops worrying about energy efficiency and returns to business as usual. Should this happen, then I predict that our business will continue the steady growth we’ve enjoyed for the last 40 years, but we won’t see exponential growth. Should the world remain serious about energy efficiency this time around, however, our industry will indeed be in for dramatic growth.”

EIFS Market Share
What is the current market share of EIFS as compared to other exterior cladding alternatives?

"That depends on what market segment we’re talking about,” Boivin says. "We have a very high market share in the lodging and retail segments. We also do very well with hospitals, schools and multi-story condominium projects. In fact, I would estimate that in the commercial segment overall, we have a 20 to 25 percent market share.

"Additionally, you also see a fair amount of EIFS detailing work, especially on stucco and brick buildings—foam detailing around windows and doors, for example.

"The other piece to EIFS market share is that underneath many competitive claddings you now find products that were initially developed for EIFS, such as fluid applied air- and moisture-barriers, rolled or sprayed on buildings as a very effective alternative to the fabric building wraps.

"In the single-family residential segment, on the other hand, our market share is low, as we still feel the after-effects of the late 1990’s Wilmington, N.C., class-action suit. However, as insurers, real estate professionals and homeowners finally begin to take an unbiased look at EIFS, we are starting to see barriers come down a little bit in that segment as well.

"As an interesting aside, one silver lining from the class-action litigation is that we discovered that most moisture problems were caused not by EIFS, but by poor installation and shoddy detail work. The problems on EIFS homes would also be present with any other cladding type, if proper flashing details were omitted, and proper caulking and sealing installation and maintenance were neglected. Having addressed this as an industry, we now have a more-or-less foolproof product that will perform, even if detailing quality suffers, by emphasizing drainable systems with secondary air-and-moisture protection on wood frame structures.”

Target Market Share
Has EIMA set EIFS market-share targets at this point?

"Not per se,” Boivin says. "Of course, we constantly pursue projects that might traditionally go to other claddings, and we try to keep both the architectural and owner communities well briefed on the clear benefits that we believe EIFS offers in energy savings, design flexibility and construction cost savings.

"To this end, we brief the owner about energy savings, ease of maintenance and cost savings both in construction and operation. Talking to the architect, we will point out design flexibility—EIFS gives the designer a host of options of colors, textures and appearances.

"Creating something that looks like Paris, downtown New York City or an Italian museum in Las Vegas, that’s all EIFS. It provides the architect great creative freedom.

"This will continue to grow our share of the market, but at this point EIMA has not set any specific targets.”

LEED, Green and EIFS
What part does the growing number of LEED-certified projects and the generally heightened "green” awareness play in the future of EIFS?

"As recognition of LEED® makes for more energy efficient construction,” Boivin says, "EIFS stands out as the best option to achieve the energy-saving credits builders are looking for.

"Also, as more communities, whether states or cities, either adopt building codes specific to their markets or modify existing codes based on problems observed during construction, there is going to be an increased call for fluid applied air and moisture barriers that the EIFS industry will then supply as a supplementary product.”

EIMA’s Role
How is the EIFS industry going to send out word to the construction industry that it supplies these energy saving and design-flexibility solutions? What role will education play in spreading this message?

"Most architects are, by now, familiar with EIFS as a cladding,” Boivin says. "They are aware of what EIFS is and what it does.

"As to education, what both manufacturers and EIMA do to remove any barriers or resistance to using EIFS is to answer any and all questions honestly, and to supply architects with good design alternatives.

"Most answers can be found at EIMA.com; if not found there, you can call the EIMA office, and they will refer you either to a manufacturer’s Web site or a manufacturer’s technical department.

"If a manufacturer has already been selected for a project, the architect or builder would turn to their site or technical department for support. All manufacturers have well-trained technical resources that can show an architect how their particular design dilemma can be resolved with EIFS.”

Should EIMA be the first point of contact for any owner’s or architect’s question about EIFS?

Boivin doesn’t think so: "Architects tend to work with preferred manufacturers, and more often than not, several are specified for a particular project. They will receive answers to most of their technical questions from those manufacturers.

"A better fit for EIMA is the home owner, or someone who does not know what EIFS is. EIMA.com gives a good overview of the systems and of how they work.

"Personally, I’d like to see EIMA in more of an advocacy role, where we are talking to code officials, talking to testing agencies, and making sure the design of the EIF systems as we know them today, meet the codes and standards as they change, over time.

"And that is why we brought Dave Johnston on as the new EIMA executive director.”

EIMA Executive Director
On June 16, 2009, EIMA announcement that effective July 1, 2009, EIMA will be headed up by a new executive director: David A. Johnston, a veteran in the technical, regulatory and standards development arenas both at the national, state and local levels. Additionally, Johnston brings extensive association management experience from serving in a number of management capacities within large, Washington, D.C.–based national associations.

He seems uniquely qualified for the EIMA advocacy role.

"Oh yes, this job is right up Dave’s alley,” Boivin says. "He has worked in this capacity most of his professional life. And not only that, his last job was with a constituency that we are selling to directly —building owners and managers. He is very familiar with their concerns and issues, so it will be very helpful to have someone in charge who can consider their perspective as we approach the various testing agencies and code-setting bodies.

"I think we have found an amazing synergy in Dave.”

EIMA Membership Services
What services will EIMA provide its membership?

"EIMA, at heart, has always been a technical-standards organization,” Boivin says. "That’s what it does, and that’s what it’s about. Its main mission is to ensure that our systems will continue to meet building codes and standards as they are established or refined by the construction community.

"As and if issues arise with these codes and standards, it is EIMA’s job to find the best resolution. It may be that we go into our EIMA archives for the answer, or it may mean that we involve the technical community of various manufacturers.”

Will EIMA ever assume a more public role, reaching out to educate homeowners and such?

No, Boivin says. That’s not EIMA’s role.

"Our mission is to attain credibility with the various standards and codes organizations,” he says, "so that they know they can rely on us for good information.

"Marketing to the public is for the individual manufacturers to undertake. EIMA has to stand above all that and make sure that none of us are out there marketing something that does not meet the standards we have built our industry around.”

EIFS and ICF
Knowing the strengths and the synergies of EIFS and insulated concrete forms, would it not behoove EIMA to work closer with the ICF industry?

"We actually work with ICFs a fair amount,” Boivin says, "and obviously our finish products are very compatible with ICF—they work extremely well over ICF foam, which is basically the same foam as EIFS.

"The only issue we have with the ICF industry is that it seems fragmented, and there is a lack of consistency among the systems. "Some ICF systems work extremely well with EIFS products while others have issues, often due to the way the plastic ties are not embedded deeply enough into the ICF forms.

"But we certainly work with the ICF industry—that’s to say each of the manufacturers does independently; EIMA is not really involved as such.

"The only problem we have in aligning better with ICF as an industry is finding someone who speaks for ICF. Also, until their industry consolidates with more consistent standards, it will be difficult to maximize the available synergies.”

"We obviously don’t see ICF as a competitor. We see them as a compatible product, and I view anybody who advocates exterior insulation as an ally, a potential partner.

"There may be an eventual marriage here, but it will be some time before ICF is coordinated enough as an industry to derive full benefit from a partnership with other players. That said, the EIFS industry could be a very good partner for them.”

EIMA New Direction
What other initiatives is EIMA taking?

Boivin says, "If you want to look at a new direction for EIMA, the biggest one, and what a lot of people are now looking at, is the talk coming out of Washington concerning the stimulus package and a need to renovate and refurbish most federal buildings and a host of educational buildings and other structures that are in drastic need of energy efficiency improvements.

"Another major legislative initiative that we are watching and working to raise the awareness of EIFS in is the proposed American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. This bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on June 26 and when it is signed into law, it will require that new buildings use 30 percent less energy than those residential buildings built to the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code and those commercial buildings built to the 2004 version of ASHRAE’s 90.1. The bill increases this energy reduction to 50 percent in 2014.”

"We know that we have the right solution for this, so going forward, one main EIMA tack will be to position ourselves with the legislature as the provider of the best solution to energy deficiencies. We want to make them understand what this product is, what it does and how it can play a role in the solution.

"The bottom line is that for a fraction of the money the government is planning to spend on wind turbines, solar farms and ethanol subsidies, they could adopt existing exterior insulation technology and cut down dramatically on the energy currently used to heat and cool buildings.

"We need to make people see that there is a solution right here, and that it costs a lot less and brings about dramatic energy savings. You have two choices on energy: Increase supply or reduce demand. We do the latter very well.”

"Growing corn to make fuel to balance the equation is not going to work. I think we all realize that. We need to develop alternative fuels, of course, but meanwhile, we can cut our energy consumption dramatically. That is where we come in, and one of EIMA’s main missions is to make this known to Washington.”

EIMA Approach
How is EIMA going to reach the legislature?

"For one, we are—as we speak—moving EIMA’s offices from Georgia to the Washington, D.C., area, to be closer to the action. In fact, we will operate out of the AWCI building in Virginia,” Boivin says.

"Additionally, we recently formed the EIMA Sustainability Advocacy Committee, headed up by Tony Stall, which is charged with carrying out this mission. Further, to make sure we reach the right legislators, we have hired a firm to help us work our way around Washington.

"And, of course, in hiring Dave Johnston, we have a guy who’s been around the block a few times in Washington, D.C. In fact, almost all changes we’ve implemented at EIMA over the last year have been geared toward getting this Sustainability Advocacy Committee up and running and to finding out how to reach the right legislative people to communicate our message.”

A Bright Future
By keeping a finger on the codes and standards’ pulse, and by getting the EIFS word to the right legislators, it seems EIMA has the important bases covered.

"We try to be very flexible as a group, and we will only fund those initiatives that make sense based on our strategy,” Boivin says.

"Our new executive director, as he takes hold of the reins, will obviously refine this strategy, but right now we are still following the direction set by outgoing Executive Director Stephan Klamke and the current EIMA board of directors. It still has merit, even if modified slightly to fit with the new administration and its different initiatives.

"EIMA is still all about being a technical standards organization. The marketing is best done through the individual manufacturer. Standards and codes are best handled through EIMA.

"Truth be told, we’re pretty enthusiastic about the future right now—probably one of the few segments in the construction industry that is.”

Coeur d’Alene, ID-based Ulf Wolf writes for the construction industry as Words & Images.