The installation of EIFS near grade

Damaging problems can arise when EIFS are installed below grade, or below the ground, but what about when they’re only installed near grade? Buildings tend to begin at the ground, and therefore the EIFS might too, depending on design or aesthetic specifications.

However, the problems EIFS face when installed near grade are quite similar to those they face when installed below grade. It’s also interesting to note that according to Canadian insurance companies, the proximity of EIFS to grade is one of the major factors mentioned along with other improper methods of installation that can result in failure and further problems that affect homes and eventually result in claims.

First thing’s first

When any EIFS terminates close to the ground, it should be backwrapped. That is, sealing the system completely before it reaches the ground usually by wrapping the fiberglass reinforcing mesh back over the edge or using embedded trim or coatings.

Plants and EIFS

For design purposes, if the EIFS is going to terminate just near grade and allow for a gap between its base and the ground that many might find unattractive, home or building owners may perhaps want to plant a garden or some wall-climbing plants along the gap to hide it.

This is a bad idea for two reasons, the first being that climbing plants are an EIFS nightmare and the second being that the subsequent water can harm the EIFS.

Surprisingly enough, plants like Virginia creeper, a common wall climbing plant, don’t use vines to crawl up EIFS like others. They deploy “feet” with what resemble little suckers on the end, similar to what you’d see in an outer space movie. These little suckers are actually adhesive pads, and plants like these embed tiny threads into the surface of the EIFS making them impossible to pull off – you can attempt to pull them off all you like, but the little plant is going to win out in the end and might cause some embarrassment. Even if the rest of the plant is cut off, the adhesive pads will stay one with the EIFS and cannot be removed unless they are dug out, which will ruin the look of the lamina.

With some of these plant species, killing the plant at its root may result in the pads eventually losing their grip and falling off, but this is not always the case. When planting flora like this, you’re typically stuck with it for life – unless you chop off the plant and paint over the embedded pads, or move.

Watering these plants or any others with a sprinkler system, garden hose or even a watering can might result in water constantly splashing onto the EIFS wall. Undissolved minerals within the water can leave deposits on your EIFS, even salt or rust that completely stains and discolours the EIFS. Not only that, but the water can further infiltrate your EIFS and cause mould problems internally.

These plant and water problems can happen with many wall-cladding systems and are not unique to EIFS. Wall-climbing plants can even be difficult to remove from brick, but because of these issues plants should be kept as far away from the EIFS as possible.

Termites and near grade installation

We have termites in Ontario, even in the metropolitan Toronto area. Termites of course, can climb, and they will climb up the foundation into your EIFS. The EIFS itself is not particularly appetizing to the common termite, but its foam interior provides them with easy access into the delicious wood-based materials behind it.

The most challenging problem posed by termites is that the EIFS hides these infestations quite well. The lamina is not disturbed, only the interior. Homeowners typically don’t notice until the infestation has become a major structural integrity problem. Common sense with regards to the installation will assist in termite-proofing. For example, if wood sheathing is exposed, it is an invitation for termites and should be covered.

Townships across southern Ontario vary with regards to laws stating which EIFS must be used, barrier or drainage, and each system can be modified to protect against termite infestations.

Barrier EIFS and termites

A barrier EIFS can be sealed with caulking where the gap occurs between the sheathing and the foam.

Drainage EIFS and termites

Termite-proofing drainage EIFS is trickier, as the holes are necessary for water to escape properly. Sealing the base of the EIFS with embedded trim that contains holes large enough to allow any water to run out but small enough to keep those pesky termites at bay is the better option.

Many building codes may specify the use of EIFS with regards to grade, and they should be followed. Because the use of EIFS near grade is merely a design and aesthetic problem, homeowners and building owners should be informed of the consequences or issues that can arise when it is installed near grade to prevent future problems.

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