EIFS and foam shapes
Foam shapes are frequently incorporated into applications of Exterior Insulation Finishing Systems. Foam shapes can even be applied on buildings that don’t use EIFS at all. The foam shapes are generally added for aesthetic or architectural reasons, to enhance or accent window frames, to add trims and even symbols or numbers to the wall. Foam shapes can be made of EIFS, be made of different materials, or be a combination of EIFS materials and non-EIFS materials. They could be merely foam with a base coat and have lamina applied upon installation or they may have base coats made of plastic or that are much thicker than your average EIFS base coat.
As of the beginning of 2010, the American Society for Testing and Materials is determining standards for foam shapes when used on EIFS. Currently, it’s looking like the standard will dictate that the foam shape must be made of EIFS as well. Until this standard is official and comes to influence regulations and building codes, there are several things to consider when using foam shapes.
Yet again, the concern of using materials from different manufacturers is raised. When this is done, no one can be held properly accountable when issues arise. Because the EIFS contractor is generally the one using and installing these shapes, the problems then become their responsibility. If the foam shapes use a mix of materials from different manufacturers it’s difficult to repair them – should repair be necessitated – or to trace the material’s origins. This also may void any warranties the manufacturer has for its EIFS products.
The mixing of materials is further complicated by aesthetic issues that may surface, such as the aging of different finishes on top of different base coats, eventually resulting in two completely different colours once the wall has a chance to age a bit. This also may occur if the base coat is applied at the manufacturer rather than on the construction site, which is typical of some foam shapes.
If the foam shape is not made in the same layered application process as the rest of an EIFS wall, it will not function as exterior insulation. This can bring about problems related to withstanding weather and water intrusion.
If the foam shape is being applied on an EIFS wall with drainage, incorporating drainage into the foam shape may or may not be possible.
All of these issues need to be considered when using foam shapes as they can differ from application to application.
In 2008, the famous Monte Carlo Casino and Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada caught fire. In total, 17 people were taken to the hospital due to smoke inhalation or minor injuries, but no one was killed. If one studies a photograph of the Monte Carlo fire, of which there are many, the building is obviously clad with EIFS. It is the EIFS that apparently caught fire and allowed the fire to spread, blackening the top floors of the casino on the exterior. The flames did not act in a way that would suggest an EIFS fire, however. EIFS can be protected in such a way that fire does not easily spread, and the flames are more likely to move up through the foam, not across a building as in the case of the Monte Carlo fire. Upon closer inspection, the top of the casino is covered in foam shapes, around the windows, near the roof and decorating the top of the building as parapets, which fell off onto the ground below, still burning. The fire was determined to have originated from the roof, the edge of which was covered in these foam shapes. The fire spread horizontally across the building, perfectly following the foam cut out trim that lined the top of the building. If foam shapes are going to be used, this situation is important to keep in mind, and normal EIFS fire-reduction techniques, like sealing the edges of the flammable foam are especially important.
Other safety concerns arise from the fact that generic foam does not have any thickness or fastening regulations and is not load bearing or safe when used as a decorative element such as a parapet. For example, the average window washer may step on it, not knowing its just a chunk of foam. The foam is also extremely vulnerable to dents or injury due to a lack of reinforcing fiberglass mesh, unlike EIFS.