The EIFS industry – past, present and future
Despite EIFS being a quality product, as with any industry that relies on one product for its livelihood, there may always be a slight caution when it comes to using it. The undeserved reputation EIFS has garnered itself doesn’t help, and some may feel that it’s too much of a risk to bother with EIFS at all.
Prices and costs
EIFS has come down in price significantly over the last thirty years or so. This happens with many products that don’t disappear completely because they weren’t made technologically obsolete. Typically, these products become better at what they do because they have a chance to evolve.
Consider how we as a population listen to music today versus decades ago. Even if we don’t delve into phonographs and record players that have been made obsolete, the technology has evolved significantly over decades. We started with audio cassette tapes that had to be mechanically played in a tape player and had to deal with machines that ate them for breakfast, tangled messes of plastic film and when we heard a song we liked, we had to move quickly to tape it off of the radio or – imagine – go out and buy it at the store. From cassette tapes we eventually saw the development of compact discs, which were played with a laser in a CD player. No more tangled messes, but they were prone to scratches and skips. Now, mp3 files are the norm. As the music industry has struggled to catch up, consumers are able to download music off the internet as they please, as well a obtain it easily for free from YouTube or person to person networks. Cassette tapes, if you can find them, sell for less than a dollar, while CDs that used to cost upwards of $20 in Canada now cost less than $10.
The EIFS industry hasn’t had to deal with such a blow, as it keeps itself useful. Problems with impact resistance are easily solved and problems with water intrusion are only a misconception that can get better as time goes on. However, that doesn’t mean that costs haven’t gone down. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as lower overheard prices can mean more money leftover for other things, like technical support and higher quality materials. But as more and more in the industry are able to cut costs, down falls service, quality and knowledgeable labour, and this is what is causing the industry all sorts of problems.
When cutting costs goes too far
As good as a product is, when competition gets stiff and prices have to come down to compensate, something’s got to give. Unfortunately in the past this has meant ‘somethings’ such as quality labour and support for EIFS projects. Like a chain reaction, once these elements suffer, EIFS gets a shoddy reputation because of improper installation and little recourse for home and building owners other than litigation, because they feel there’s no help for them from the industry.
There is plenty of room for the prices of EIFS to rise, especially since it’s one of the cheapest forms of wall cladding already, along with having a number of special qualities that aren’t found anywhere else. However, if the industry collaborated to raise prices it could be construed as price fixing: a conspiracy of two or more sellers of a similar product raising prices in a manner that all sellers benefit. This is unfortunate, as higher prices would result in more money for optimal service and knowledgeable labour practices.
EIFS is not going the way of the dinosaur any time soon
The EIFS industry has a bit of a ways to go, especially after being set back by negative publicity over the past few years. Unfortunately, sometimes the media just gets it wrong, and in the case of leaking EIFS in the United States (North Carolina) and Canada (Alberta), the problems were due to improper installation, not the EIFS itself as was widely reported. Improper installation and price-fixing issues could be rectified by increasing awareness and knowledge about EIFS, which can be done in several ways:
- Collaborative EIFS awareness and education campaigns for homeowners and building owners. This could include books, pamphlets, websites and other media covering proper installation, misconceptions and proper maintenance so those getting into EIFS will do it right.
- Collaborative EIFS awareness and education campaigns for related industry professionals, such as real estate companies, insurance companies, project developers and renovators. These individuals or organizations do influence the EIFS industry albeit indirectly. If Canadian insurance companies can’t agree on whether to categorize EIFS as ‘combustible’ or ‘non-combustible’, they obviously need more information.
- Unregulated industries that are mostly self-policing more often than not have serious problems. Without regulating EIFS and its installation, bad EIFS jobs and subsequent reputation-damaging stories will arise. Regulation for the industry is needed, and yes – this means working EIFS into building codes properly.
- The ‘little things’ matter. All of the little, customizable personal touches that every installer can find a way to do differently: including EIFS with drainage and guarding EIFS from impact. These must be standardized and regulated.
- Lastly, and certainly not least. The public, the same public that’s still scorned by EIFS’ highly reported failures in both the United States and Canada. There are only so many ways information can be written into educational articles with regards to how improper installation led to these problems, not EIFS itself. A collaborative educational campaign is needed for the public.
Even in a downturned economy, as experienced recently, the EIFS industry proves to be resilient. If designers and architects are looking to create a cost-efficient project, EIFS is a solid choice of wall-cladding and insulation. If a project’s overall budget has to be slashed, buildings that were formerly signed with other forms of wall cladding in mind may opt for EIFS instead.
EIFS experienced a significant boom in demand during the 1970’s oil embargo in the United States when consumers were looking for greener materials to cut down on energy usage. Today, this history is repeating itself as ‘going green’ is gaining vast popularity in Canada and EIFS is regarded as an optimal exterior insulation for creating energy-efficient buildings and homes. EIFS has nowhere to go except up, but the perception problems holding it back must be dealt with.