A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Archive for EIFS

Oh, For A Beautiful Exterior, Part 2: Looking at some design elements of exterior walls

How do I look today? She asks if her makeup is alright, before we enter the doctor’s office. First impressions are important. My wife has also been contemplating the image that our house presents. She has decided that we need a paint job of the wood elements to our home. Most of our exterior is brick though, but we could color that too. We talk this over while waiting for the doctor. I mention that I want the garage doors painted the same color as the trim, because they stand out now as a focal point, and I want the eye to be drawn away from them.

I did help to create more of a focal point by applying a stucco finish to some of my brick. I have a small courtyard created by a low wall in the front entryway of the home. I used a cement based stucco to highlight the window sills and the top of the half wall. It helps focus the eyes on this section (with some help from some flowering vines). I like my brick, so I have no intention to completely cover it up.

There are paints which can do a great job at making brick exteriors look better. In the past, painting bricks was not something that I would have recommended, but new epoxy paints are said to last. There are even paints that are said to help with energy efficiency. In the picture below, the homeowners bumped out a room from the house, using a light colored stucco wall. This is a fresh coat of paint on the exterior brick. The color contrast appeals to me. This is when painted brick can look at its best.Painted brick with stucco

Letting features standout is pleasing to see, but we do not always consider how we can create an effect. I remember looking at these gorgeous cedar window trim pieces in the stucco homes on Bermuda. The rich looking wood caught my attention. I do not see that consideration to detail on many homes. I am sure that the tradition on Bermuda developed due to practicality. Creating trim pieces from stucco is difficult, and cedar was available. Now, many stucco homes will have a cement stucco for the body of the home, but they will use a synthetic stucco called EIFS (pronounced ee-fus) for trim elements. Look at this photo.

Stucco with EIFS trim

You can see a line framing the window, ending with a keystone below it.
Keystones actually are meant for arches; they are the piece that keep arches in place. In this case, the trim is made from EIFS, and it was intended to add a little drama to the surface of this townhome. I found it close to a home that I was inspecting today, and thought it was good for illustrating my point. The trim helps the window pop out at you, but I think that this element should have been painted a different color. Your eye would have been immediately drawn to that feature of the home, but looking at the entire house, my eyes wandered a bit over the surface.

A brief view of some elements to be sure, but I hope that you will ponder on where you want the eye to focus when someone is looking at your home, and how you can use elements to make your house stand out. EIFS is not really a bad material. It can create some fascinating sculptural work for a stucco home. As for using it on the main body portion of your home, make sure that it is installed well. Most problems with stucco and EIFS have come about due to poor installation. If you are stuccoing over brick, make sure that moisture can escape by not covering the weepholes in the brick wall. These are the holes running along the base of the wall. Good luck with your home.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Oh, For a Beautiful Exterior

As more people are beginning to realize that they are having issues with stucco or EIFS exterior coverings, I have seen an increase in using masonry coverings. These can be a truly striking feature on a home. However, if you are not careful, they can also have the same problems that stucco and EIFS have.

Any wall exposed to the elements needs to have a way for moisture to come out of it, and it needs to be kept above the foundation. Our friends the termites love to have hidden paths into our homes. By having the masonry covering come down to the ground to cover that unsightly foundation, you have accomplished two things: 1) created a perfect hiding place for termites to move up into your home; and 2) allow moisture to migrate to your wood framing. In the past, the code called for at least 4 inches of foundation to be exposed for masonry veneers, but I heard that this has been change to 6 inches. Weepholes or screens at the bottom of exterior coverings like stucco, EIFS, or the fake stone work covers helps the moisture behind the walls to seep out. This has been the biggest problem for exterior sidings: the lack of a means for moisture to escape. As long as the means is present, these wall coverings can work well with no problems to the framing.

Why do I choose to write this post? I have seen an increase of builders covering their foundations on homes, not leaving the 4 inch gap. I read an article this month from a builder who instructed other contractors to do the same. You see, a builder will construct a home to your tastes, and if the public complains about an unsightly foundation, the builder will cover it up. The builder might not even know that he just caused a problem. In a reversal of fortune, some affordable homes are built better than luxury/custom homes, simply because the buyers do not make many special requests. One study showed that affordable housing (housing under $135,000) is built to better energy efficiency standards than other housing.

The best course of action for builders is to educate their clients on what can happen if a home is built the way that they want it, and for those people considering building your own home to educate themselves first before making requests. In the end when you sell the home, you will just have a nasty old inspector like me pointing out your beautiful flaws.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck