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The House Detective: Beware of insulated stucco

by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector Modified: August 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm •  Published: August 23, 2014

DEAR BARRY: My neighbor recently insulated his home in an unusual way. A contractor installed thick foam panels on the outside of the building and then applied a stucco finish. I’m thinking about doing the same thing to my house. Is this something that you would recommend?

— Walter

DEAR WALTER: The installation you are describing is known as EIFS: exterior insulated finish system. There is much information about this online because EIFS has been the subject of controversy and complaint. When installed properly by a competent professional who complies with all of the installation requirements, there may be no major problems. Unfortunately, many contractors have made significant installation errors, causing moisture penetration, rotted framing and sheathing, and infestation by termites or carpenter ants.

Another problem with EIFS is that the stucco application over the foam paneling is very thin, as compared with a conventional three-layer stucco installation. This means that the surface can be damaged with moderate impact, such as being hit with a baseball.

If you are considering this type of exterior on your home, proceed with caution. An error by any of the workers doing the installation could cost you a fortune in future repairs. It could also become a serious disclosure issue when you eventually sell your home.

If the exterior of your home is not insulated, you can have insulation injected into the wall cavities.

If you want an exterior stucco finish, a traditional three-coat stucco application is the safe and solid way to go.

DEAR BARRY: We have a manufactured, wood-burning fireplace in our home and have converted it to gas logs, that is, cement logs with a gas flame. To complete this upgrade, we'd like to put a new granite face on the wall around the fireplace but are unsure whether it is OK to cover the air vents at the top and bottom of the fixture.

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