With a quick glance at the exterior of a building, it can be difficult to distinguish between stucco and EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish System). The primary difference between the two is beneath the surface. Both stucco and EIFS lend a textured appearance to the exterior of a structure, and if they’re applied correctly, both can be relatively maintenance free. Though it goes in and out of style in different parts of the country, stucco has been used in construction for thousands of years. EIFS, however, is a newer, energy-efficient technology.

What Is EIFS?

EIFS is an alternative to traditional siding or brick exteriors. The primary distinguishing characteristic between stucco and EIFS is the use of rigid insulation board in EIFS systems. This use of insulation board provides a better barrier against heat and moisture transfer than other siding and exterior cladding options on the market today. While stucco is applied as two or three coats of cement plaster over reinforcing materials, EIFS installation typically involves approximately six different products.

First, a drainage board is applied to the building’s exterior with a strong adhesive. To further protect the structure against moisture infiltration, some installers apply a water-resistant barrier before attaching the drainage board. Once the drainage board has adhered to the building’s exterior, the insulation board is installed. The base coat of the final exterior is applied with fiberglass mesh for reinforcement, and then the finish coat is applied on top.

Benefits of EIFS

Homeowners will find many benefits to EIFS siding, but one of the most important advantages of an exterior insulation finishing system is its ability to boost insulation for the entire home. Traditional insulation between studs and joists, while necessary, does leave a structure vulnerable to thermal breaks—the small areas that regular batt insulation can miss. Energy loss from these small thermal breaks can add up over time. EIFS systems do not replace traditional, interior insulation, but they can work with existing insulation to reduce heat transfer and increase a home’s overall R-value. In fact, the use of EIFS siding on new construction may allow the homeowner to install a lower capacity HVAC system without sacrificing comfort.

Aside from the energy efficiency and potential cost-saving benefits of EIFS, homeowners will find that there are aesthetic benefits to this technology, too. The exterior coating of EIFS systems can be tinted and textured to fit the homeowner’s requirements, and EIFS technology can also be used to create architectural designs that would otherwise be quite expensive. Arches, columns, and countless other decorative details can be designed on a computer, created out of rigid insulation board, and then covered with the EIFS base coat, fiberglass mesh, and finish coat.

When properly installed, EIFS systems are known for their low level of required maintenance. EIFS siding rarely needs to be painted, and because of its acrylic and polymer makeup, it resists the fading, chalking, and yellowing that traditional, painted siding materials sometimes succumb to. The materials used in EIFS construction are also less likely to attract dirt, mold, and mildew, so structures clad in EIFS tend to look newer and cleaner for a longer period of time. And if an EIFS-clad structure does begin to look dirty, it can be easily washed off with a hose. Finally, because EIFS siding is composed of synthetic, acrylic- and polymer-based materials, it is somewhat flexible. Buildings naturally settle and expand and contract in response to temperature fluctuations, and EIFS materials are designed to accommodate those changes without warping or cracking.

If you’re looking to replace your home’s existing siding or if you’re in the market for a new home, don’t immediately write off EIFS siding as an option. Not everyone likes the look of stucco, but EIFS doesn’t have to look like stucco—a skilled installer can give you plenty of alternative ideas.

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Sources: EIFS Industry Members Association; National Park Service; Pie Consulting & Engineering; Portland Cement Association; TheStuccoGuy.com.

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