Understanding Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS) and Stucco Repair for Commercial Buildings

Nov 04, 2021

Minimizing energy use is a top priority for building owners, maintenance staff, and building occupants. Improper energy use can have many origins, including failure to shut off appliances, running lighting systems during vacancy hours, and excessive use of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning or refrigeration (HVAC/R) systems. Part of this comes down to the quality of the exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS). While building occupants can make meaningful improvements in interior energy use, the biggest drivers of energy use in these buildings come from the HVAC/R systems. This is simply due to the increased energy use needed to keep the interior comfortable and effectively shielded from the heat loss or gain of the outside world. 

In the U.S., the age of the building is directly related to its energy-efficiency needs. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s “2018 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Report, more than half of all buildings in the U.S. were built between 1960 and 1999. Among these buildings, the main culprits of energy consumption include space heating (83%) and cooling (78%). More troubling, out of all potential energy efficiency improvements, only LED lighting had increased in use since 2012. While this data is already three-years-old, it’s still the most recent year for which the study was commissioned. As a result, it’s a safe assumption that improving building energy efficiency comes down to recognizing the issues in existing buildings and improving their ability to reduce energy use. That also implies it’s time to rethink the building exterior and how addressing exterior insulation and finish system problems could lessen the total heat gain or loss of these buildings.

For that reason, this guide will explore all aspects of exterior insulation and finish systems, including:

What Is Commercial Building Insulation and What Is an Exterior Insulation and Finish System

Commercial building insulation is all about creating a barrier between the building’s interior and exterior to reduce heat gain or loss. As further explained by the U.S. Department of Energy, “Most common insulation materials work by slowing conductive heat flow and convective heat flow. Radiant barriers and reflective insulation systems work by reducing radiant heat gain. To be effective, the reflective surface must be in contact with an air space.

“Regardless of the mechanism, heat flows from warmer to cooler areas until there is no longer a temperature difference. In your home, this means that in winter, heat flows directly from all heated living spaces to adjacent unheated attics, garages, basements, and especially to the outdoors. Heat flow can also move indirectly through interior ceilings, walls, and floors—wherever there is a difference in temperature. During the cooling season, heat flows from the outdoors to the interior.”

Still, the exterior itself becomes part of the insulating materials. This is where the questions of what is exterior insulation and finish system and how is it different get confusing. The exterior insulation and finish system refers to a class of non-load bearing materials that adhere to the exterior of the building, provide insulation and keep moisture out of the building. Unlike standard commercial insulation, it’s a more modern approach to leveraging lighter materials that maximize resistance to the elements. Yet, the goal of any type of insulation remains the same—improve occupant comfort, maintain integrity of building materials, and avoid water infiltration. 

Now, it’s also important to realize that stucco and exterior insulation and finish system are two different aspects of a modern building exterior. Stucco may possess qualities similar to EIFS panels and materials, but stucco is also subject to spalling, cracking, or other degradation. EIFS may contain both premanufactured panels or be applied in a manner similar to traditional stucco. However, the ingredients going into the applied cementitious mix are slightly different in exterior insulation and finish system. Still, stucco can be part of an effective EIFS. Therefore, knowing the different types of building insulations used and their nuances can make a difference in knowing when to replace or repair such materials and how to maximize the longevity of your building exterior.

The Types of Commercial Building Insulation

The best type of commercial building insulation to use depends on the needs of the building, defined by the engineer responsible for the design and repair of the building. In general, there are a few different types of commercial building insulation to consider, including:

Regardless of which system is chosen, their biggest function comes down to their use in conjunction with the exterior surface materials that waterproof the structure and add to a wall’s insulating capacity. This is where the true nature of exterior insulation and finish systems becomes most evident. In terms of EIFS, the most types of systems available include:

Benefits of Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems

The benefits of modern exterior insulation and finish systems are world-renowned. According to the EIFS Industry Members Association (EIMA), “chief among these are superior energy efficiency and virtually unlimited design flexibility.” However, that barely scratches the surface of their real value-added benefits including:

Considerations in the Performance of Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems

With all the information on the benefits of the right approach to exterior finishing, it sounds like a one-and-done solution. However, there are a few considerations building owners need to take when assessing the need for such systems. These include the following:

Exterior Insulation Versus Stucco

Understanding the differences between an exterior insulation and finish system and stucco can be confusing. Yes, all stucco is part of an exterior insulation system. However, an EIFS is an acrylic product that is used beneath the stucco to create a moisture barrier and improve the integrity of the building. Meanwhile, traditional stucco siding is a cementitious mix containing Portland cement, sand, limestone and water. Traditional stucco is heavier and requires more care than a modern EIFS that leverages polymers for improved tensile strength and is easier to repair as well. 

Get on the Right Track With Expert Guidance

Choosing the right exterior finish for your building must not be a last-minute process. The right finish can successfully draw in more building tenants and customers. As explained by BUILD magazine, a quality exterior adds a sense of professionalism to your business, improves safety and security, safeguards against complaints, prevents degradation, and lessens your total cost of ownership. With so much at risk in a world marred by liability concerns, building owners and managers need to ensure their exterior is not left to the elements. Instead, they need to work with an expert in building exterior construction, maintenance, and design to ensure the exterior insulation and finish system is of the best quality and adds value to your business.

Valcourt Building Services is the right company for that need. Connect with Valcourt Building Services to schedule an inspection or repair of your EIFS today.