Comparing EIFS Used in the North American and European Construction Industries

EIFS is versatile, lightweight, durable and the finished product adds a noticeable clean-looking flair to buildings and homes. It both insulates and provides limitless colour and finish flexibility that can be incorporated into any design imaginable.

A Bit of History

EIFS were developed in Europe in the 1950s as a way to insulate and enhance the look of older buildings. They were also especially functional in the rebuilding process of many European countries after the Second World War as it allowed builders to use the materials available at the time, including the rubble of partially-destroyed stone masonry.

EIFS were brought to North America by the late 1960s, and the material gained immense popularity across the United States because of the 1970s oil crisis. Before this, efforts to introduce EIFS to the American market were unsuccessful, but as more homeowners were concerned about conserving energy and heat, EIFS easily provided an effective yet attractive way to manage their energy consumption.

The use of EIFS in Europe continues to be compatible with the design of many European cities which are tightly packed with buildings that are extremely old and need insulation that can be applied externally or internally without tearing up the structure. In North America EIFS are manly used for functionality as well as the look they impart to homes and buildings, but in Europe they are rather simply detailed and more utilized for functionality.

While many North American components of EIFS and their formation were adopted from European standards, they have evolved into what North America installs and uses today because of various costs and contrasting building materials. There are many cultural and architectural differences between North American and European EIFS.

Composition & Structure

European EIFS are much more expensive due to thicker finishes and base coats that are nearly twice the thickness of those of North American EIFS. This additional base coat thickness is due in part to stricter testing and regulations in European countries, as well as allowing for the proper positioning of the reinforcing mesh. This base coat also often contains much more resin than its North American counterparts, even incorporating adhesives as much as four times as much adhesive than cement even no cement at all. However, not all resin is equal and this is not always a positive inclusion. In North America, the ratio of adhesive to cement found in the base coat is about equal.

The thicker finish allows for more waterproofing, although this is not typically as necessary or important with buildings in Europe due to much harder stone walls. It also provides the material with extra flexibility.

European EIFS can also use polyisocyanurate or polyurethane boards as well as semi-rigid fiberglass mesh, none of which is frequently used in North America.

Two types of EIFS are used North America, barrier and drainage. Drainage incorporates systems to keep water away or out through methods such as flashing, weeping, water-resistant or durable substrates or drainage planes, while barrier systems are designed to keep water away from the exterior. In Europe, drainage EIFS are not popular or crucial at all due to the nature of their typical supporting walls.

Application

As many walls in Europe are solid masonry, EIFS using wall studs and sheathing is very uncommon, whereas in North America the majority of EIDS is applied over stud-cavity walls.

Housing structure and layout in Europe also extensively differs from that of North America. North America is filled with sprawling suburbs and retail plazas, while in Europe homes and buildings are on top of and often connected to each other. This is especially important to note with regards to the need to comply with much stricter European fire codes. Fire safety and the ease of fire spreading from one home to another is the reason that a more expensive, completely non-combustible mineral wool insulation is available for purchase in Europe but not in North America. Wall claddings in Europe are non-combustible, but foam plastic insulation is and the closeness of European buildings requires these different constructions to avoid fire-related catastrophes. Some EIFS in Canada also employ similar methods, using a stucco or cement panel membrane in front of insulation.

Availability

Neither continent recommends or advocates EIFS as a do-it-yourself installation project, but in Europe EIFS are easily available at small, local retail stores. In North America EIFS are only sold from manufacturers to distributers who then sell them to professional contractors and never directly to homeowners.

Market Growth

Today in Europe, while EIFS was commonly used for new construction projects, the main use of EIFS is for retrofitting.

The EIFS market is booming in North America, with a growth of about 10 per cent per year and over 200 million square feet of EIFS is used annually in the United States. When EIFS first became available for residential use, only half a per cent of homes used them. Today, EIFS consists of 3 per cent of the United States residences as well as 17 per cent of the commercial market.

In the United States, EIFS accounts for about 10 per cent of new wall construction, but in Canada, EIFS accounts for almost 60 per cent of new wall construction.

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