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"The Insurance Situation"

One of the reasons water is getting behind EIFS is that a surprising number of
"good" windows leak, and some window designs do not integrate well with EIFS.

By Robert Thomas

The other day, I got an interesting phone call. An EIFS contractor was asking
where he could get insurance so he could continue to do EIFS work. The renewal
cost for his insurance, he said, if it were to continue to be available, was
going to be so high that he would have to stop doing EIFS. He was frustrated.
Not being in the insurance business but having some clue to his situation and
being sympathetic, I listened to him some more. He went on to explain that he
could not even get insurance to do repairs on EIFS projects. Where does this
end? Are even insurance agents not going to be able to get insurance to allow
them to insure EIFS contractors? This situation is getting out of hand.
Rather than moan about this sad state of affairs, here are some thoughts about
doing something about it. This list is the result of bits and pieces I have
heard over the last year or so from insurance people about things they'd like to
see done by the EIFS industry to help them feel good about issuing insurance.
Perhaps these insights can be used in discussions with insurance carriers to
piece together a program that would make insurance available sanely priced.

Paper trail

First, insurance people like paper. Whatever the solution is going to be, it is
going to have to be in writing. It needs to be detailed, like an insurance
policy. Verbal assurances and requests from clemency will not work. Whatever
the EIFS industry might propose to the insurance industry, it needs to be a
comprehensive program, not a series of unrelated efforts. The insurance
industry needs to be convinced that the program will work, so that its industry
is sure that its risk will be rewarded.

Next, this is an EIFS industry problem. Make no mistake about this. The
solution to the EIFS insurance matter needs to be an industry effort, not one of
individual companies. Insurance companies do not see a distinction between
Joe's band of EIFS and Fred's. To them, EIFS is EIFS, and it's all suspect.
They do not want to have different programs for insuring quality that depend on
whose product it is. This means that the EIFS manufacturers would have to get
together and propose something as a group. Doing such a group effort will be a
big step for an industry that is known for the independence and competitiveness
of its manufacturers.

Third, the program needs to have teeth in it. This is not a time to be timid.
It's time to cut the wheat from the chaff. Let the contractors that care
continue to prosper and let the other ones find other work. If some people
cannot get insurance because they won't sign in to a rigorous program that
assures a quality, finished project, then so be it. This is period when
conservative behavior and discipline is needed, not fairy tale verbal
assurances.

Some type of independent verification that the EIFS is being installed properly
is needed. It's not enough to have the GC or EIFS contractor self-certify that
it's being done right. The process of attesting that the EIFS is installed
right needs to be done by someone who doesn't care, in a sense. They need to
report independently to the owner, and get paid regardless of whose ox gets
gored.

Whatever the program is that ensures quality of the completed EIFS installation
in terms of the on-site verification process, that program needs to be
reasonable. What is not needed is someone who is relentlessly crawling all over
the contractor and whining about every booger that gets into the basecoat. The
inspection process needs to be just enough to be sure that it is being done
right. Similarly, the level of inspection needs to be tailored to the nature of
the project. A lot of inspection may be needed to ensure the job is done right
on a fancy boutique on Rodeo Drive, but is any inspection at all needed on
Jessup's used-once-a-year duck blind? Continuous inspection is not only
expensive, it's unnecessary.

Information pool

There needs to be a national database of EIFS contractors that have been
trained. It needs to indicate who and where they are, and what EIFS systems
they are trained to install. The public needs access to the database, in order
to be able to find qualified people. This is something that could be easily
implemented on the Internet: Just type in the zip code, and a list of the
nearest trained contractors appears.

There needs to be a national EIFS training program that covers the common basics
of all EIFS, that is also coupled with training offered by the EIFS
manufacturer. This is needed to ensure that contractors understand the
idiosyncrasies of specific EIFS products, especially the various EIFS with
drainage systems. Periodic retraining should be part of the program. The
training should be for the individual person, not for company. Thus, as the
trained person stays with him, as it should be: people install EIFS, not
companies. Every job should have at least one such trained person on the site
at all times.

A set of industry standard EIFS construction details need to be developed for
all the basic conditions that happen repeatedly on almost every building.
Confusion currently reigns as to how even basic details should be done. This
does not help the inspector.

Earnest dialogue needs to occur between the EIFS industry and industries that
make products that come into contact with EIFS. In particular, the window
industry comes to mind. One of the reasons water is getting behind EIFS is that
a surprising number of "good" windows leak, and some window designs do not
integrate well with EIFS. As an example, having to cut off the nail flange at
the sill of a window does not do wonders for the window warranty. But how else
can one get a decent flashing back into the wall where it can do some good? One
would think the window people would do something about this, since EIFS is
hardly the only product affected by the nail flange design.

Whatever training program is developed needs to be required by statue. In other
words, the building codes need to require it. This will get around it being
optional, and therefore influenced by the whims of individual contract
circumstances. It's the only way to put real teeth in the enforcement process.
Lastly, there needs to be a national "road show" of presentations that explains
to the contractors and designers, as well as the insurance industry, the
presence and details of this program. Making noise about it on the Internet is
not enough. It needs to be done in person on a large scale. This would take a
year or more, if done at all the major metro areas. The program should be free,
to eliminate excuses for not attending.

If the above suggestions sound like a conglomeration of some existing programs,
with some new twists put in, it is. What we have now is a series of separate
programs that do not address this insurance issue as a whole, but rather, deal
with parts of it. The insurance people want an overall integrated solution.
Arriving at such a solution will require getting a lot of people with differing
interests to one table, and coming together as a group. This will be quite a
feat but the prospect of decreasing availability of insurance makes overcoming
the obstacles to intra-industry cooperation essential.

Robert Thomas, president of rgTHOMAS in Seattle, is a nationally known EIFS
consultant and author of the "EIFS Design Handbook" and "The EIFS Homeowner's
E-Book."

 

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