Stucco Vs EIFS

EIFS (pronounced “eefs”) stands for Exterior Insulation Finish System. The cladding is also referred to as “Synthetic Stucco”, “Acrylic Stucco” or just “Stucco” (the latter being ambiguous with plaster stucco). Although initially developed around the ’40s to retrofit war-torn WW2 buildings, it is among the newest and most attractive styles of cladding available to homeowners today. EIFS differs from traditional Stucco (cement) in that it is applied using different materials — in multiple layers, providing greater flexibility and benefits.

At Toronto Stucco Contractor, we only recommend and install EIFS. We believe that it is a superior system to cement stucco because it incorporates drainage to prevent mould, has insulation (in toronto insulation is important) and provides a more attractive finish.

So what are the differences between EIFS and traditional stucco (plaster)?

  • EIFS is softer and sounds hollow when tapped
  • EIFS has a finely textured finish coat
  • EIFS provides insulation and water management
  • Cement stucco is solid and cement-like
  • Cement stucco is typically rough and contains large swirls
  • Cement stucco may trap water behind the wall

Not a DIY (do-it-yourself) Project
Contrary to conventional wisdom, EIFS actually contains 4 layers:
– An Air/Moisture or Vapour barrier depending on the requirements of the building
– Insulation, fastened either chemically (using cement) or mechanically (using screws)
– A polymer-modified base coat with an embedded fiber glass mesh
– A beautiful, durable acrylic finish coat
While a skilled drywall plasterer may not find the various trowel-applied layers difficult, it takes a certain knowledge of the finer details to ensure the system is installed 100% correct.

The Long and Winding Road
In the past decade EIFS has come under fire for “moisture problems”. While the issues were real, the biggest problem was arguably the quality of the installations in a fledgling industry without any real guidelines or enforcement. EIFS Manufacturers were quick to update their “recommendations” and have gracefully pulled their industry out of a downward spiral. Among the changes are:

  • A continuous, trowel-applied moisture barrier which goes over the substrate to keep water/moisture away from the substrate
  • Removal of recommendations to use mechanical adhesive methods (screws) as it punctures the moisture barrier, thereby allowing moisture penetration
  • The use of flashing above windows and other openings and caulking around wall penetrations
  • The most dramatic improvement — the specification of a “drainage channel”. The styrofoam is adhered to the air/moisture barrier in vertical channels of cement; allowing water to drain out of the system.

The Verdict
There’s an old saying that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – and nowhere does this hold more true than in the EIFS industry. EIFS has undergone more scrutiny than any other cladding product and as a result has a mountain of research and technology backing it and supporting it. It still has a stigma to lose, but is currently a safe and attractive alternative to classical brick and mortar siding.

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Leave a comment


  1. Fran Park

     /  December 23, 2008

    Hey Toronto Stucco Guy,
    Thanks for your comment on my blog post on EIFS. Check out the reply I posted.

  2. reece

     /  December 30, 2008

    Hello, I read this post titled “Stucco Vs EIFS” about a week ago, might have been last Tuesday, and thought it was a good point. I’ve been trying for the last few days to find your site again but ended up finding it in Google using the keywords “Toronto drains”. Anyway, I’ve forgotten what I wanted to post last week but I will be returning regularly. Bookmarked the page.

  3. CHRIS

     /  March 8, 2009

    Yes mostly what is said here is true, with some exceptions…
    The assumption that on the back of foam is a river of water is completely FALSE and MISLEADING. Yes in, shoemakers jobs cracks in the plaster will lead to SOME water behind the stucco on SOME occasions! Especially where there are horizontal mouldings with little overhang. THAT water is trapped there is true…
    mostly from these big brains behind inventing all kind of regulations and new materials, “channels of adhesive”??, “drainage systems” etc… all to try to fix the OUTCOME?? THEY do not look at the cost. I have invented something that I GUARANTEE NO CRACKS WILL EVER FORM IN THE WALLS OR moulding corners… all the above improvements and recommendations are useless because there will be not any water behind — guaranteed!

  4. Admin

     /  March 8, 2009

    Thanks for chiming in Chris. Chris is one of our EIFS contractors with over 14 years of experience, and I could tell from the first time I met him that he understood how stucco systems worked and did very high quality stucco work.
    He makes a good point that not all EIFS installations (before the advent of drainage channels) had moisture problems — indeed most were fine. However there did exist some conditions (which he alluded to) in which moisture could become trapped and problematic. Unfortunately the media tends to “demonize” things, and present the exception as the rule.
    He also makes the point that drainage channels increased the labour (time) required to install EIFS properly. While this is true, it is still more than competitive when compared to traditional claddings, and has given EIFS it’s much needed credibility boost.

    Because of these innovations, EIFS has actually been found to be better in terms of moisture management than brick, stucco and cement fiber siding. For more information, check out this post:

    • What is Stucco?

      "Stucco" is typically what people in the Toronto area use when they're looking for EIFS (Exterior Insulation Finish Systems, or "synthetic stucco"). We use the two terms interchangeably.

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