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Commercial Cladding Options Face-Off: EIFS/Stucco vs. Fiber Cement

Today’s builders have plenty to choose from when it comes to commercial cladding options. Modern commercial buildings require the right materials to stay adequately protected (and visually interesting at the same time), and there have been many innovations from building materials manufacturers to help meet those demands.

To get an idea of how all of these materials compare, it helps to see what features and benefits different solutions offer. Because we get so many questions about how stucco and EIFS solutions stack up against fiber cement, we’re taking a moment to explain.

What You Can Expect From EIFS

Exterior insulation and finishing systems (EIFS) are used on commercial and residential buildings alike. EIFS is sometimes called synthetic stucco, and there are two types of EIFS: PB (polymer-based) systems and PM (polymer-modified) systems. 

According to engineer Brian Dickerson for PIE Global, “PB is by far the most widely utilized EIFS on the market today ... [it] accounts for over 99% of all EIFS clad homes built in the last 10 years.”

An EIFS system uses expanded polystyrene (EPS) boards, which are attached to the exterior sheathing, reinforced with fiberglass mesh and painted with a base coat application. Builders can finish the EIFS in a number of different colors or textures, depending on what the design calls for. 

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EIFS or synthetic stucco designs are often selected because it allows for some versatility in commercial design. “With EIFS, skilled applicators can create all sorts of exterior architectural detailing that would often be cost-prohibitive using conventional construction — cornices, arches, columns, keystones, cornerstones, special moldings and decorative accents are but a few examples,” according to the EIFS Member Association

EIFS is often specified as an alternative to traditional stucco construction, but it’s installed with a reinforcing mesh and control joints, to prevent the kind of cracking that usually comes with stucco design. 

EIFS vs. Fiber Cement

EIFS features a few benefits that help with building protection: It doesn’t crack like stucco exteriors are prone to do, it’s more energy-efficient than other building systems, and it can be designed with arch details and other decorative accents to make your building stand out.

There are a few issues that builders run into when it comes to installing EIFS, however.

The limitations of EIFS have led architects and designers to seek out new exterior cladding options. Fiber cement cladding offers weather protection, moisture resistance and style in ways that EIFS and other cladding products just can’t compete with. 

Moisture Protection

Premium fiber cement cladding comes with a built-in rainscreen to protect commercial buildings from moisture and water damage. Nichiha’s architectural wall panels use their Ultimate Clip system, featuring a built-in rainscreen system that, paired with a code-approved weather/water-resistant barrier, ensures moisture protection without additional materials, labor or costs.

One of the biggest complications with EIFS is that it requires additional layers of protection (and a rainscreen) to prevent moisture infiltration, and more products equal more costs.

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Adequate Ventilation

A fiber cement cladding system from Nichiha allows for adequate ventilation in commercial buildings since it comes with a rainscreen already built into the installation system. 

An EIFS exterior cladding system “can be used as part of a very durable and reliable enclosure system, provided it is drained and ventilated. Intersections, windows, doors and other penetrations must be detailed to prevent the penetration of rain water,” according to Building Science. Essentially, you need to use additional products (increasing your time, material and labor costs) to ensure adequate ventilation or you run the risk of product failure.

Solutions for Style

One of the most appealing features of fiber cement cladding is its versatility. Nichiha’s fiber cement cladding comes in dozens of colors, textures and styles, including stucco, brick, concrete, wood and more. 

EIFS exteriors come in a variety of styles and colors but feature the same stucco-like look across designs. You may be able to add architectural detail, but the actual cladding is going to always look the same.

Building owners love fiber cement because it offers so many more possibilities: the warm look of wood, traditional brick or the sleek look of metal. 

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Performance Across the Globe

Because Nichiha’s fiber cement cladding comes with a rainscreen system, it’s approved for use in even the most severe climates and has been featured on both residential and commercial buildings across the globe. 

Using an EIFS assembly, according to Building Science “should be limited to hot-dry climates” if additional measures aren’t taken to install drainage and ventilation systems. 

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Better Building Envelope Solutions

Ever increasing building codes and the growing problem of cataclysmic weather occurrences mean that commercial architects and builders have to think beyond basic building protection

But great protection doesn’t necessarily require additional work: Fiber cement cladding offers modern builders and designers a solution for a weather-resilient, moisture-resistant exterior, without requiring additional steps (like EIFS) to properly ventilate or protect your commercial building. 

Today’s commercial siding options give designers plenty to choose from, but Nichiha makes that choice easier by providing a high-performing, highly durable, stylish exterior that will last for decades. 

To find a rep in your region, reach out on our website.  

Categories: Performance
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