Infocus: Exteriors

March 11, 2002
The ‘who, What, When, and Where’ of Brick, Metal, and Eifs

By Jana J. Madsen
Never judge a book by its cover. Despite the resounding truth behind this cliché, perceptions and ideas about commercial buildings often start with first impressions – a facility’s exterior. Options are many and varied – masonry, metal, exterior insulation and finish systems. Which one is best? What are the benefits to each? And where do you go for the information you need? Buildings surveyed these three exterior options and found a few associations poised to address even the toughest questions.

Timeless Brick
While the number of brick-producing plants has dramatically decreased from numbers in the thousands to numbers in the hundreds, brick is still a popular choice for building exteriors. Although primarily used in residential construction, 25 percent of all brick is used in/on commercial properties. John Grgurich, publications and web editor for Reston, VA-based Brick Industry Association cites overwhelming interest in brick facing from the educational market.

“It’s timeless. It’s always in style, and yet it is flexible,” he explains. The flexibility Grgurich refers to – new face brick colors and textures – has made the age-old material a viable option for all architectural styles, from neoclassical to modern.

According to the Brick Association of the Carolinas (BAC), the utility brick wall is a desirable exterior finishing option because it is quick and easy to install, is a load-bearing system, offers exceptional insulating capabilities, and is economical when compared to other options. To review a cost comparison of wall systems, visit (, a website sponsored by both BAC and the Southern Brick Institute.

The Brick Industry Association (BIA) provides a wealth of data, including Technical Notes and answers to frequently asked questions, on its website ( as well. The site also addresses codes and building standards, such as ASTM C 67, a method to test for efflorescence.

The Metal Buildings Market

Fast Track to Metal

Although most often associated with industrial facilities, retail, healthcare, and hospitality markets The Metal Buildings Market

(see Figure 1) are taking notice of the benefits metal buildings offer. “We’re seeing the institutional sector taking advantage of these systems – increasing tremendously in the last 10 years,” explains Joel R. Voelkert, chairman of Cleveland-based Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA).

Due to the extremely durable nature of these buildings, they offer a sustainable option for new, low-rise construction projects. According to the MBMA, other benefits include:

• A vast array of sizes, shapes, and forms.

• Shorter construction time (metal buildings can take up to one-third less time to construct).

• The ability to custom-engineer the building to meet the needs of a building owner, occupants, and business needs.

• The use of precast concrete, brick, stone, wood, glass, as well as other finishes, can be used as exterior wall treatments.

“Misconceptions are that they are metal roofs, metal walls, rectangular, and look like garages – that they are not aesthetically pleasing,” says Voelkert. Now indistinguishable from other types of buildings, metal buildings’ rise in popularity is largely due to the thousands of exterior finish treatments available and the ability to provide innovative architectural designs – including curves and turns.

For more information about the possibilities available through metal building systems, access the MBMA website (

Flexible, Affordable EIFS
Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS) were developed in Europe 50 years ago, and have in the last three decades become a more popular option for both commercial and residential facilities in the United States. According to the EIFS Industry Member Association (EIMA), Morrow, GA, EIFS comprise 17 percent of the U.S. commercial exterior wall market.

Because EIFS provide superior exterior insulation through a layered design, the system provides energy-efficiency benefits. EIFS are composed of fiber glass mesh on top of insulation board that is secured to the exterior wall, over which a water-resistant base coat is applied, with a durable finish coat as the outermost layer (see Figure 2). EIMA reports that, compared to standard brick or wood construction, these unique systems can reduce the amount of air infiltration by up to 55 percent. Additional conditioning of interior spaces is often the result of air infiltration, and causes unnecessary increases in facility energy costs.

Despite the resemblance to stone and stucco, EIFS offer added design flexibility – an attribute that combines aesthetics with the systems’ more practical characteristics. Once installed, EIFS rarely need to be painted, are very resistant to mold and mildew, and unlikely to crack. To ensure a successful installation, EIMA recommends that only trained professionals apply the system. For more information on EIFS or EIMA, visit (

Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]) is senior associate editor at Buildings magazine.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Building Better Schools

Download this digital resource to better understand the challenges and opportunities in designing and operating educational facilities for safety, sustainability, and performance...

Tips to Keep Facility Management on Track

How do you plan to fill the knowledge gap as seasoned facility managers retire or leave for new opportunities? Learn about the latest strategies including FM tech innovations ...

The Beauty & Benefits of Biophilic Design in the Built Environment

Biophilic design is a hot trend in design, but what is it and how can building professionals incorporate these strategies for the benefits of occupants? This eHandbook offers ...

The Benefits of Migrating from Analog to DMR Two-Way Radios

Are you still using analog two-way radios? Download this white paper and discover the simple and cost-effective migration path to digital DMR radios that deliver improved audio...