Breathing New Life

April 8, 2002
EIFS Revives a 91-year-old Office Building
For some 74 years, the Helix Building on the western edge of downtown Chicago was a readily distinguishable landmark with its red, all-brick façade.Then, in 1984, Helix Camera and Video, an audio-visual products retailer, purchased the eight-story structure and initiated a major renovation of the building’s exterior. The new owners sought to help revitalize the deteriorating neighborhood and make the building more inviting to its existing tenants, which, in addition to Helix Camera and Video, include a blood bank, a gymnasium, a maritime museum, an insurance company, a print shop, a drapery company, and a packaged salad manufacturer.R.G. Construction, a local plastering contractor, was hired to apply some 43,700 square feet of a mauve-colored exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS) over the existing brick façade. EIFS, which resembles stucco but offers more design flexibility, was selected solely on the basis of its aesthetic qualities, according to Aaron Garcia, the Helix Building facility manager.Now, 17 years later, Garcia acknowledges that the re-siding effort was a prudent, cost-effective move. “Except for some wind-related wear at the very top of the building, the EIFS has given us terrific service,” he explains. “We probably spend less than $1,000 a year for maintenance – mainly for caulking around windows and other potential moisture entry points.”Every year, a licensed architect inspects the exterior façade, as required by the Chicago building code. Every five years, the exterior undergoes a more detailed inspection, during which an architect actually cuts through a piece of the wall in search of moisture damage. To date, the wall envelope has always been found to be problem free.“It’s remarkable how well the EIFS has held up over the years, given the climate extremes we experience in this part of the country,” notes Garcia.  “We haven’t had to paint the wall surface even once over the past 17 years. It still looks as good as on the day it was installed.”Exterior insulation and finish systems are multi-layered exterior wall systems that are used on both commercial buildings and homes. They provide superior energy efficiency and offer extensive design flexibility.Developed in Europe in the 1950s, EIFS were introduced in the United States almost 30 years ago. They were first used on commercial buildings and, later, on homes. Today, EIFS account for 17 percent of the U.S. commercial exterior wall market (3.5 percent of residential). Growth is strong in both sectors.EIF systems typically consist of the following components:• Insulation board, made of polystyrene or polyisocyanurate foam, which is secured to the exterior wall surface with a specially formulated adhesive and/or mechanical attachment.• A durable, water-resistant base coat, which is applied on top of the insulation and reinforced with fiber glass mesh for added strength.• An attractive and durable finish coat – typically using acrylic co-polymer technology – which is both colorfast and crack-resistant.EIFS literally wraps an exterior in an energy-efficient thermal blanket. By insulating outside the structure, EIFS reduces air infiltration, stabilizes the interior environment, and reduces energy consumption. 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, and special moldings are a few examples.

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