EIFS Fire Safety
As energy conservation awareness continues to increase, there will also be a continued desire to build walls with high performance insulation systems. This is desirable, and performance should not be sacrificed for fire safety concerns. All assembles must be tested in accordance with current fire testing requirements. When it comes to performance, EIFS is hard to beat. It is a high-performance assembly that features outstanding insulation performance with endless aesthetic options. It has also been successfully tested concerning fire and environmental performance.
For communities in the United States, Chapter 14 of the International Building Code (IBC) provides guidelines for the use of combustible materials on the exterior side of exterior walls. However, the best codes and standards are only paper unless they are adopted, understood, and enforced fire codes and testing for cladding materials have evolved over the years. EIFS and EIFS with Drainage that utilize foam plastic as the insulation are considered combustible assemblies and therefore, must be tested in accordance with Chapter 26 of the IBC in order to be used on buildings of any height.
All EIMA EIFS manufacturers have passed fire resistance, ignitability, intermediate multi-story, and flame spread tests; meeting the standards set forth with each test. These tests include:
North American Modern Building Alliance (NAMBA)
The North American Modern Building Alliance (NAMBA) is a group with a mission to promote responsible fire-safety policies that support the use of the many building and construction products that are made from or incorporate plastic materials. The EIFS Industry Members Association (EIMA) is an Executive Member and also participates on the Fire Performance Technical Committee. NAMBA is dedicated to coordinating and leading advocacy, communications, education, research and project management on combustibility issues and the safe fire performance of plastic materials when used in or as part of building enclosures.
Grenfell Tower Fire, London, England
The tragic events of June 14 at the Grenfell Tower are subject to an ongoing investigation, that might very well result in new fire testing and codes for London. As investigators and other building experts continue to analyze next steps, others have taken advantage of this tragic event by including it as the opening for articles about other materials and systems.
One thing that we do know, is that the building envelope used on the Grenfell Tower was not EIFS. Well exterior insulation was a component, the building system was a far cry from an exterior insulation and finish system. In an EIF System, the EPS foam is protected from direct flame impingement by the lamina coating. This reduces the potential for open flaming of the EPS and assists in providing the EIF System with its excellent performance.
As some authors and individuals use this tragic event as an avenue to attack other building materials, we believe it’s best to continue researching and using those that have passed the most stringent fire tests.
Monte Carlo Hotel Fire, Las Vegas, NV
EIMA has faced several questions related to the fire safety of EIFS in the wake of an exterior fire that occurred at the Monte Carlo hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 25, 2008. The investigation into the Monte Carlo fire concluded that the building’s decorative materials, not EIFS, were the primary mode of lateral flame propagation. The fire began from welding that occurred along the roof’s wall resulting in a lateral progression of flame over the decorative materials. The downward spreading was a result of melting material falling to horizontal ledges on the 29th floor, which included a decorative band with expanded polystyrene (EPS) and a non-EIFS coating. While the EIF system was eventually involved, the official findings concluded that neither the decorative materials nor the EIF system met the required code and the manufacturers application instructions. According to the report completed by the Clark County Department of Development Services and Hughes Associates, it was concluded that the EIFS in the area of the fire had non-complying lamina thickness of approximately 28-69% less than recommended by EIFS manufacturer. EIFS is a system and works as such. Like any material, building to code is a key piece of the future health and safety of the structure.
Additional notes from the file report:
The United States is doing a good job in promoting and protecting fire safety initiatives, but individuals should remain mindful of potential changes to codes and standards. While some recent high-profile fires in other countries would not meet the stringent fire testing our building codes have in place – EIFS and others do.
The Monte Carlo Exterior Façade Fire By Jesse J. Beitel, Hughes Associates, Inc. (Jensen Hughes) and Douglas H. Evans, P.E., FSFPE
North American Modern Building Alliance (NAMBA) Website