Last week, most TV sets were tuned in to see the facade of a Las Vegas hotel, the Monte Carlo, engulfed in flames. I'm no expert in fire safety but I know what was going through my head, watching in real time: this fire is moving FAST and whatever is on the top of that building looks to be fueling it.
In the hours and days that followed, one term was repeated over and over: EIFS.
Instead of demonizing an easy target, I'm glad that I've had the chance to speak with several folks fluent in EIFS details, including some industry representatives. Keep reading after the jump and I'll share a couple of things I've learned.
What the hell is EIFS you ask?
EIFS stands for Exterior Insulation Finishing System and is a fairly common 'cladding system', at first used mostly on commercial buildings but now also used in single family homes as well.
Some have asked what the fire rating of materials like those that would be on the Monte Carlo would be - the response I've gotten is that the fire rating applies to the entire wall assembly, not just the EIFS portions and that the materials neither add to nor take away from the fire resistance of said assembly. From what I'm told, most commercial building materials have fire ratings of about an hour.
We've heard that Monte Carlo was built under the former set of code guidelines and Clark County officials have even speculated that some *other* buildings might need to be re-clad as a result of this fire's data. I've read that we're talking about maybe half a dozen structures, though they haven't been identified. I could probably guess they include The Mirage, Treasure Island, Excalibur, and perhaps others. If anyone has more information on this, chime in.
Lastly, I asked these EIFS experts to speculate based purely on what they saw on TV. Of course, an official report will have in-depth findings but this is interesting for discussion if nothing else.
It seems that the construction of 3D embellishments that include EIFS materials, common as architectural flair, are very difficult if not impossible to fireproof in the same manner that you would for a simple shaped wall panel. There's an after-market for products that fill this fire-proofing void but it seems that many in the EIFS field don't endorse these techniques. Some of the coatings used to finish these components can be flammable and it is possible we're seeing something along those lines here.
From what I can tell, EIFS is very widely used all over the Western World and I've heard from more than one person that it simply doesn't burn like that in tests - the EIFS folks seem convinced that what was up there was not EIFS in the purest sense. I await the official report.
I'm hoping that those with construction experience and knowledge will chime in here in the comments and help color this info a bit.