Botched cavity wall insulation ruining homes by causing damp and mould

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Getting Britain’s homes insulated is the cornerstone of the Government’s green energy policy and an obsession for road-blocking eco-protesters.

But the scale of damp-related problems linked to cavity wall insulation is so serious that an MP is calling for an independent inquiry to improve protection for householders.

One expert has estimated that up to two million homes may have problems as a result of insulation being pumped into the cavity between outside and inside walls.

The scale of damp-related problems linked to cavity wall insulation is so serious that an MP is calling for an independent inquiry to improve protection for householders

The scale of damp-related problems linked to cavity wall insulation is so serious that an MP is calling for an independent inquiry to improve protection for householders

In some extreme cases, the resulting problems of damp and mould inside the house have rendered properties worthless and unsellable.

Critics claim victims of botched installations have been ignored and nothing has been done to establish the true number affected by the problems, often caused by incompetent or unsuitable installations.

Fixing cavity wall insulation disasters can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

Over the past 35 years, about eight million homes in the UK have been retrofitted with wall insulation to improve energy efficiency. More than six million of these were done under the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA) scheme, providing a 25-year guarantee for the work.

Although properly installing suitable wall insulation in an appropriate property does reduce heat loss, thousands have blamed insulating wall cavities for triggering mould and damp inside.

More than 34,000 people have tried to claim for corrective work under the CIGA scheme, with only a small percentage accepted as ‘justified’.

Rejected claims are usually blamed on the lifestyle of residents or poor property maintenance, rather than on the negligence of installers.

Chris Elmore, Labour MP for Ogmore in South Wales, says action needs to be taken to help householders.

It cost me £4,500 to rebuild my sodden walls 

As a heating engineer with renovation experience, Claire Hillyar thought she could handle any problems with her new three-bedroom terrace.

She renovated her £150,000 home in Portsmouth from top to bottom.

The previous owner had taken advantage of green energy grants to have cavity wall insulation installed in 2009.

It was only after Claire suffered sinus problems in 2018 that she discovered there was a serious damp issue linked to the insulation work. 

Claire Hillyar discovered a serious damp issue in her end-of-terrace home linked to cavity wall insulation the property's former owner had installed

Claire Hillyar discovered a serious damp issue in her end-of-terrace home linked to cavity wall insulation the property’s former owner had installed

Damp patches on the living room wall were linked to her ‘systemic fungal infection’.

The property was covered by the CIGA guarantee and an inspector accepted that there was damp caused by the cavity wall insulation, which had to be removed.

‘I was told it shouldn’t have been done on this property,’ Claire says. The front, gable end and top floor of the back of her home were all affected.

Sub-contractors removed the insulation — but Claire says that by ‘blasting’ it out with high-pressure air, they caused more damage to the building and it has cost her £4,500 to rebuild the walls.

Mr Elmore adds: ‘I have long called for fundamental reforms to be undertaken by the Government… to ensure that people have the protection they expect and deserve. 

The Government must initiate an independent inquiry into the way cavity wall insulation complaints have been handled, to determine the scale of the problem and find resolution for people affected.’

Problems arise when rain penetrates the outer wall and the insulation material can transfer water across the cavity to the interior. 

Debris can also enable the cavity to be bridged, while gaps in the insulation create cold spots with increased condensation inside. The result is mould, damp and damage to internal walls.

Over the years, governments have failed to set up a register or conduct surveys to accurately establish the number of homes with problems linked to cavity wall insulation.

But a leading industry expert who has advised the Government has estimated that 20 per cent to 25 per cent of retrofitted homes — up to two million in total — could have problems of some sort. Other estimates within the industry have put the figure at three million.

Experts say that only homes not overexposed to the elements and with exterior walls in good condition, with a proper damp-proof course, should be considered suitable for this work, and ideally a survey should be carried out first.

But with government green energy grants fuelling demand, cowboy installers have carried out work on numerous unsuitable properties. The result has been the birth of a new industry of tradesmen paid to extract insulation from inside walls.

But the scale of damp-related problems linked to cavity wall insulation is so serious that an MP is calling for an independent inquiry to improve protection for householders.

But the scale of damp-related problems linked to cavity wall insulation is so serious that an MP is calling for an independent inquiry to improve protection for householders.

Damian Mercer runs a Lancashire-based company with eight staff that specialises in extracting botched cavity wall insulation — and he’s busier than ever.

He says ‘standard’ jobs cost about £3,500 but it can cost £65,000 to remove some insulation that solidifies, as the outer wall needs to be dismantled.

He says: ‘Installers are not policed and have never been policed. When an installer goes on site, he has to do a due diligence check. 

They drill holes in the wall, look at the condition of the building and check the cavity and if there is rubble inside. They should walk away if there is a problem.

‘But they are paid by the square metre — and if they fill it and get paid, and five years later damp manifests itself, they will say: “It’s nothing to do with us”.’

Mr Mercer says many of his customers have had applications to CIGA for work to correct damp-related problems rejected on spurious grounds.

He says: ‘Drying too much washing on the line, too many boiled potatoes and steam from cooking going into the cavity are all excuses CIGA have told customers. It’s laughable. They blame the lifestyle of residents rather than failings by the installer.’

Mr Mercer says green energy grants for social housing have made the problem worse, as residents often don’t have the funds to maintain properties in good condition to avoid rainwater infiltrating walls. 

Damp issues started with my green grant 

For 14 years, Joan Rose had no damp-related problems in her suburban terrace home in Bury, Greater Manchester.

When she qualified for a government grant to boost its energy efficiency, she had a new boiler, plus loft and cavity-wall insulation installed.

But the work, carried out by sub-contractors via her energy company, Npower, in 2013, triggered an eight-year nightmare.

Miss Rose, 62, a carer, says: ‘Within a month, I noticed a mark on the wall.’

Then ‘more and more patches’ appeared on the wall at the back of her house. Before long, there were also patches near the windows at the front of the house, and the plaster had ‘started to peel away’.

The contractors, Tameside Energy Services, blamed a problem with a bathroom waste pipe, which Miss Rose says was ‘nonsense’. But her complaints fell on deaf ears and Tameside later went into liquidation.

The work was meant to be guaranteed for 25 years by CIGA, but Miss Rose never received the certificate to prove it.

She says she can’t afford the thousands of pounds required to fix the problem, which she says is now ‘horrendous’.

Pauline Saunders set up the campaign group Cavity Insulation Victims’ Alliance (Civalli) after suffering damp inside her home in Newport, South Wales.

Five neighbours had the same issue with damp, and she discovered that exposure to rainfall meant the properties were unsuitable for the work.

She says the Government’s green energy drive could make the problems worse.

‘What concerns us is that the Government is under pressure to cut carbon emissions and they are pushing this like crazy,’ she says.

‘There will be a lot of cowboys jumping on the bandwagon to do the work.’

SHE adds: ‘People need to do their research first because we know the Government is turning a blind eye to the problem, as it doesn’t fit in with their message.’

If repairs are not carried out under the guarantee scheme, or the original installer goes out of business, the householder can be left with a home that can’t be sold or is unmortgageable because of the repair work needed.

Those who have opted to take legal action find themselves running up legal bills to add to their financial woes.

Security manager Gavin Ward, 43, was forced to leave his family home in Bridgend, Wales, for four years and moved into rented accommodation after it was deemed ‘uninhabitable’ by the council because of damp, mould and unsafe electrics.

His insulation was fitted in 2011 by a company called Miller Pattison, which should never have gone ahead with the work because there was too much debris inside the wall cavity.

Mr Ward said: ‘Having not assessed the house correctly, they ploughed ahead and did the insulation install. They then installed it negligently.’

He didn’t notice a damp problem until 2016 — and by the time the full damage had been revealed, the cost of extracting the insulation and repairing the damage was put at £63,000.

He was still in dispute with Miller Pattison when it went into voluntary administration in 2019.

Eventually, Mr Ward cut his losses for the sake of his family’s health and managed to sell his house for £120,000 — about £60,000 less than it would have fetched in good condition.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy says: ‘Good home insulation plays a vital part in reducing carbon emissions and keeping energy costs down, which is why we are ensuring that all work completed under government schemes is done to the highest industry standards.

‘To protect customers, installations under government schemes must be carried out by a TrustMark registered installer, which offers a 25-year guarantee and is certified to the highest industry standards.’

CIGA refused to comment.

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