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Tackling poor practice in wall insulation

•  Concerns over cavity wall insulation
•  Better consumer protection needed
•  CWI can work well, if appropriately installed

Since 1996, 6million homes in the UK have had cavity walls insulated – but there are growing concerns that cavity wall insulation can cause problems.

Yesterday, Welsh MP Hywel Williams led a debate in the House of Commons highlighting the unintended consequences of poor or inappropriate cavity wall installations, which he has previously described as a “scandal”.

A revealing report from Wales

There is no point in hiding from such issues, or covering up poor practice. A study of homes in Wales from last year started from that point of view, to document some of the issues faced in homes where cavity wall insulation has been installed. 

The initial call-out for the work brought forward a sample of properties in the social rented and private sector across Wales, and subsequent investigations found that in many cases, best practice in installation hadn’t been followed, or necessary maintenance not taken place prior to installation. 

Documenting the bad and the ugly

The study underlined that the consequences of not doing things by the book can be serious. Properties the researchers were made aware of had issues like damp, mould and water penetration. Some shouldn’t have had insulation installed in the first place. 

While it’s never great to find bad work going on, evidence of such practice needs to be properly documented in order to improve things. Reducing the incidence of such issues is what the study was all about, and a good response from housing providers looking to do just that is a positive sign. 

”Our view is that cavity wall insulation works, and works well. But it needs to be carefully installed and different types of home benefit from different types of insulation material. For some homes, cavity wall insulation isn’t right at all. Too often in the past, insulation hasn’t been well fitted, so this clearly needs to change.” David Weatherall, Head of Policy, Energy Saving Trust

David Weatherall, Head of PolicyEnergy Saving Trust’s Head of Policy, David Weatherall (pictured), points out that before planning cavity wall insulation, installers should be thinking about issues such as the condition the existing walls are in, and the exposure of external walls to wind-driven rain.

And once insulation has been fitted, it's important that installers explain to residents how to keep their improved home well ventilated. 

The Trust’s advice, such as the cavity wall insulation commonly asked questions, is aided by research work like this, digging into what happens when best practice isn’t followed. 

The advice includes information from how to find out if your walls are already filled, the warning signs that it might not be suitable for where you live, to consumer rights and company responsibilities if the works don’t go according to plan.

It’s important to learn from the kind of mistakes that were documented in Wales – and there’s plenty of signs this is happening. The Energise Wales programme has shown that the supply chain has already started to turn things around, and is demonstrating best practice. 

 

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Longer-term support needed

While David acknowledges horror stories exist, and Trading Standards have been chasing companies in Wales about poor practice, he thinks that the many experienced, quality installers could be doing more to promote what good work looks like.

He said: “One of the best ways to support consumers is to go back and check on how installations are performing, maybe six months or even a year down the line. Those companies that have been in the industry longer-term should work to build long-term case studies, to highlight the quality of workmanship over time. Ultimately, this could only be a good thing for them, in terms of getting more business.”

The road to better protection

Research like this can never stand on its own – so it’s crucial that action is taken on the back of it. Suggestions include reviewing surveying and installation standards, producing a concise guide to combat basic errors, and collecting more data to get a more representative sample of the prevalence of these issues. 

Thermal heat sensor of a homeThe findings have already gone beyond Wales, contributing to the UK-wide Bonfield Review of energy efficiency advice and consumer protection. 

David explained: “Before this report there was some awareness of issues around external wall insulation, but less around cavity walls. The Review was supportive of the findings, but now the real thinking is about how schemes and funding for these types of insulation are set up, and how they protect consumers. 

“There has got to be full documentation of a building’s before and after state, so people’s claims about the quality of workmanship are unambiguous. Up to now, a very small percentage of consumer claims have been addressed. There needs to be a big improvement on that.”

With this in mind, the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA) has appointed a Consumer Champion, and accepted all their recommendations after a review of how complaints are handled. Described as ‘uncomfortable’ and revealing that ‘customer service standards were not up to scratch’, it aims to make more transparent the standards that companies need to meet, and introduces independent resolution of disputes. CIGA also have a contact form to report bad practice.

With Wales’ Arbed and Nest schemes up for renewal shortly, and changes to the UK Government’s ECO scheme also set to come into force soon, installation issues must not be ignored if the confidence of householders and housing providers is to be maintained. 

Energise Wales' best practice cavity and external wall insulation presentations are available via email

Learn more about home energy efficiency and insulation. Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or tweet @EnergySvgTrust.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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Would you consider the consequences to be unintended if installed by torch light? Don't soften the blow.

What about those of us who are still waiting for adequate remedial measures after liability by CIGA has been admitted? I had a pre survey on my property and a representative from the installer called twelve months after the installation and asked me to sign a form that everything had improved. I did not notice any improvements and there were no damp patches at that time. They started to appear 2/3 years after the installation and I had no idea that they were related to an inadequate and incorrect installation of CWI in my home in 2007.
Last week, I found that my chimney breast had pre existing issues that have, with the additional moisture created by CWI, formed hydrochloric acid which is eating away at the mortar in the brickwork of my west facing gable end. West facing walls are more exposed to wind driven rain, as I am sure you know.
I am in despair. CIGA's contractor advised dry lining my walls, which is not appropriate for this level of damage. John Campbell and Nigel Donohue are in the process of deciding how much of the damage is "directly" related to CWI and may look for evidence of a lack of maintenance to limit the actual scope of the remedial work that is required. Devasted!