I bought cavity wall insulation, so why is my house damp?

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I bought cavity wall insulation, so why is my house damp?

This week our troubleshooter investigates whether cavity wall treatment can cause problems with condensation and damp

Driven up the wall: Dianna Goodwin at home in Milford on Sea, where she has had problems with insulation

Q: I have read your recent advice about cavity wall insulation (CWI) with great interest. I had it installed three years ago. I am now experiencing all the problems people have written to you about – damp internal walls, staining, condensation and black mould. I phoned the installers three times, and they never returned my calls, so I contacted CIGA (Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency).

CIGA says the dampness in my house has nothing to do with the cavity insulation. They say it is due to poor pointing, damage to areas of timber panelling and the lack of a “weather seal” under a first-floor balcony door. The condensation and mould growth are apparently due to a lack of ventilation, “and entirely a product of the home environment”.

It looks as if I will have to pay someone else to remove the insulation. Any help would be much appreciated.

Diana Goodwin, Milford on Sea

A: After you contacted CIGA, the installers finally visited your house, identified some areas where insulation was missing, and suggested it be “re-blown” (which is bad practice). They said the condensation was caused by poor ventilation, and by your furniture being too close to the walls.

You questioned this diagnosis, and the insulation manufacturers also inspected, drilled a hole and used a boroscope to look inside the cavity. In one area the cavity was blocked with debris, and they also noted various areas of voids. They also said the black mould was caused by furniture close to the walls.

You disputed these findings, and CIGA eventually sent an inspector. You say he carried out a survey purely by looking at the property. He did not drill holes or use a boroscope, nor remove any bricks to check for wet insulation or debris in the cavity. CIGA’s written report stated that there was no evidence that the CWI had “caused or contributed to any issues with water penetration”.

The responses you have received from the industry are fairly typical. First of all they ignored you, in the hope that you would go away. Then they told you that your dampness is caused by defects in your property and “lifestyle condensation”. Your protestations that the house did not have any dampness issues until the cavities were filled have been ignored.

Your house is on a headland just 500 metres from the English Channel, in Exposure Zone 4 (the highest category). You tell me it is often hit by severe wind-driven rain. In any case, the pre-installation survey should have spotted existing defects such as damaged pointing or debris in the cavity. These alone should have ruled out cavity insulation for this property.

Since I became involved with this matter in July, things have taken some interesting turns. Not least is the fact that you were copied in on an email from CIGA’s Technical Manager, John Campbell, to his CEO. In it, he referred to your complaint, saying, “She has far too much time on her hands and nothing better to do.”

I called John Campbell for an explanation, but he refused to answer my questions. He referred me to CIGA’s CEO, Gerry Miller, who apologised for Mr Campbell’s remarks and told me he has now been sent on a “customer care course”. He also said to me, “Which of us hasn’t ever copied an email to the wrong person?”

This is quite extraordinary. The problem is not that the email was copied to you in error – the problem is that it was written at all. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if this attitude to a customer’s legitimate concerns might be a mindset within the organisation. Perhaps it contributes to CIGA’s repeated claims that only a tiny proportion of the dampness complaints it investigates are due to CWI.

Miller also said that, in his view, your dampness problems were caused by last winter’s unusually heavy rain. Cavity insulation suppliers and installers continue to insist that CWI is water-repellent and cannot allow rainwater to cross cavities – although I notice that the Government’s Energy Saving Trust now states on its website that homes are only suitable for cavity insulation if the walls are not exposed to driving rain.

CIGA now appears to have had a change of heart, and has paid you £7,270 to have the CWI removed and the damage repaired, albeit “without prejudice or admission of liability”.

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The cavity-wall crisis lands on the doorstep

The alarming saga of wrongly fitted cavity wall insulation has taken a worrying turn

Cold calling: don’t be taken in by salesmen offering to take out CWI

I was interested to read your column on February 14 about cavity wall insulation (CWI). I had CWI installed last summer, after a salesman called and told us about the “Government-backed” scheme, and how this would save us money and stop any damp issues. As it appeared to be Government-approved, and would not cost us any money, and was supported by a 25-year guarantee, it seemed like a good idea.

However, three weeks ago, I had a visit from another salesman, from a company called Cavity Claim UK Ltd (which he said was part of Slater & Gordon Solicitors). He told me that the installer who insulated my property, and others in the area, did not do the job properly. He said that his own company works in conjunction with a firm of solicitors who will sue the initial installer. Cavity Claim UK would “redo” the CWI.

He said they are backed by the Government, and even if the original installer were to go bust, he told me they would get the money to redo the work. He wants me to sign a “Deed of Assignment” which I am concerned about doing. It could be that this is a bona fide company, but where did they get the information that I have had the CWI done? It all sounds rather like a coincidence. Have you heard of this company?
TL, Lancashire

Cavity Claim UK Ltd is not part of Slater & Gordon Solicitors, although I can see why you might have thought it was. The Deed of Assignment document you have sent me is emblazoned on every page with a prominent watermark stating “Cavity Claim UK Ltd: Pannone: Part of Slater & Gordon”.

The first thing you knew about this was when your tenants called you to say that the salesman had knocked at the door and they had let him in, and he now wanted you to sign this deed, authorising Cavity Claim UK Ltd to pursue a legal claim against the original CWI company, to extract the insulation and repair the damage it had caused.

It seems that the salesman from Cavity Claim UK Ltd had looked at your property from the outside, and told you it had no damp-proof course, frost-damaged brickwork, poor-quality pointing, and windblown sand up to one-metre high in the cavities. He said all this meant that the house should never have had CWI installed.

My first inquiry was to Pannone Solicitors in Manchester (recently taken over by the nationwide Slater & Gordon), whose name appears prominently on the Deed of Assignment, and also on the Facebook and Twitter pages of Cavity Claim UK Ltd. The solicitor I spoke to said, “They are my client. I’ll speak to my client and give you a call back.” He never did.

So I called the Slater & Gordon head office in London, who told me: “Cavity Claim UK Ltd (CCL) is a client of the Pannone part of our business in Manchester and they have instructed us in respect of legal claims relating to defective cavity insulation work under an assignment arrangement. It has been suggested CCL acquire potential claims referred to us through cold calling at properties. Slater & Gordon strongly denigrates cold calling as a practice and will never knowingly accept instructions arising from such activities nor encourage such practice. We are advising them that the Deed of Assignment needs to be revised and are helping them to revise it.

“We would urge anyone that has been contacted by Cavity Claim UK Ltd and who has concerns about any arrangements they have entered into and which refer to ourselves being involved, to contact us direct on 0800 884 0021.”

A spokesman for CCL told me, “Nobody from Cavity Claim UK Ltd ever solicits work by knocking on doors.”

This is an extraordinary development in the mis-selling of retrofit cavity wall insulation, which continues to be both supported by the Government, and pushed on unsuspecting consumers by the energy companies and the green lobby. Apart from CCL, there are now dozens of other “claims management” firms offering to get cavity wall insulation extracted, on a “no win, no fee” basis.

So it seems that you can now be cold-called or doorstepped one week by a firm offering to insulate your cavity walls for free, and then cold-called or doorstepped the following week by a different firm offering to take it out again.

This is madness. The outgoing Government needs to act now and impose a moratorium on any more CWI being installed, until Amber Rudd (Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) has fulfilled her pledge to review the workings of this uncontrolled industry.

If you have concerns about your CWI, visit the cavity wall insulation website.