The 78-year-old widow, who now lives in Fareham, was cold called by a spray foam insulation company in 2019 and persuaded to spend £4,800 under a ‘green contract’ scheme backed by the government to help reduce energy bills.
But just two years later she had to pay another £5,500 to have it removed when she finally learned she had been scammed and her £360,000 three-bedroom house was unsaleable.
Not in very good health, she only discovered the problem when she wanted to move to a two-bed bungalow after the death of her husband Arthur.
Susan found that banks and other lenders were unwilling to advance money to potential buyers for properties with wooden attics covered in foam insulation.
Spray foam insulation has been around for about 30 years and has become increasingly popular over the past decade. But surveyors warn that foam, which expands and dries solidly, can restrict airflow, causing framing to rot and putting stress on a building’s structure.
Fearing that homeowners could fall into the same trap of mis-selling, Susan wanted to warn others that the only way to sell their home was to pay thousands of pounds to have it removed.
“I know now that I was scammed by the sales model,” she said, “but the company that installed it went bankrupt and the job was not guaranteed” . I have found that so-called warranties do not invariably extend to damage caused by dishonest workmanship or questionable technology.
“I was told it was government approved, I would save over £500 a year and the more than adequate insulation in the fiberglass roof of my loft was a health hazard on about to be declared illegal.
“I confess that I was quite satisfied with my work at the time, but I had to endure endless worries and sleepless nights when potential buyers kept withdrawing from the sale because they could not obtain a mortgage following an assessment by a surveyor.
“I was devastated when an interested buyer showed me a survey report that put the value of my house at zero after pointing out that it had not been inspected before the spray treatment and that I had been badly advised.”
Jeff Howell, a construction writer and former university construction professor, told Streetwise that he’s been warning readers for many years that spraying foam insulation on the underside of roof slates or tiles is a recipe for a disaster.
He said: “Claims for the product are extensive old rot and can cause irreparable damage to wooden slats and rafters. This is a bad idea and against building regulations which require a 50 mm (two inch) ventilated air space between the insulation and the tiles or slates. If anyone believes the product has been mis-sold to them, they may wish to discuss this with their local trading standards office.
The use of spray foam insulation has also been strongly condemned by the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA) and the Property Care Association (PCA), as it could potentially render approximately 250,000 homes non-mortgage or ineligible for capital release.
They jointly convened a forum of industry stakeholders to examine the use and implication of household spray foam insulation products. She concluded that unless the experts have sufficient detailed information provided by the installers at the time of the inspection – including the condition of the roof and its flashing before and after insulation, the type of foam used and the quality of the attic ventilation, it was unlikely that a real estate professional would speculate on the potential risk.
In what amounted to a damning conclusion, they said they had “failed to identify the circumstances” where a roof with this insulation could receive a “clean bill of health” and the advice offered to its members was d take a very cautious approach recommending the removal of spray foam in almost all cases.
The government’s initial ‘green deal’ program waned in 2015 after adoption was abysmal, but spawned a significant number of dodgy companies seeking an opportunity to tap into the home energy retrofit market.
Few provisions were made to protect consumers from incompetent or fraudulent operators by requiring them to comply with strict measures to ensure they had procedures in place to provide sufficiently detailed records before and after installation. to satisfy the owner’s inspection by a surveyor.
A government grant scheme for ‘green homes’ quickly failed following criticism of bureaucratic application procedures and households getting cheaper financing through their bank. RPSA President Alan Milstein has said publicly that installers frequently prey on vulnerable older homeowners and point to certification and “quality” badges to convince people that spray foam will benefit their property.
He added: “Unfortunately, the exact opposite is the case. Homeowners may find their property difficult or impossible to sell as lenders will not offer mortgages or capital release funds and may end up having to spend thousands of pounds to replace their entire roof covering.
A Streetwise investigation of Companies House records found that a disproportionate number of spray foam insulation companies had sprung up to take advantage of the government’s green deal scheme.
But many had folded or been struck off for failing to produce accounts, then resorted to “phoenixing” – a term for a legal loophole allowing undercapitalized companies to dump their debts and get back to business in creating a replacement company using a name similar to the original one.
A spokesperson for Hampshire Trading Standards said: ‘We are aware of various scams targeting homeowners and advise people to always exercise caution when employing tradesmen to carry out repairs or improvements. Many scams involve tactics that should set off alarm bells, including cold calling, pressure to register quickly, and spurious claims about government grants. People can find reliable trading services approved and verified by Trading Standards using our Buy With Confidence program via www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk. Further advice and guidance is available from the Citizens’ Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133 or www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer.’
Questions and answers on the street
“We are planning to resume our family summer vacation in Spain and hire a car. The last time we were ripped off by a car hire company at Malaga airport, my credit card was charged £370 in unforeseen extra charges on our return home. Do you have any tips please to avoid getting scammed?
From what you told me, it was clear that you literally bought into all the initial hard sell patterns upon arrival and agreed to unnecessary additional “extras” like tax exemption enhancements collision damage.
So the first piece of advice is always to stick to your guns and insist that the car only conforms to the terms of the policy you originally agreed to. Even if you are told, for example, that the flight is not covered or that towing costs are not included, keep your cool and just say that you will pay for them separately if or when the need arises.
By far the biggest mistake people make is driving away without carefully checking the car for damage. Get out the mobile and photograph each panel, remembering to record every scratch and defect on the vehicle condition report that will become part of the deal.
Don’t forget to check that the windscreen has not been damaged by an impact, that the edges of the doors and exterior mirrors and even the wheel hubs are not scratched. Photograph them from all angles.
Finally, when your trip is over and you return the car, make sure the fuel tank is full and the interior is spotless. Have it signed by the rental company. Keep all rental documents when you get home and check your credit card statements regularly to make sure you haven’t been charged for any additional charges.
My wife’s sister just borrowed £15,000 for a replacement fitted kitchen. I tried to warn her against hiring cowboy kitchen fitters to do the job. Any advice is welcome.
My top tips for avoiding dishonest or incompetent traders are plain and simple. First, never employ someone based on a friend’s recommendation unless they are a skilled craftsman themselves.
Second, she only needs to ask two questions to avoid attracting a bunch of cowboys ready to rip her off. These are: “Do you want a deposit or all the money up front, and when can you start work?”
If the answer to the first question is yes, then she will know that they have no money and the temptation must be to pocket her $15,000 and her scarper.
If the answer to the second question is immediate, that will tell you that they have no work. With a monumental shortage of craftsmen, if they’re as good and skilled as they claim, they should have work going on for a few weeks. Tell him unequivocally that it’s better to wait a bit and get the job done right, than to end up with his blood boiling and a nightmare in the kitchen.