CONSUMER FEATURE: Company suspended from trade body after cavity wall insulation job in Portsmouth that should never have been done

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When Hilsea pensioner Mary Byles and her neighbours had their homes’ cavity walls insulated by Petersfield Insulations Ltd, they thought they were on to a good thing.

But following an investigation by Streetwise, the company has been suspended from membership of the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA), the trade’s certification body.

Together with her neighbours, Mary claims she was cold-called by salesmen from the firm, who said their timber-framed homes were not adequately insulated.

But four years down the line, when one of them decided to put their home up for sale, they claimed the 25-year CIGA guarantee they were given was worthless.

Insulating their £220,000 homes had made them potentially unmortgageable.

The insulation work was not only unnecessary, but should never have been done.

As the name implies, timber frame buildings rely on an internal timber skeleton as a means of structural support.

During construction, moisture barriers are incorporated into the structure to prevent rainwater transferring to the insulated load-bearing wooden framework and rotting it.

A horrified Mary says that once the inappropriate work had come to light, they complained about it. The firm promptly removed all the wall insulation material from their homes.

But still angry about agreeing to what she called a sales pitch, the 73-year-old says she only agreed to give the firm the go-ahead after learning about the offer from her next-door neighbour.

‘I’ve since spoken to neighbours,’ she says, ‘and they told me their doors were knocked by the firm’s sales people who insisted their homes needed insulating.

‘One of them said they made a point of telling the smart-suited reps that their houses were timber-framed and already insulated. But despite that they carried on knocking. People should be warned not to sign up on the doorstep.’

Neighbour Sheila Bull claimed that she had been approached at the time by two salesmen who argued the toss with her, claiming they knew for a fact her home wasn’t insulated.

She says: ‘It was dreadful. They were very pushy and persuasive. They said our homes weren’t insulated but I said of course they were, they’d only recently been built, and I’ve never been in a warmer house.’

Another of Mary’s neighbours, who didn’t wish to be named, agreed he didn’t know insulation of timber-framed homes was not industry-approved or necessary.

He’d been doorknocked and given the same sales pitch by a salesman when work started next door to him. He claims that the salesman checked his roof insulation and said it was okay, but the walls required treating.

He says: ‘It wasn’t until the neighbour put his house up for sale that we knew something was wrong.

‘We didn’t have a clue. We just said “put it in”. The government has recommended all houses are insulated.’

Daily Telegraph writer and building construction expert Jeff Howell was concerned at how the inappropriate insulation treatment had slipped under all the regulation radar.

‘Cavity wall insulation often causes dampness problems, even in brick-and-block homes,’ he says. ‘In timber-frame buildings it’s an absolute disaster.

‘One of a timber-frame house’s selling points has always been how well insulated the buildings are. They don’t need any further insulation.’

CIGA is the independent body that issues 25-year guarantees on behalf of registered, approved installers.

The agency is responsible for policing and auditing installers who receive a fixed government taxpayer handout for every home they insulate under the green energy conservation scheme.

Streetwise asked the agency’s boss, Gerry Miller, how it was possible for Petersfield Insulations Ltd to trade under the CIGA banner, when it appeared it had flouted the industry’s certified technical and installer standards.

Mr Miller says: ‘Cavity wall insulation should not be fitted in homes built with timber frames. Guidance published by CIGA makes this crystal clear and we are now making sure the affected households have been repaired and are taking action against the installer.

‘The material has already been removed free of charge. CIGA will now arrange for our own inspectors to visit the properties to make sure the problem is completely rectified.

‘CIGA has immediately suspended the installing company and their procedures are currently being audited.

‘The audit has not identified any other homes affected, but CIGA will now review all properties serviced by the firm. Depending on the outcome of the audit, this may lead to further disciplinary action, including termination of its membership of CIGA.

‘CIGA has also written to all member companies to remind them of their responsibilities to follow the rules and ensure only buildings suitable for cavity wall insulation are treated. The vast majority of CIGA members operate according to best practice.’

He adds: ‘This demonstrates the seriousness we attach to installer competence and enforcement of the rules that are designed to protect householders.’

Mr Miller insists CIGA records did not indicate significant marketing problems, but members were required to adhere to a code of professional conduct.

Petersfield Insulations Ltd website displays the certification logos of the British Board of Agrement, Green Deal installer and Checkatrade.

Streetwise wanted to ask company director and proprietor Simon Gabriel why the industry’s mandatory pre-installation procedures had not been sufficiently rigorous and competent to pinpoint timber-framed constructions and as a consequence homes had been inappropriately insulated.

We made repeated e-mail and telephone requests for comment, but none of them were returned.

Portsmouth trading standards has regularly warned the public about the dangers of doorstep selling.

Trading standards manager Peter Emmett says: ‘I would advise anyone who is cold-called to not to agree to buy any goods or services without seeking proper advice first.’