If unsuitable or defective cavity wall insulation has resulted in dampness and mould growth in your property, you may be entitled to bring a cavity wall insulation claim – not only to rectify the problem, but also for compensation for any associated damage to your property or health.
What is cavity wall insulation?
A cavity wall is made up of two separate layers of wall, typically built of brick and held together by metal wall ties, with a gap or cavity in between. The purpose of the cavity is to help prevent rainwater from penetrating through the exterior wall to the inside of the property. However, unfilled cavities can allow heat to escape.
Cavity wall insulation is the process of filling the cavity between the inner and outer wall with an insulating material such as polystyrene beads, foam or mineral wool. This material is designed to immobilise the air within the cavity, trapping the heat and preventing warmth from escaping.
Cavity wall insulation, when suitably and correctly installed, ought to lead to a considerable saving in energy bills.
What causes cavity wall insulation to fail?
There are a number of reasons why cavity wall insulation can fail. This includes unsuitability for installation, poor workmanship or the use of inappropriate materials:
- unsuitability – prior to installation a survey ought to have been carried out to see if the walls of your property were suitable for cavity wall insulation. It may subsequently transpire that your property was not suitable for cavity wall insulation, for example, where the cavity was too small or the exterior wall was exposed to wind-driven rain and ground water.
- poor workmanship – problems may also arise where the insulating material is not evenly distributed on installation, for example, due to irregular or incomplete drilling patterns in the walls. Any uneven distribution can create air pockets within the cavity, resulting in cold areas and associated dampness and mould growth.
- inappropriate materials – commonly, the use of mineral wool – a product comprising of loose fibres that are blown into pre-drilled holes in the outer walls – is a cause of failing cavity wall insulation. These fibres can allow water to track across into the inner wall or create a bridge that causes the cavity to become saturated.
If left unchecked, the persistent presence of moisture may lead to corrosion of the metal wall ties. These are vital for the structural integrity of a building. In very severe cases any failings in wall ties can lead to subsidence or buckling walls.
Who is my cavity wall insulation claim against?
In recent years hundreds of thousands of properties in the UK have been retrofitted with cavity wall insulation following a government-funded scheme offered by energy suppliers. That said, the installation of cavity wall installation was neither controlled nor overseen by the government itself. As such, when things go wrong there is often confusion over whom to approach for compensation and repair.
In practice, any cavity wall insulation claim will be against the company that carried out the work. In circumstances where the company is no longer trading, you may still have a viable claim as against their insurers, albeit only if the company held valid indemnity insurance at the relevant time.
How will I know if I have a cavity wall insulation claim?
If you have had cavity wall insulation installed, common signs of an unsuitable or defective installation will include:
- an unpleasant damp odour
- damp interior walls
- condensation on windows and other cold surfaces
- patches of black mould, mildew and fungus growth
- damage to decoration and interior furnishings
- rotting skirting or other wood work
- subsidence and buckling walls.
Often, however, signs of damp are unlikely to show up in the first few weeks, months or even years following installation. If you have had cavity wall insulation recently installed, whilst there may be no visible signs of damp and mould, the lack of any obvious reduction in your heating bill can be an early indicator of a failed installation.
What will I need to prove in a cavity wall insulation claim?
For a cavity wall insulation claim to succeed, it will not be sufficient to simply show the existence of dampness and mould growth in your property. You will need to be able to demonstrate that the damp has been caused by unsuitable insulation, poor workmanship or the use of inappropriate materials.
In most cases that reach court, a chartered surveyor would need to provide a report commenting on the causal link between the condition of the property and the installation of the cavity wall insulation.
In turn, you would also need to prove that any damage to the fabric of your property or your personal possessions, as well as any damage to your health (or that of your children) was caused by that damp. Here the court would require a medical report commenting on the causal relationship between any upper respiratory tract, or other associated health problems, and the extent of the damp.
What are my legal remedies in a cavity wall insulation claim?
In the event that you pursue a cavity wall insulation claim you may be entitled to the following:
- an order for, or alternatively the cost of, remedial work to rectify the dampness and mould growth, including possible removal of the cavity wall insulation and replacement, as well as any structural repairs, internal plastering and redecoration.
- any property damage caused by the dampness and mould growth.
- any personal injury caused, or exacerbated by, the dampness and mould growth, including but not limited to upper respiratory tract infections, allergies and asthma.
Should I seek legal advice for a cavity wall insulation claim?
If there are visible signs of dampness and mould growth on the internal walls of your home, this may be a sign that any cavity wall insulation has been unsuitably or incorrectly installed. It is always best to seek legal advice from a property specialist to investigate the possibility of a cavity wall insulation claim.
If there is damp and mould in your home and you suspect that this has affected your health (or that of your children), then legal advice is likely to prove essential in recovering the compensation to which you and your family may be entitled.
Your legal advisor can also liaise with the company responsible for the installation of the cavity wall insulation to ensure that the problem is rectified and your family’s exposure to any further damp is minimised.
In particular your legal adviser can provide you with expert advice on:
- establishing if the company who installed your cavity wall installation are still trading and the existence of any indemnity insurers.
- liaising with any company and/or insurers to rectify the problems with your cavity wall insulation, including but not limited to structural repairs, internal plastering and redecoration.
- obtaining expert evidence from a chartered surveyor specialising in cavity wall insulation claims to provide evidence of the causal relationship between the dampness and mould growth and the installation of the cavity wall insulation.
- obtaining expert medical evidence, ie; from a doctor specialising in upper respiratory tract, or other associated problems, to provide evidence of the causal relationship between any ill health and the extent of the damp, together with a likely prognosis for recovery.
- securing an agreed award of compensation to reflect any personal injury, together with the cost of replacement of internal furnishings and personal belongings.
- providing expert advice and representation in the event that your cavity wall insulation claim needs to be litigated in court.