One of the first blog pieces I ever wrote, in November 2005, concerned cavity wall insulation (CWI), and examined the likelihood of there being problems. At that time, my blog got published in two different places which wasn't the cleverest idea I ever came up with as my own blog piece on this topic never got a single comment, whereas the other one gleaned no less than 85. If you Google cavity wall insulation problems it still comes up on the first page, despite being six years old.
This morning I sat down and read all the comments and tried to make sense of them. Most of them are observations and anecdotes, a few are pretty desperate cries for help and mixed in here and there are around a dozen cases of people getting mould or damp problems which they attribute to CWI. In every case, they have then received short shrift from both their installers and the guarantors. The issue seems to be that it's not possible to say definitively that their problems result from having CWI installed and so the buck is easily passed. But surely the chances are that they can't all be making it up, or jumping to the wrong conclusions. Something mouldy is going on here.
Now my article starts out with a dig at Jeff Howell who is the Telegraph's building agony uncle and who maintains a website with extensive articles containing his thoughts and observations. Had I known what comments would follow on from my blog, I wouldn't have been so critical of Jeff because it seems that he has genuinely tapped into a pool of discontent about CWI and, as he says, he is just about the only person giving it a voice.
Behind this are some big questions. What percentage of homes that have had CWI have gone on to report damp or mould problems? How can you tell which as yet untreated homes are likely to suffer problems? Have we adequately assessed the risks?
At the tail end of last year, DECC published the results of a study into CWI, looking at the issues with the many as-yet-unfilled cavities and how best to address them. It could have looked at issues with already-filled cavities but chose not to. Is this because this would have been off message — i.e CWI is a good thing, so why point out that it might not be? Or is the problem with damp and mould so minute that they feel it's not worth worrying about?
If it's the latter, then they could greatly strengthen their case if they were to publish the numbers of complaints received about problems resulting from CWI, rather than pretending that they are irrelevant. The internet (and Jeff Howell's postbox) is full of dark rumours, and it's high time we shed some light.