Spray foam insulation has become problematic for some homeowners, as per recent reports from the media and the industry, who claim that the installation of spray foam insulation can lead to a raft of issues for property owners up and down the country.
Although spray foam insulation has been used in many homes for years, it has been known to cause issues of late with some insurance companies outright refusing to provide building insurance and mortgage lenders not accepting properties with spray foam insulation.
Some experts have said that when spray foam is installed improperly, it can reduce air circulation and ventilation within the roof space, resulting in dampness and condensation forming on the roof’s underside, as it creates an air barrier that prevents moisture from escaping. In addition to this, some view it as a fire risk.
Moreover, it is claimed that spray foam can be tough and expensive to remove – Checkatrade states that the cost of removing spray foam insulation from a three-bedroom detached house’s roof is roughly £3,200 (or £40 per square metre).
According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the presence of spray foam may even affect a property’s valuation by RICS surveyors, particularly if it has been applied incorrectly.
The Home Owners Alliance, a consumer group that advises homeowners, has also weighed in on the debate, saying that because spray foam covers a roof’s internal structure, surveyors appointed by mortgage lenders may face difficulty inspecting individual roofs’ conditions and identifying risks.
This has been echoed on numerous RICS surveyor groups throughout social media. Members of one of the most prominent Facebook groups for surveyors have made their feelings known on the hot topic of spray foam insulation in residential properties.
One surveyor commented: “Unfortunately it is not just mortgage lenders that are cautious with spray foam. We have had a couple of clients in the past week that have been refused building’s insurance because they have sprayfoam in the loft. What starts with one insurer is unlikely to stay with one!”
Another added: “It could be the greatest product in the world and have a 100-year guarantee. But all the documents in the world won’t alter the facts that it’s an unregulated industry, we have no real basis for making a fair assessment of an installation and lenders/public perception is not good, making the property very difficult to re-sell.”
Before we get even further into the problems that have arisen from spray foam insulation in recent months, plus the Government’s reaction to the claims and how RICS have responded, let’s first take a look at spray foam insulation so we can better understand it.
What is spray foam insulation?
Spray foam insulation is a form of insulation that is applied to walls, ceilings and floors using a spray gun. When applied, the foam expands and hardens, filling in holes and gaps in the structure. This creates an air-tight seal that keeps air from escaping, which spray foam professionals claim can improve the energy efficiency of a property.
There are two types of spray foam insulation: open-cell and closed-cell. Open-cell insulation is made up of tiny cells that are not completely closed, allowing for air to pass through while still maintaining insulation. Closed-cell insulation is denser and offers a higher R-value, which is the measure of the insulation’s ability to resist heat flow.
Another factor to consider is the environmental impact of spray foam insulation, as it is made from petrochemicals, which are not renewable resources. However, some manufacturers have started producing spray foam made from renewable resources, such as soy.
It’s also important to note that while spray foam insulation is frequently advertised as a way to improve energy efficiency and save money on your utility bills, it can be more expensive than other types of insulation. However, for some homeowners, the perceived long-term benefits may outweigh any initial cost.
Spray foam insulation energy efficiency
One of the primary reasons homeowners choose spray foam insulation is because of its advertised energy-saving properties and long-term cost savings. To that end, there are a number of benefits frequently cited by spray foam manufacturers and installers, as follows.
Improved thermal performance
Compared to traditional insulation, spray foam is said to provide better thermal insulation than other types of insulation. This is because it forms an air-tight seal, preventing hot or cold air from escaping.
Reduced air leakage
Air leakage is a common cause of energy loss in homes. Spray foam insulation effectively reduces air infiltration as it is seamlessly applied to any gaps or cracks across an entire structure.
Lower Energy Bills
With energy bills spiralling out of control, it’s no surprise homeowners are looking for ways to save money. It is thought that by reducing air leakage and improving thermal performance, spray foam insulation can help reduce the amount of energy required to heat a property, ultimately resulting in lower energy bills.
Updates to industry guidance
In response to consumer concerns, The Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA) and Property Care Association (PCA) released guidance in November 2021. The guidance stated that it was “unlikely” for surveyors to comment on the timber roof structures’ condition or speculate on risk without technical information.
However, the PCA and RPSA withdrew the guidance in October 2022 for a “full review.” They have since been collaborating with lenders, surveyors, spray foam manufacturers and installers to create inspection protocols and installation procedures, which they hope to re-release with updated guidance in Spring 2023.
In June 2022, the Government announced that it had no intentions of intervening if the installation of spray foam using Green Homes Grant vouchers affected property values or access to mortgages. The Government emphasised that the availability and conditions of mortgages are the responsibility of the lenders and that it is ultimately up to the installer and homeowner to determine whether or not to go ahead with spray foam.
Just last month in March 2023, in response to the lack of guidance and regulation around spray foam insulation inspections, the PCA published a spray foam insulation inspection framework for surveyors to evaluate the risks associated with spray foam.
The PCA framework gives non-prescriptive guidance to surveyors for assessing individual roof conditions, rather than making decisions based solely on the presence of spray foam. The PCA also stated that the next step for the spray foam industry is to establish a “system of controls” for suppliers and installers to measure and verify installations against product approval certificates.
How has RICS responded?
In response, The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) published a new guide in March 2023 to keep consumers up to date on the implications of using spray foam in residential properties. Spray Foam Insulation: A Clear, Impartial Guide, is aimed at consumers rather than practising surveyors.
Although spray foam has been a popular insulation method for decades, RICS warns that it is frequently marketed as an easy solution when it should really be viewed as a significant and fundamental alteration to a property that requires careful planning and consideration.
The purpose of their guidance is to educate the public about the advantages and disadvantages of spray foam insulation, by covering topics such as the retrofit challenge, the difference between cold and warm roofs, risks associated with spray foam insulation, and whether it is suitable for residential homes.
Ultimately, the guide aims to raise awareness of spray foam insulation, following high-profile Trading Standards cases that reported poor workmanship, illegal modifications to listed buildings and claims of aggressive selling tactics aimed at vulnerable groups like the elderly.
Sam Piplica, Senior Specialist in Building Standards at RICS, said: “RICS’ remit is to serve the public, therefore the guide’s main focus is to educate and raise public awareness of potential issues surrounding spray foam so that people can make informed decisions based on research and due diligence. RICS is also part of an industry working group on this issue to help not only our members but the wider industry improve their products and services.”
The guide also provides advice around the installation of spray foam, including getting advice from an independent professional and maintaining a property in good repair. Record keeping is also emphasised to prove compliance with regulations and assist in future property sales or remortgages.
According to the RICS guide, the “dos and do nots” of installing spray foam insulation are as follows:
- Do not accept ‘cold-call’ or unsolicited offers relating to spray foam installations.
- Do not install spray foam insulation in a listed building or other protected building or structure without obtaining listed building consent in advance.
- Do not carry out isolated alterations without careful due diligence and planning.
- Do get advice from an independent, impartial professional if you are considering alterations or modifications at your property (someone who does not have a commercial interest in selling you their product).
- Do look after and maintain your property in good repair, keeping it wind and watertight.
- Do consider the whole property before carrying out any alterations.
- Do consider how your property is designed to perform – specifically, understand where ventilation is needed in your property.
- Do consider where you live in the building and consider installing more insulation next to your living spaces, for example, at ceiling level in the loft to keep the heat near the rooms you live in. Do check with your mortgage provider whether their lender policy allows the installation of such products.
- Do check with your insurance provider whether their policy allows the installation of such products with potential increased fire risk.
It’s clear that the spray foam insulation debate will rumble on for a time, as working groups come together to discuss regulations and best practices. The real issue, however, is the way in which it affects mortgages, insurance, property values and saleability. Homeowners are particularly concerned by these things as they directly impact their choices when buying, remortgaging or selling a property.
In order to overcome the immediate threats associated with spray foam insulation, many are calling for the industry to respond quickly, thereby eliminating any doubt for homeowners, while also continuing to issue updates to impartial guidance as regulation evolves over the coming months and years.