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Recently, spray foam insulation has become highly-problematic for some homeowners. Reports from the media and the industry 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).

Does spray foam impact property value?

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.

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.

The background of spray foam insulation use

Foam insulation spray has traditionally been applied for the improved insulation of walls, ceilings, and floors. Used for the filling of structural gaps and holes, it creates an air-tight seal that keeps the warm air locked in and enhances a property’s energy efficiency.

There are two distinct types of spray foam insulation: light-density open-cell spray foam insulation and medium-density closed-cell spray foam insulation. The open-call variety is weaker and doesn’t provide as much insulation as the closed-cell alternative. However, the added insulation does come at an increased cost.

Having been promoted as an affordable way of ensuring property heat retention, spray foam has become increasingly popular over the past 30 years. This is understandable, given the finding that spray foam provides 50% more insulation than traditionally used products such as mineral wool and fiberglass. 

Why is spray foam insulation bad?

With other recognised advantages including the ease of application in difficult-to-reach areas and reduction of noise disturbances, you might be wondering why spray foam insulation is problematic after all.

Unfortunately, a number of spray foam insulation problems have begun to surface recently. Aside from its relatively high cost, it has been reported as reducing ventilation, with humidity and dampness resulting in the deterioration of structural timbers.

Spray foam insulation has also come under criticism for being:

  • Difficult to remove once it’s been installed
  • Unsuitable for listed buildings and houses with thatched roofs
  • Unattractive (a particular issue, as it can’t be decorated over).

Controversies surrounding spray foam insulation

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has said that the identification of spray foam may result in a reduced property valuation or the request of an independent specialist report. Such a finding may also cause the refusal of a mortgage, with The Sun reporting that 250,000 households could be affected. 

An increasing number of lenders are automatically refusing the owners of homes with spray foam insulation as it prevents the visual inspection of roofs. Others are only prepared to accept applications following the satisfactory completion of structural surveys, which typically cost more than £1,500.

A report by the UK Parliament has revealed a particular issue with the incorrect installation of spray foam, which can lead to condensation and affect the roof structure. There is also a fire risk, with spray foam assessment and removal typically posing an expensive challenge. Checkatrade has reported that such a job could cost as much as £3,200 for a three-bedroom detached property. 

Advice for property owners

The Home Owners Alliance has understandably advised against installing spray foam until such issues have been resolved. This recommendation has been supported by the Property Care Association, with the introduction of a membership for the rectification of such issues. Registered homeowners will be able to rely on expert support in the identification, evaluation, and remediation of spray foam installations carried out by unscrupulous “cowboys”.

Chartered Surveyor Brett Ferguson said, “It is not unknown for people who have spent, say, £5,000 on having their roof sprayed to subsequently have to shell out £25,000 or £30,000 for a new roof in order to make their property mortgageable again.”

The advice for affected property owners is to collect any relevant paperwork, including independent test certificates issued by organisations such as the British Board of Agreement (BBA). This paperwork may be referred to as part of an independent assessment and used in presenting the case for a mortgage. Any spray foam removal should be carried out by a suitably qualified professional given the risks of property damage and exposure to toxins.

Spray foam insulation updates for 2024

Since spray foam initially came into the spotlight, further advice has been offered by RICS, with the release of their new spray foam consumer guide. This highlights the potential for improving insulation, as well as reducing energy bills and carbon emissions through the installation of alternative thermal products. It emphasises the importance of considering the material properties, design, and installation of any insulation – particularly in the retrofitting of existing properties.

What does RICS recommend?

  • Having all insulation work carried out by independent experts, commercially and independently separated from the installer and manufacturer
  • Conducting regular inspections, following a proactive maintenance approach, and ensuring that the roof is watertight
  • Having a qualified professional carry out thermal calculations and condensation risk checks, with all parts of the roof being surveyed before spray foam installation
  • Not accepting ‘cold-call’ or unsolicited offers relating to spray foam installations
  • Accounting for the fire risk associated with the use of polyurethane spray and taking appropriate safety precautions
  • Not carrying out isolated alterations without careful due diligence and planning
  • Checking with mortgage and insurance providers to see whether policies will allow for the installation of such products.

A cross-industry group forms to support property owners

The Property Care Association and Residential Property Surveyors Association have formed a cross-industry group to support property owners who face challenges in selling and arranging equity release loans due to spray foam installation. 

Having consulted a range of industry professionals, the group has offered guidance on the types of observations that should be made and evidence gathered when undertaking a spray foam survey.

Stephen Hodgson, Chief Executive of the PCA, said, “This protocol meets the demands for a framework to assist property professionals and residential surveyors undertaking non-invasive visual inspections of spray foam applications to the inside of pitched roofs.”

“The challenge now is for surveyors to get to grips with this new protocol, and for quality assurance schemes to be introduced that prevent sharp practice, which would ultimately remove the necessity for the protocol in the first place.”

Property groups such as the Residential Property Surveyors Association are continuing to campaign for the introduction of spray foam regulations, with particular concern over misselling and sub-standard installation practices. Calls have been made for such regulation to cover the training and qualification of installers, effective audit and review procedures, and supplier accreditation.

“The improper use of spray foam insulation can have devastating consequences or end up costing thousands for little benefit. So it’s vital that the spray foam industry is properly regulated and managed,” Mr Hodgson commented.

Spray Foam FAQs

Is spray foam energy efficient?

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.

Does spray foam improve 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.

Does spray foam insulation lead to lower energy bills?

With energy bills as high as they are, 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. Still, we have discussed the downsides which many will claim far outweigh the positives.

What does RICS say about spray foam insulation?

According to the RICS guide, Spray Foam Insulation: A Clear, Impartial 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.

How Property Inspect is helping surveyors

Following the introduction of the Building Safety Act, the latest spray foam updates may be welcomed as part of the wider campaign to improve property safety and standards across the UK. However, property owners, investors, buyers and sellers are bound to have concerns about the problems spray foam roof insulation presents.

This has understandably led to a rise in surveys to address this problem home improvement, with many surveyors stretched thin to ensure they capture all the information they need to recommend the best course of action.

So for surveyors addressing the spray foam insulation issue, the all-in-one Property Inspect app helps them to capture and share the findings faster and clearer than ever before, with the option of producing a report (including spray foam recommendations) in your preferred format.
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