From October 2008 all domestic buildings (being built, rented or sold) were required ‘by Law’ to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) to help improve the energy efficiency of the building. The EPC provides an ‘A’ to ‘G’ rating for the building, ‘A’ being the most efficient and ‘G’ the least and to-date a ‘D’ rating is currently being banded as the average.
It is claimed that around a third of heat loss in a house is through its roof and walls and currently there is a government drive (supported by television advertising and the offer of Home Improvement Insulation Grants) to encourage home owners to increase loft insulation and also to fit cavity wall insulation, as it is claimed this can save on average around £180 per annum on heating costs!
However were you aware that by installing cavity wall insulation, whilst you may well be saving some money on fuel costs, you could also be creating a major expense for the future……..damp!
The cavity wall (as we know it) dates back to the early 1900’s and is commonly found in the coastal areas around Britain, used to reduce the risk of rain penetration. In the 1920’s, local building by-laws encouraged the construction of the cavity wall and by the 1940’s it had become the Industry Standard. The familiar cavity wall (as we know it) is two leaves of brickwork, forming a 60mm cavity and tied together with metal wall ties.
Even back in the good old 1970’s concerns were being expressed over Energy Conservation and home owners were then being encouraged to introduce loft insulation and it wasn’t long after that cavity wall insulation was also being recommended.
Fill your cavities with foam, polystyrene, mineral wool or any other material you can introduce through a small hole in the wall and you will save energy and loads of money. Sounds good, but what if by introducing this insulation you increased the risk of damp to your property, which in turn would cause internal decorative spoiling, plaster damage, fungal decay to structural and joinery timbers and also accelerate the risk of corrosion to the metal wall ties.
Could that really happen? Well the answer is yes and it is.
Paul Carter, the principal of Premier Heritage, has investigated hundreds of buildings over the past 20 years of so, where damp has affected internal decorations etc and found that the damp present was due to bridging of the cavity by the earlier installed insulation materials. Whilst some of these cases were wrongly diagnosed by others as rising damp, most of these buildings (if not all) retained a physical damp proof course, the newest being a 1980’s brick built bungalow in Hampshire.
Ok, lets put this into perspective, there have been thousands of cavity built houses within the UK that have been insulated and a good majority of these don’t currently have nor will ever have a problem with damp. But there are a great number that have and no doubt more will be affected in the years to come!
Increased rainfall in past years has resulted in a noticeable increase in damp problems affecting conventional cavity-constructed housing, due to moisture penetrating / bridging the cavities and in particular on the weather prevailing elevations and this isn’t a problem relating to current rainfall, but a gradual build of damp over many years.
Rainwater driving into the masonry of a building can penetrate the outer leaf brickwork leading to the wetting of the insulation materials, increased damp penetration and a reduced thermal performance of the material. Poor construction methods, mortar and perp joints, debris within the cavities, dirty wall ties and poor installation procedures by installers all contribute to the overall problem, which generally will result in the need to remove the insulation, which is not only expensive, but will almost certainly cosmetically scar the building when finished. Unfortunately it doesn’t come out through the same hole through which it went in!
So how do you avoid this problem? Well there’s no easy answer to this other than to look carefully at the building’s construction (porosity of building materials) and its exposure to the prevailing weather conditions. If having then decided to proceed, ensure that the chosen contractor / installer, during the survey, checks the cavities and cavity trays for debris and dirty wall ties, but more importantly offers a system and material that guarantees (preferably insurance backed) that the materials being installed will not transmit / bridge moisture through and into the internal wall!
Alternatively, if you’re still unsure then don’t install.
Examples of Cavity Wall Insulation causing damp:
1970’s block constructed bugalow with poorly installed cavity foam insulation and debris bridging moisture via wall ties, cost around £800 to remove and rectify internal damage caused.