Did spray foam insulation make 250,000 homes hard to sell?

After their monthly energy bill doubled to £500 this year, pensioners Rudy Schzerba and his wife Pat wanted to act fast to insulate their sprawling home.

It seemed perfect timing when a cool seller contacted them about a type of loft insulation called spray foam.

With a promise of a 40 percent cut in their bills, Rudy, 72, said the decision to impeach seemed “nonsensical”.

Savings: Spray foam insulation can be installed quickly and promises significant reductions in energy bills

Foam was installed in September, and cost £3,800. However, if energy bills remain high, they will make up the cost in lower bills in less than five years.

It’s a decision that nearly a quarter of a million families have made in the past decade. But what few have realized is that spray foam comes with a potential bite in the tail.

Because the industry is so unregulated, concern is growing among lenders that cowboy companies have not used the correct type of foam or checked if the property is suitable.

As a result, homeowners are beginning to find it difficult to remortgage their homes, release equity from their homes—or even sell them.

It’s a scenario that Rudy and Pat, 75, now discovered. The couple, who worked for Polaroid before they retired, wanted to release £25,000 in equity from their newly improved £1m end-of-terrace home in Knebworth, Hertfordshire.

With no children to pass their fortune on from their estate, the couple planned to give money to a lifelong friend in poor health to help with his finances.

But upon hearing about the spray foam, their stock release advisor told them there was no way any lender would lend them a stock release. They say that the person who installed the spray foam didn’t tell them.

Lifetime mortgages are available to homeowners over the age of 55 and have become popular in recent years.

£3.1 billion of real estate wealth was withdrawn in the first half of the year, according to a trade body.

They allowed homeowners to get a tax-deductible loan while remaining the owner. The money is repaid if the home is sold, the borrower dies, or is taken care of. But those who use spray foam to insulate their homes are being frozen out of the market.

No single equity release loan allows for spray foam insulation that is installed after the property has been built. Only one lender, More2life, will consider if it was installed during construction and meets strict quality standards.

“We believe any spray foam installer should make homeowners aware that if they consider releasing equity, the foam will currently make them ineligible for a lifetime mortgage,” says Mark Gregory, CEO of Equity Release Supermarket.

Rudy and Pat are just one of 250,000 households who have used spray polyurethane foam to insulate their homes. Before the scheme was withdrawn in March 2021, spray foam was one type of insulation that could be installed using a government green house grant. It can be used to insulate lofts, ceilings, walls and floors to improve energy efficiency.

Mortgage concerns: Lenders may be concerned that cowboy firms didn't use the right kind of foam

Mortgage concerns: Lenders may be concerned that cowboy firms didn’t use the right kind of foam

But there are no industry codes of practice, and installers are under no obligation to tell homeowners that doing so could harm their chances of getting a mortgage or emancipating a property.

Lenders worry that some installers didn’t use the proper foam or didn’t check if it was right for the home, which could result in rotten beams and an expensive bill for roof covering replacement.

There’s also no easy way for a surveyor, who works for a mortgage lender, to see roof timbers to make sure they’re in good shape after they’ve been sprayed. This can make a home unsellable and unsellable—as Lorna Rolf found out.

I paid £5,000 for a foam installation in 2020 after seeing an ad on Facebook. But when Lorna, 65, came to sell her home near Dartmoor this summer, the buyer’s bank refused the mortgage after the surveyor discovered foam insulation in the loft.

To stop the sale, Lorna, an occupational therapist, paid £4,000 to have it removed.

“I needed to sell my house to get closer to my 90-year-old uncle who had moved into foster care,” says Lorna.

All this caused me a lot of stress and anxiety. I also discovered that the foam was flammable and toxic and was sprayed directly onto electrical cables. My life was in danger all along.

Claims management firm Hydrogard Legal Services says it is pursuing more than 250 claims from frail or elderly homeowners who were targeted by cold callers and were not told that the foam could prevent them from selling their homes.

Rudy and Pat are in talks with a moneylender who has agreed to look into the collateral offered by the installer. If refused, the installer promised to remove the foam and get their money back.

“If spray polyurethane foam is not installed properly, it may not provide proper ventilation, which can cause roof wood to rot,” says Conley Barker, architect and design studio Barker-Walsh.

Properly installed spray foam allows the roof to breathe, preventing moisture buildup, says Conley.

Homeowners are advised to only work with an installer who completes a report on the condition of the roof, the feeling under it and the risk of condensation, known as a hydrothermal assessment.

And while this paperwork improves the homeowner’s chance of selling the property or obtaining equity, it is not a guarantee.

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