Cavity wall insulation
X-Ray discovers that the government's advice to insulate our homes doesn't suit everyone.
Heol Y Garreg Las in Llandeilo is a street where generations have lived and grown up together, families have shared good times and bad.
Many of the former council houses are now privately owned, the houses themselves are a good size, with large, well maintained gardens and the people who live there are proud of their homes.
So when they were offered help to make their cosy homes even toastier, thanks to a government funded scheme to provide cavity wall insulation, Rhian Evans jumped at the chance.
She said, "We heard a lot about it on TV, the government were encouraging people to have it done, it would make your house warmer and save on the cost of energy bills."
Her neighbours Stan Jones, Barbara George and Caroline Jenkins decided to go for it too. Stan says, "We weren't interested really until we were told they were coming round to do them and it was free so we took a chance."
According to the Energy Saving Trust, around a third of all the heat lost in an un-insulated home is through the walls. Most Welsh homes built from 1920 onwards were designed to have external walls made of two layers with a small gap or cavity between them.
Filling that gap with an insulating material means that the heat is held inside the building, which it's claimed can save up to 15% off heating bills. It's a specialist job which companies receive grants to carry out.
The Welsh Assembly Government's Home Energy Efficiency Scheme has provided heating and insulation grants to more than 70,000 homes.
Last year it funded £28 million pounds worth of work to people who were eligible.
But despite all the positive hype, some experts are concerned that a one-size-fits-all approach to green issues has meant that some houses which aren't suitable are having cavities filled, which is damaging homes.
And some of the residents of Heol Y Garreg Las are concerned that their homes have been affected.
Rhian is one of the worst affected. She told us "It's quite bad, living with it. You're sitting there in the evenings and there's plaster falling off the walls, and if people come to the house it's a bit embarrassing."
Everyone we spoke to insists they didn't have any problems with damp in their homes before the cavity wall installers came.
Tim Davies is a chartered surveyor who's been worried about the problems cavity wall insulation can cause for years.
We asked him to check out the problems experienced by home owners in Llandeilo since the insulation was installed.
Tim advises: "If it's a correct property type and if it's in the correct location then cavity wall insulation can be a good thing. In a property that hasn't been assessed correctly, then injecting it into the walls can lead to problems.
"If the insulation isn't equally spread out in the cavity, you can have gaps which create cold spots on the inside. Condensation, mould and mildew can accumulate.
"But more importantly, if it's fully filled in a cavity in a house that's in an exposed area to wind driven rain, the insulation can become saturated and cause damp problems inside the house itself."
He explains, "Wind driven rain is rain that's driven against the side of the house in areas that are exposed to rain fall and in Wales we're in basically the severe category for exposure to wind driven rain.
"The only solution is to remove the insulation from the cavity wall which is a big undertaking and then carry out repairs internally, re-plastering, replacement of decayed timber, redecoration."
Sheila Humphreys had to move out of her home on Heol Y Garreg Las for a whole month because of the problems caused by the cavity wall insulation.
Local builder Martin Graham has been hired to put things right. He described the work, "All the wallpaper's coming off the wall, the plaster was all blown in places, there's a gas vent which should be kept clear which was full of the insulation."
Martin estimates the cost of remedial work at around £4,000, which is being funded by the company who installed Sheila's insulation.
But other owners claim that getting the insulation companies to agree to carry out repairs has been a struggle.
The work at all the homes we visited was carried out by installers registered by the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency - a government scheme which guarantees the work for twenty five years.
At number 16 RIS Insulation say they have assessed the problem and offered to carry out work on the affected area. They're now waiting for Stan to allow them access.
Rhian and Sheila Humphreys' homes were insulated by Eaga, who say they were aware of both cases and are trying to sort things out.
Barbara and Caroline's insulation was carried out by Miller Pattison. They say they did carry out repairs to both homes in a reasonable time. They didn't realise there were still problems, they'll now get on and sort those out.
Chartered Surveyor Tim Davies explained his assessment of the damage.
"The extend of dampness in some of the houses is truly stupefying, the damage that has arisen, the plaster work that's come off, the decay in the skirting boards, the paint work. It's all quite horrendous really.
"It's evident from the extent of damage that we've seen that these properties aren't suitable in this location for cavity wall insulation."
And according to Tim the availability of grants has added to the problem.
"There's grants available, there's companies out there that are eager to do the work and they're basically coming out and snapping up consumers to have the work carried out and they're not assessing the properties correctly in the first instance."
All the companies say they did survey the properties correctly before work was carried out. But some residents of Heol y Garreg Las now wish they'd never agreed to have their homes insulated.
X-Ray contacted CIGA - the Cavity Wall Insulation Guarantee Agency who told us they're very concerned that the householders are unhappy.
They say that such problems are rare and it's very unusual to find such a cluster of properties reporting problems. In fact they've only received one complaint from a Llandeilo resident, and hadn't heard of the others.
Once X-Ray made them aware of the situation they investigated it with their own surveyor. They found that the properties are unusual in that they have replacement aluminium windows and tiled sills, which is known to cause condensation which gathers and drips into cavities.
They will now look into providing additional guidance to installers so they are more aware in future.
Sian Symons is from the Energy Saving Trust which provides the public with advice on cavity wall insulation.
She says, "It's not a one size fits all product. You do need to see if it is suitable for your property before you have this installed. I would recommend to consumers to come to a body like the Energy Saving Trust. We give impartial advice.
"On the phone we can do a survey of your property with you and check if you have the right kind of walls before we send anybody out to survey your property.
"It's a free service and we are impartial so we are not pushing for a particular company to come out to knock on your door."
She went on, "Unfortunately the grants do seem to make the installers work a little bit harder. From our point of view, I wouldn't buy a product on my doorstep, I recommend that no person does that.
"If you want advice to see if this product is suitable do give us a call, because we can give you all the information about the guarantees to make sure the product is suitable."Further reading