Wednesday 7 July 2010

Cavity wall insulation - a cautionary tale

I see the government is giving more priority to home insulation, and in fact diverting money from other forms of saving to boost insulation. We had cavity wall insulation done a few months ago in the depth of winter. The insulation is fine, I would recommend it. It makes a noticeable difference in some parts of the house. But the experience of the installation was not, and my experience of that leads me to say, if you have cavity wall insulation done, don't use Mark Group. There are plenty of alternatives around: here's a place where you can find loads, if you don't want to take up offers from your energy suppliers.

The reason why is as follows. When the salesman from Mark Group came to visit us, he told us that it would be necessary to install a vent in the living room as we have a fireplace which is still in use. We were concerned about this and asked for more information. He gave us two specific reassurances. The first was that the vent operated mechanically in such a way that it was shut to the outside cold unless it was needed when the fireplace was in use. The second was that the vent was covered with a mesh fine enough to prevent slugs from getting in.

We only discovered once the vent was installed that neither of these things is true. The installers told us in fact that the vent is legally required to be left open, and to be without a fine mesh so as not to interrupt airflow. The result is a constant flow of cold air into the room. But they confirmed that the vent was a legal requirement if insulation was added to a room with a fireplace in use.

The effect on our living room was dramatic. It did not help that this happened during one of the cold snaps last February. The living was the warmest room in the house and it became the coldest. Ours is a small semi-detached house. Downstairs we have a kitchen and a living room. We live in the living room. If the salesman had been truthful about the nature of the vent, we would in all probability not have gone ahead with the purchase. As it is, our living room has been made completely unsuitable to its purpose at some times of the year due to the misinformation clearly and deliberately given to us by the salesman.

I wrote to Mark Group to complain, and got a visit from a technical expert who confirmed that the vent had been properly installed. I mad it clear that that was not the problem. The problem was the mis-selling. So he went away and said he'd talk to somebody else.

It took a couple of phone calls to remind them that somebody else was supposed to be doing something. eventually I spoke to the next person, and we had a decent conversation. I was already clear in my mind that there was nothing practical they could do. The only way the vent could be legally removed would be to block up the fireplace, and thus lose one of the major amenities of the house, or to suck all the insulation out of the walls again, neither of which was appealing. So the only obvious route was for them to offer us a reasonable amount of compensation. The main thing was for me to be convinced that they had taken my complaint seriously. They did admit in writing to what they called a training issue with the salesman, which was OK. But I gradually came to think that they were not taking me seriously, as each stage in the process had to be kicked off by me reminding them with a phone call that I hadn't heard from them for a while. I began to think that in fact they might be deliberately taking things lowly in the hope that I would get fed up and forget about the complaint.

In the end they offered me £50 compensation. This is for making my living room not fit to live in for a portion of the year. In a second letter they made it clear that £50 was their final offer. I rejected it.

I don't mind about the money. I do mind that a company can employ a salesman who quite deliberately and wilfully misrepresents the product they're offering, they can understand that that action has foisted on me and my family an insoluble problem, and then they still think that the best way to deal with the resulting mess is to take a long time and then offer the least they think they can get away with.

So, do get insulation if you want. Just don't use Mark Group.

Mind you, my experience with them is nothing compared to this couple's. Note the same technique, a final offer of a derisory sum by way of compensation.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Is it possible to change the way people do things

Not when it comes to driving apparently.

The BBC reported last week on Britain's most dangerous roads, as enumerated by the Road Safety Foundation. As one might expect, half of Britain's fatal accidents happen on one tenth of our roads. The answer to this, according the Foundation, is to spend money making the roads safer. It never occurs to them to make the drivers safer. A particularly telling point is that "most crashes happened at weekends during the summer in dry, daylight conditions" which kind of suggests that the roads themselves are not at fault. They may be twisty, they may be narrow, they may be bumpy, but there is nothing dangerous about them if the drivers on them would just............. slow down a bit. And keep their eyes open. So many of us seem to think that there is no need to concentrate on the road while driving as fast as we can possibly go; the radio, the mobile - even if handsfree, the conversation of passengers and, for heaven's sake, looking at the scenery all rank more important than actually looking at what is happening on the road in front of them.

I have two suggestions, which would be a lot cheaper than the improvements suggested by the Road Safety Foundation. The first is to erect large signs all the way along the dangerous roads: "If you drive here the way you usually do, you are twenty times more likely to have an accident".

That of course relies on drivers being sensible, which is unlikely. So my second suggestion is signs that say: "If you drive here the way you usually do, you are twenty times more likely to find your insurance going up."

Neither is likely to do the job. It would be nice if one of them did though.

The Road Safety Foundation also responds to what I am tempted to call "Parsons' law of monetisation", which states that the more widespread any phenomenon is, the more likely its financial cost is to be reported, and the less likely its human cost. There is no mention on the Eurorap report page of twisted bodies, mangled limbs, orphaned children. But there are several mentions of the cost of the suggested changes and the potential savings to the Exchequer.

Perhaps I'm being unfair to the RSF. It does report its purpose as being to reduce road casualties by acting on all three components of the system - roads, vehicles and behaviour. But there's no mention of behaviour in this report. Shouldn't there be?