It’s a dilemma this been faced by many surveyors and valuers over the years. They look in the loft and there it is. Rigid foam sprayed under the roof covering between the rafters. Their heart sinks. How are they going to report it? Should they condemn it? Retention or nil value? Or does it look okay and the roof is in perfectly good condition?
It’s estimated that something in the region of 250,000 homes have been treated to the “benefit” of spray foam. In some cases it’s been used to stabilise a failing roof, and in others as an insulation material to improve the energy efficiency of a property. But is it as bad as many surveyors would have us believe? Or is it a useful tool for benefiting a property?
In the absence of any clear guidance, the RPSA teamed up with the Property Care Association (PCA) to conduct a research project to try to bring some clarity and provide surveyors and valuers with better guidance.
The ramifications are significant. Some lenders have restrictions on providing an advance for a property with spray foam insulation. Others have no specific policy. But most equity release firms will not entertain a loan on a property so affected.
Installation companies sometimes focus on vulnerable targets, often being elderly homeowners, or those looking for a cheap fix instead of having to replace their roof. And in a world where energy efficiency of our homes is becoming ever more important, the insulation properties of spray foam are being widely promoted.
The investigation led by RPSA and PCA included representatives from throughout the surveying, lending, valuation, conservation and installation industries. Little evidence was found of independent scientific research, and that which has been carried out is mostly from North America, on different types of property and in different climatic conditions.
Most spray foam products are covered by certification provided by organisations such as the British Board of Agrement, LABC, Huntsman and KIWA, and while these detail the conditions for their use, there is no evidence of independent verification of the long-term effects of their use.
Case studies provided by Robert Gordon University and Historic Scotland were included in the review, though none were found to provide specific data on the use of spray foam in roof spaces.
A Technical Working Group considered all of the evidence that was gathered which, in some ways has led to a better understanding of the use of spray foams, but in other ways has created even greater dilemmas for surveyors, valuers and others who have to appraise homes with spray foam insulation installed.
Both the RPSA and the PCA will produce technical guidance for members on the back of this project, and, although it is for other organisations to reach their own conclusions, one thing is for certain, and that is that this piece of work has been of incalculable value to those who inspect property on a daily basis.
Many RPSA surveyors have, from time to time, been asked to carry out snagging surveys on new build property. Often, though, when they have tried to book in for the inspection they have been refused access to the site by the builder. Why is this?
In part it’s because builders don’t know how the surveyor is going to carry out his inspection. What degree of detail will he/she go into? Will it be a fair appraisal? Will the surveyor be over-zealous? And it’s actually a fair point. The problem is that, until now, there have never been standards for snagging surveyors to work to. This has resulted in a “Wild West” industry of snagging surveyors all working to different sets of measurements, with vastly different results.
That’s why, in 2019, the RPSA set out to deliver a set of standards that would not only work for surveyors and builders but would give consumers the opportunity to get useful independent advice about the quality of their new home.
When starting out on the project it all seemed quite straightforward. Sit down with a few industry representatives and draw up some standards. In theory that’s what we did, but the practice turned out to be quite a lot more involved!
The stakeholder group invited to participate in the discussion simply grew and grew until it included representatives from virtually every sector of the property industry. The project coincided with the launch of the draft Building Safety Bill which included the provision for the creation of a New Homes Ombudsman. That bought the New Homes Quality Board into the equation and the prospect of some form of Pre-Completion Inspection (aka a snagging report) being an integral part of the New Homes Code, a mandatory part of the Ombudsman scheme.
So the RPSA New build Inspection & Reporting Standards (NIRS) are borne out of the widest possible consultation with the property industry and are consistent with the requirements of the New Homes Code. What this means is that there is no longer an excuse for any builder to refuse site access to a surveyor when they are carrying out an inspection based on the RPSA standards.
For consumers it brings about transformational change as buyers will no longer be prevented from getting independent advice about the quality of their new home.
The standards are based on a visual review of the finishing quality of those things that the homeowner will touch, use, feel and see on day 1 in the property.
The Hackett review Independent Review of Building Safety and Fire Safety, carried out after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, focused on the nature and implementation of building regulations, and this has been covered comprehensively by the Building Safety Bill. It’s impossible for a surveyor carrying out a visual inspection of a completed home to undertake a comprehensive review of building regulations compliance and so the NIRS recognise that, where contraventions of building regulations are apparent, a different, more comprehensive, and perhaps invasive, inspection will be required.
There are a range of different finishing standards offered by builders, warranty providers and others, but the standard reference is that offered by “NHBC Chapter 9.1”. After wide consultation, a working group of industry stakeholders agreed the basis for assessment of a completed new build property that would offer a consistent approach to a Pre-Completion Inspections. The RPSA NIRS follow the principles of this approach to achieve a consistent inspection and reporting regime.
We’ve all read the stories of misery experienced by unfortunate new home buyers whose dream home has turned out to be a nightmare. With the New build Survey Inspection & Reporting Standards we can’t help to solve everybody’s problems overnight. But in offering a consistent and measured approach to snagging surveys we can encourage cooperation from builders and deliver better outcomes for our clients.