Cocoon: 8 things I wish I’d known

August 16th, 2011 by Kate Griffin Leave a reply »

I wrote yesterday about getting my home insulated with Cocoon, the subsidised scheme where you can get loft or cavity wall insulation done for just £99. I’m very happy we had it done, but there are a few things I wish I’d known before I started the process, things that weren’t clear from the Cocoon website or the literature I saw before booking.

You get to choose which company carries out the work… but you won’t find out what those companies are until you ring up. I hadn’t heard of any of them, so I picked InstaGroup because at the time they had a slightly shorter turnaround time than the other three. There are now five, and I’ll give you their names now so you can check out their websites and think about which you’d prefer. Bear in mind that they will all be fully qualified to do the work in question.

The surveyor will need access to the house and the garden. Tidy up so it’s easy for them to move around quickly. The InstaGroup surveyor turned up to my house half an hour early and nearly fell over a clothes-horse full of washing that I hadn’t had time to put away. I moved the clothes-horse to the bottom of the garden, only to find him backing into it again as he tried to take a photo of the outside of the house.

You may be asked to sign something that isn’t quite right. The InstaGroup surveyor tried to make me sign a piece of paper that said  “Our technician has told you that you need extra vents [in your attic]”, although he assured me that we did not need any extra vents. My signature would have made it look as if I’d been advised to get extra vents but was choosing to ignore the technician’s advice – completely not true. We had a disagreement about this because he couldn’t see why I wouldn’t just go ahead and sign. My solution was to cross out the untrue section about the technician’s advice before signing. As ever, if you’re asked to sign something, read it carefully.

The loft insulation installers will not lift any boarding in your attic. They won’t lay insulation on top of boarding either. If your attic is more than two-thirds boarded, they won’t carry out the work at all; the survey will make it clear whether or not this is the case. The good news about this is that if you have boxes in the attic, you can push them onto the boards instead of moving them out of the attic.

You may have to chase your chosen company to book the work. My survey was done in early August, and I was told that someone would “be in touch shortly”, but a month later nothing had happened, so I rang InstaGroup myself to set a date for the work.

You’ll need to do a bit of preparation. When we finally got a date, I rang InstaGroup and asked: “Is there anything we need to know? Anything we need to do to prepare the house for the work?” and was told there wasn’t. In reality, you will need to:

  • Clear your stuff out of the loft if you’re getting loft insulation done (or push it onto any boarded areas)
  • Make sure the outside walls are clear if you’re having cavity wall insulation done
  • Talk to your neighbours about any access that may be needed (our cavity wall insulation required access to the neighbours’ garden)
  • Warn your neighbours that you’ll have one, possibly two, lorries in the street on the day of the work.

The insulation firm won’t necessarily tell you all this, because to them it’s too obvious to be worth mentioning. We squeezed this information out of InstaGroup by guessing what might need to be done and then ringing them to confirm it. Every question got the answer, “Well, obviously you’ll need to do that, yes.”

There will be dust. The InstaGroup workmen were brilliant at cleaning up after the work, but installing cavity wall insulation will inevitably mean a layer of brick-dust outside the house. It will coat plants if they’re near the house and make the outside of your windows filthy. So don’t do what we did and clean all the windows the week before the work.

You’ve got to book quickly. The bargain £99 deal depends on a subsidy from central government, topped up by West Oxfordshire District Council, and this subsidy (known as CERT funding) will end in the next 14 months. From autumn 2012, the government’s Green Deal will make it easier for homeowners to pay for insulation work, but the help will be in the form of affordable loans rather than subsidised discounts.  Anybody who needs this work done should grab a £99 deal now, before it’s too late.

I hope this slightly cautionary blog post hasn’t put anyone off taking advantage of the Cocoon scheme. If you’ve read this far, you’ll find the whole experience much easier than I did. As someone once said: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

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6 comments

  1. Debbie says:

    Thanks for putting the information out there Kate. At the Council, we are very keen that people take advantage of the £99 insulation deal where they can.

  2. Angus says:

    Thanks for this very thorough feedback. I’m responsible for running the CocoonYourHome service so customer feedback like this is essential to me to help improve the service that we offer. Obviously some things have gone wrong here; in particular you should not have had to chase InstaGroup for an appointment date and the InstaGroup surveyor should have left behind two orange leaflets, “Loft Insulation – Your Questions Answered” and “Cavity Wall Insulation – Your Questions Answered” which make clear all the points you have raised about the practicalities of the work. I have asked InstaGroup to look at this feedback too, to see what they can learn from it to improve their customer service.

    The CocoonYourHome website does have a Frequently Asked Questions page which is supposed to address a lot of these points too – clearly it isn’t obvious enough at the moment and we will be editing it to ensure it addresses all the issues you have raised.

    It’s all too easy for those of us involved with this work every day to forget that for most people this is a “once in a property” event and they can’t be expected to know what we know. For instance there are genuine issues with boarding which, if not dealt with properly, can lead to condensation problems. Boarding which is fully insulated below it can, generally, have insulation added on top of it – but if there is an air gap between the top of the insulation and the bottom of the boarding then the insulation cannot be added. Part of our job is to explain these issues as clearly as possible, as well as making it easy for you to find reliable installers and to take advantage of the special grants that currently make this work so cheap.

    I completely agree that nobody should ever sign to have work done in their home by any company without understanding exactly what it is they are signing up to.

    It’s a disturbing thought that when the Green Deal loans replace the existing CERT grants the Customer cost for this type of work could easily be £500 – £600, instead of the £99 that is currently available in certain Local Authority areas.

    Despite having to deal with the issues you have highlighted I’m very glad that you still feel happy that you had the work done and hope that you feel the difference in both improved comfort levels and lower bills over the winter.

  3. Kate Griffin says:

    Thanks for your very thorough response, Angus. I should say again that yes, I am very glad we had the work done. I wrote this post so that others would have a smoother experience than me, not to put them off!

    The InstaGroup surveyor did indeed leave those orange leaflets behind, but neither contained a handy summary of how to prepare for the work (like the one I’ve written above). They were useful and informative but maybe the text is a little bit dense for people who aren’t as interested in the detail as I was.

    I found dealing with the Instagroup surveyor very difficult – we just didn’t seem to understand each other. For example, he asked if we wanted to keep the boarding in the loft and I said yes because we wanted to leave open the possibility of conversion in the future. He shook his head and said “oh dearie me” as if I’d said we wanted to open a circus up there! I established afterwards, after some confusion, that there was never any possibility of Instagroup taking up the boards, so I don’t understand why he asked me this in the first place.

    If Instagroup are really reading this for ways to improve their customer service, they might also want to look at their phone-answering system. At present, someone answers and lets you explain why you’re ringing, but then she just asks “What’s your postcode?” and immediately puts you through to someone else so you have to go through the whole explanation again.

    I don’t know why the postcode person can’t just say “Hello, Instagroup, can I take your postcode?” when they answer rather than waiting for you to explain the reason for your call. Or, even better, they could actually pass on the query when they transfer the call so the caller doesn’t have to go through it twice.

    Of course, what would be *really* nice would be to have the phone answered by someone who can actually answer the query themselves, but that’s presumably an unachievable dream.

    I did mention some of this in the feedback form they gave me, but like most feedback forms it was structured to minimise this kind of criticism.

  4. Angus says:

    Kate,

    I’m meeting with InstaGroup on 14th September. So as well as already having asked them to look at your original comments I shall have the opportunity to discuss your additional feedback with them face to face to see if some improvements can be initiated. I will let you know the outcome of that discussion.

  5. Angus says:

    Kate,

    I met InstaGroup yesterday and they have committed to providing a full response. If there are any details in that response which might reveal any of your personal data then I’ll need to send you the full reply by a separate e-mail, but I will post the non-personal parts here too and you can decide if you wish to publish any of the rest of it yourself. I imagine the vast majority of it, if not all of it, will be non-personal though.

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