French homeowners warned of new ‘eco’ insulation scam
Homeowners in France are being warned of a new scam, which is similar to the infamous “€1 interior insulation” scam, but this time concerns exterior walls and “eco-friendly” insulation renovations.
The scam, which has been spreading since the end of 2019, especially in Brittany and Grand Est, involves low-income homeowners being offered eco-friendly home renovations on their outside walls for just €1, with the cost apparently subsidised by a government scheme.
Unfortunately, scammers or less-than-scrupulous builders have been found to offer the work, but then leave the homeowner with a poorly-completed, or incomplete and unacceptable job, which will then require further, extensive repairs.
For exterior insulation work, this can run into costs of anywhere between €15,000- €18,000. In some cases, homeowners have reported being left with grey, poorly-attached polystyrene blocks covering their walls, which needs tearing down and redoing.
Christian Smoliga, from facade building company FCA Eaubonne, said that he has seen a rise in such scams, especially in his local area of the Oise (Hauts-de-France) and Val d'Oise (Ile-de-France).
He told news source Les Echos: “It is impossible to coat poorly laid polystyrene, it would crack. You have to sand it down to redo the whole thing. It costs more than a normal project, and the household will not have any help to pay for it because you can't get [the government aid] twice.”
Often, it is lower-income homeowners who are targeted - and most-tempted - by the scheme, who are then left with a repair bill they cannot afford.
Benoit Dulac, an insulator at Eco-Isolateurs in Evreux (Normandy), said: “Owners find themselves with a disfigured house, with insulation blocks that break down and fall off. A real nightmare.”
Scam spreading across France
The scam has been reported - and can be seen - more and more in the north of France, including in Ile-de-France, Brittany, Pas-de-Calais, Nord, and Grand Est.
Sabine Basili, at the artisan construction group La Confédération des Artisans du Bâtiment (Capeb), said: “The phenomenon is national, and is only just beginning. It is too soon to quantify.”
Another “eco” scam involves builders offering homeowners a “quote” for eco-friendly renovations. They prepare the file, do substandard work, collect the government subsidy, and disappear.
Mr Smoliga explained: “The scammer does a quote for €150 per metre square to collect the most money, then lays a coat of plaster (to mask the fact that the work isn’t there) which will break within a year. That will cost them €20 per metre square, compared to €120-€130 for a proper, low-end project.”
Scammers can sometimes be identified due to their aggressive tactics, which usually include pressurising the homeowner to let them begin work ASAP - sometimes as soon as the next morning.
It is important for homeowners to remember that “€1 eco-friendly insulation work” does not actually exist. While government grants to make your house more efficient are generous, they still usually require a 10-25% charge paid by the homeowner, depending on your income.
This is designed to avoid the exact kind of scam seen with €1 interior insulation fraud, which saw many households accept offers of work that would be done poorly or never completed.
Fabien Carpentier, at insulation company Enduiest in Pulnoy (Meurthe-et-Moselle, Grand Est) said: “It seems that fraudulent scams are increasing, because 10% of the hundred or so calls we receive a week are now enquiries about this.”
He added that he had seen letters offering the work being dropped into locals’ letterboxes, which mention a phone number, but show no company name.
Most of the “companies” involved in the scams appear to be French, and they often do carry the RGE label of “quality”. However, to achieve the latter label, the company boss only has to do a training course of a few days, after which the entire team is given the label.
Professionals argue that there should be more certification required for workers, to ensure that companies are reputable and that certain companies - especially those that have not proven they are up to standard - should not be allowed to be funded by government grants.
Insulation work should be subject to inspections before the money is granted, builders have also said.
Mr Dulac, from Evreux, said: “Given the amount, there should be checks in place for every project.”
Another solution could be to take inspiration from Germany, which requires all projects to be inspected by a State-approved technical expert before the aid is given.
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