1 Helpful?

Sketchy insulation contractor

After many months of research (thanks to this site) I finally hired an insulation contractor for my attic. The contractor was certified by building performance institute and after 4 different estimates I was pretty confident I had selected the correct one.

After agreeing to the contract and providing a 50% deposit the contractor arrived on Friday. The two workers arrived looking pretty tired and not really very happy to be there. They began work in the attic. They were to foam all penetrations and wall partitions with one part foam. I went up to check on them, and they indicated the sealing work was done. I went over to a random wall partition and it was not sealed. I asked why, and the worked indicated it didn't need to be because it was a tight fit.

Next I check on the other guy who is installing accuvents in a small area that I could not access near the roof gable. I had installed the other accuvents throughout the attic myself. He first indicated that there is no need for accuvents in this area, then he proceeds to install the accuvent directly over the soffit and usesa small piece of fiberglass and also covers the soffit. I couldn't get backto where he was to check why, but he indicated this was his only option as there was no end plate to secure the accuvent or fiberglass to.

Then comes the cellulose. It was supposed to be blown in to 24", however he begins installing it in "wave like" patterns that are completely inconsistent. I ask his about this, and he indicated he will take a rake and spread the area out once he is done blowing. I put my foot down and tell him, there is no way he is trudged through freshly blown insulation trying to rake it. He was annoyed, and mentioned something about he worked too many hours this week and just wants to go home and go Christmas shopping. I feel bad for the guy, but really that's not my fault, as I am paying a lot of money for this job.

They indicated they are done the blowing work so I head up again to take a final look. I see that he didn't insulate close to the end plates and there is a space between the accuvents. (The insulation seems to level off before the top plate.) He says they always do it this way. Then I tell him that's the benefit of the accuvents, in that you can insulate right up close to them. He says he is out of insulation anyways. They vacuum up, and leave. No request for final payment.

How does this sound to you guys, and how would you handle it when the owner comes knocking for his final 50% payment? I really don't want that crew coming back to my house, as I fear retaliation for my complaining to their boss. I find it hard to believe those guys are BPI certified, but their company is indeed listed as certified. Any thoughts on a resolution?

Asked by Rocky Pembroke
Posted Dec 22, 2012 6:48 PM ET
Edited Dec 23, 2012 11:50 AM ET


10 Answers

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No easy answer, esp when no one can see the work over the Net. However, you certainly have a right to tell the boss that the job was not up to specs, show him, and ask if that is his typical installation. If he says it is sub-par, ask that he send a different crew to make it right, then cut the check after the work is well done. If he says that is what he does, and that is what the contract shows, then IMO you are stuck w/ it. You can always argue, though, and a contractor of integrity will eat a little profit to protect his/her good name.

Answered by John Klingel
Posted Dec 22, 2012 7:23 PM ET


I agree with John. It's hard to determine who is right without a site visit. The contractor is owed the final 50% payment if the work was performed according to specs. If you have written specs, and if the work doesn't meet the specs, you have the right to withhold the payment until the work is satisfactorily completed.

Answered by Martin Holladay
Posted Dec 23, 2012 7:19 AM ET
Edited Dec 23, 2012 2:35 PM ET.


I don't mean this to be comforting, but .... I recently had a similar job done on a remodel -- vac out the blown glass, seal the penetrations, install vents at soffits, blow in R40.

I put the energy rater, who is a contractor as well, in charge of subbing out and dealing with quality of installs for me (since I know just enough to get myself into trouble). The attic insulators had to come back three times -- they left out nearly half of the vent channels, uneven depth of blown-in, and missed a couple of pots (which were supposed to have TenMat hats sealed over them).

After they were finally up to his (and my) standards I said "I thought you were getting a good company."

He explained they were the best in the area and he has to have them return to finish jobs correctly in 3 our of 4 jobs. "They're bad, but lots better than the others around here."

Answered by JoeW N GA Zone 3A
Posted Dec 23, 2012 1:50 PM ET


From my perspective...

Always in reality comes down to, the supposed "best" are always, offering the most palatable price, not the highest quality. Sure, these types talk great talk, are so so loveable... and boy, the price is doable.

Every trade near me can be done top quality for top dollar. Very very very few hire the very very few that can deliver top quality.

No one needs to watch over the best. They watch over themselves with pride and full respect for putting out top quality for the pure merit of doing so. And treat these types well with offers of payment verses having them chase you for checks and you have heaven on earth. Amen.

And as to the sketchy... there are just as many "sketchy customers if not more these days as there are contractors and tradesmen. I would say at least __ out of 10 try to hire every person on site "on the side" within two minutes of getting whomever in a yap session. Respect is a two way street folks and as we all age... most of us start to gut check out each other pretty good from day one before entering what can be a great lifelong relationship both on and off the project. Play games with a contractor, and just like giving a restaurant a hard time about food, and well, what happens next that you just may never know about. The stories I have heard...

And with that, Merry Christmas, even to the not so Christ-y or respectful. Forward we go imperfections and all.

Can't help myself... nuther thought pertinent... offer water, rest room use, a snack, small tips, praise, space to work without hovering... if a job really is going south... stop it, apologize for inconvenience then get a new plan of action started.

Answered by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a
Posted Dec 23, 2012 5:58 PM ET
Edited Dec 23, 2012 6:16 PM ET.


Like others have said, we can't see the work and don't know what the specs were--or if they were met--but honestly, Rocky, I think you're doing the right thing, and just have to keep doing it and make yourself as comfortable as you can in your unfortunately-necessary role as construction superintendent.

Insulation workers generally have a miserable job. They have to work like dogs in lousy conditions and generally get poor money. Attic and crawlspace retrofits are the worst. So, you have to expect that they might be inexperienced (high turnover), unmotivated, looking to cut corners because they're getting a piece rate, and all the rest. A lot of construction work is like this now, and as the commissioner you have to stay on top of it any time the crew is unknown to you. Too bad the company owner is not there to do what he's supposed to, but since he's not, you have to.

The best thing would have been to stop the job before the blowing started, and review everything with the company owner, but since you didn't do that, you have to decide how big of a deal it is. It sounds like some sealing work may have been left undone. It's hard to verify, although you could learn something with a blower door and IR cam inspection, or just by digging through the cellulose (yes, an awful thing to have to do). If you think a lot of work was left undone, it may be worth a fight. If you think most of it was done, it may be better to just rake the stuff out level and get on with your life.

Part of this has to do with what you are paying. If you paid a premium, demand a very high-quality job, and withhold final payment to get it. If you paid a low price, chalk it up to experience. I'd have to know what you paid to decide.

Answered by David Meiland
Posted Dec 24, 2012 1:32 AM ET


I am just blown away with all the knowledge and great answers I received from my "sketchy insulation contractor" post. It appears many have been in my shoes before, and it is a common practice to be presented with a professional knowledgeable sales quoter, to be followed with a less knowledgeable and less professional installation crew.

I have taken John's advice and approached the contractor in a way that was fair but also firm. I sent him some pictures that show the insulation (with a ruler I put in myself prior to insulating) showing that the insulation levels did NOT reach 24" as stated in the contract. Apparently he couldn't make this picture out. I will include this picture for the group when I post. I also questioned him on the other concerns I had. Here is the reply I received from him:

"Hi Rocky,

Thank you for your email. In response to your concerns I can understand why you requested to have the insulation not raked out but this is a common step that we normally do without affecting the performance of the insulation. It is extremely difficult to create an even level upon finishing without the raking process. The crew’s instructions were specific which was to install 12-14 inches to make a total of 24 inches. I believe that we had achieved this. Do you think that there are some spots that aren’t 24 inches or are your concerns that the insulation was uneven? The pictures that you sent really do not depict what the attic looks like unfortunately. I can also understand your concern as the insulation ‘levels off’ next to the eaves but in all fairness, without being able to rake the insulation it is impossible to get the levels of insulation to the proposed levels in the eave area without getting any insulation in the vent channels which I know was a big concern of yours. Without really seeing for myself what the Accuvent installation in the gable area looked like or what it looked like prior to installation I have to defer to you and the crew on what had happened. Same with the wall partitions. I will not be talking with the crew until Wednesday as to find out what they had found and their rationale on how they approached the situation. Moving forward I wanted to find out what you would like us to do about these situations. It sounds like we can’t rectify any of it as you had requested that we do not step on any newly installed insulation. Let me know your thoughts on this.

On another note I know that the crew had really struggled with getting the insulation up to the attic due to the moisture in the air and the added vertical height of your building.

Have a good day and I hope that you are all set for the upcoming holidays."

He seemed to be fair in his response in putting the onus back on me as to what would fix the situation.

I do like David's idea of doing a blower door test to check on the sealing work, and I am already in the process of scheduling that. The rationale given by the owner for the insulation levels is interesting. My quote did indeed call for "12-14 inches up to 24 inches" of insulation to be blown in, however, we are not at 24", and I am concerned he may state that instead 12-14" were blown in, but that didn't get us to 24", so I am out of luck. I hope he doesn't though as that would be a mismeasurement of his part.

Is it common for installers to go ahead and walk through freshly blown insulation and rake it out? I guess I am just having a hard time accepting this, as it goes against everything I have heard previously about cellulose. FYI, the final agreed upon price was $1,313.

Answered by Rocky Pembroke
Posted Dec 24, 2012 8:57 AM ET


Picture attached. Notice the white rulers which are 24" high.

Attic 3.JPG
Answered by Rocky Pembroke
Posted Dec 24, 2012 9:01 AM ET


Rocky, not much to say about one picture, but what I see there looks fairly normal. My sub is able to blow insulation out nice and level in an attic with headroom (yours definitely appears to have plenty of headroom) and they wouldn't be raking it at all in that situation. It is not going to be perfectly flat on the surface, it will vary a bit like fresh snow.

A note of caution on the blower door test--it is going to take a fairly experienced tech to figure out how well sealed your attic is from the house. A newly minted BPI person without much construction or audit experience is not going to do it. You need to be specific with them about what you want to learn. The only possible outcomes are crude judgments such as "seems pretty good" or "doesn't seem that good"--there are no quantitative results to something like this. I would use negative pressure in the house combined with IR to look for air leakage at the top plates, ceiling penetrations, etc. You cannot get a perfect read using this method, only an idea.

Answered by David Meiland
Posted Dec 24, 2012 12:31 PM ET


Rocky: Seeing the picture and reading the contractor's response, I'd say "Relax". Let them rake it out and you can sleep well. This is not precision-necessary work, to my mind. A little less heat loss at a lump, a little more at a valley. You won't have cold spots or anything that anyone will ever know about, IMO.

Answered by John Klingel
Posted Dec 24, 2012 1:58 PM ET


From even further outside, Rocky, two things strike me as both "odd" and perhaps significant. First, the owner isn't going to see the crew until (several) days later. That's odd.

Second, he says he didn't see the job. And on top of it, he doesn't say he's going to see the job. That strikes me as significant.

You may or may not have a leg to stand on, but I know I would be pretty directive at the point of $1300. I know it's a tough job ... but he should do it right or not take the work on. On the other hand, if your contract is as vague as this conversation, I'm not sure you have anywhere to go with it other than to ask what it would take for him to get it done right.

Answered by JoeW N GA Zone 3A
Posted Dec 25, 2012 7:47 PM ET

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