Tips and Advice for Preventing Fire in Thatch Roofs

Home Emergency Articles Posted on by Sandy Cosser

Thatch roofs tend to go through phases when they’re in and when they’re very much out in the UK. Currently, they’re enjoying a revival as homeowners rejoice in their eco-credentials and rediscover their durability. There are, however, certain misconceptions about thatch that master thatchers are keen to overcome. For instance, many people believe that thatch roofs are a high fire risk, but according to Period Property UK, only one in 750 house fires occur in thatched buildings, compared to one in 360 fires in conventional homes.

Another misconception is that thatched houses are expensive to insure, primarily due to the high fire risk. Again, Period Property UK says that if you try to insure your house with an insurer who doesn’t have much knowledge of or experience with thatch, you’re likely to be charged excessive premiums. There are, however, specialist insurers who know the real risks of thatch roofs and are able to provide competitive premiums. You might have to shop around to find an insurer who understands your roof and can give you comprehensive cover at reasonable rates.

What else should you bear in mind if you have or are contemplating a thatch roof?

While fires are rare, they can cause a great deal of damage. According to Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue Services (DSFRS), this is because thatch roofs are designed to repel water, so putting out fires is a real challenge. DSFRS says that 90% of fires in thatch houses are caused by a faulty flue or chimney, so you need to ensure that your chimney is kept in excellent condition.

Modern chimneys are built to cope with the high temperatures (up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit) produced in enclosed solid fuel stoves. Old chimneys were built to handle lower temperatures produced by open fireplaces. When a modern stove is fitted to an old chimney – as might be the case in a listed property – there is a greater transfer of heat and a greater risk of fire as a result. Ask your thatcher for detailed advice if your stove and flue/chimney are out of sync. You might have to insulate the flue to lower the heat transfer.

You should also check your chimney for signs of deterioration because cracks, gaps or weak spots that allow smoke and hot gases to escape can cause concentrated pockets of heat, which could ignite. Stained walls around the chimney and sooty loft spaces could indicate problems with the chimney. DSFRS recommends installing heat sensors in the thatch around the chimney to warn you of any overheating problems.

Things to remember:

  • Forewarned is forearmed – have your chimney inspected before you move into a thatched home or right now if you’ve never had it inspected before. Always use a qualified chimney engineer.
  • Regular maintenance will prevent a number of ills, so have your chimney swept once or twice a year to prevent blockages. A professional sweep will also be able to spot and report any signs of damage.
  • Always use fuel appropriate for your stove or fireplace.
  • Check your smoke alarms regularly.
  • Always extinguish your home fire properly before going to bed.