A chocolate box scene isn’t complete without a thatched cottage.

A thatched roof is a thing of beauty, not only does it look fabulous from the outside, you will likely find yourself drawn to the intrinsic interior design.

Thatched properties come with a certain charm and allure that few can deny and they have many practical benefits; they’re insulating and an environmentally friendly renewable source of material. However, there are risks to consider; a thatched roof is a considerable fire hazard, especially when a wood burning stove completes the romantic picture.

Typical reasons for thatch fires include: 

  • Faults with electrics in the home;
  • Sparks or embers from a bonfire landing on the roof;
  • Sparks or embers from the chimney landing on the roof;
  • A fire occurring in the flue / chimney itself; and
  • Incorrect use of wood burning stoves.

It’s true, a home can be rebuilt, but treasured possessions cannot always be replaced and the stress and trauma suffered following a fire cannot be underestimated.

With the turn of the season, we will soon be lighting our open fires, wood burners and stoves.  So, what are the top tips for reducing the risk of fire?

1. Get a professional chimney sweep to clean your chimneys

 Chimneys should be swept at least once a year during the period 1st May to 1st September.  If they are used frequently during the winter then they should be swept again during that time.

A professional chimney sweep is someone that does this as a full time occupation.  Make sure that they have public liability insurance with at least an indemnity limit amount of £2.5m.

There are four main trade bodies for chimney sweeps who you can contact for advice and details of a sweep near you:

 2. Inspect your Flue and Chimney

Have your flue and chimney inspected to ensure that the brick or stonework and any flue lining are in good condition (especially where it passes through the thatch).  The person providing the inspection should be a registered heating engineer or a member of HETAS or the National Association of Chimney Engineers.

Once the chimney and flue have been inspected, swept and any repairs made, you are ready to light:

  • Start your fire with commercial firelighters and very dry, small logs.  Kindling can be used but avoid smaller sticks, twigs and shavings as they can produce sparks.
  • Avoid the use of paper and cardboard at all costs
  • Use hard woods that have been seasoned for at least 2 years and have a moisture content of 20% or less.  Don’t burn Coniferous wood or builders wood waist
  • Although it may be tempting to ‘throw a log on the fire’ don’t.  Add fuel carefully to minimise sparks.
  • If you have a wood burning stove please be aware that they generate a lot of heat.  It is really important to follow the manufactures instructions.  In addition to the guidelines above. 

3. Once alight, keep an eye on the temperature

If you are using a wood burning or multi-fuel stove, you can check the possible flue temperature at the point where the gases leave your stove by fitting a stove heat monitor.  This helps check that the flue isn’t getting to hot where it passes through the thatch. 

Consider installing a heat detection system and ensure that all open fires and stoves are completely out before you go to bed or leave your home for any length of time.

4. Make sure you are appropriately insured

Thatched homes are, by their nature, a non-standard insurance risk which means that establishing your insurance need and specifically calculating the cost of rebuilding thatch properties can be complex.  I always advocate speaking to an insurance specialist.  At NFU Mutual, in addition to our fabulous Agents who are our experts, we offer access to a hand-picked panel of experienced and expert companies who can, for a fee, make sure your assets are correctly valued. 
Should the worst happen, our claims representatives will be sympathetic to your property’s specific rebuilding requirements.

  • We’ll pay for the restoration of your damaged property using the specialist materials and processes required, if the insured rebuilding cost is adequate
  • We will pay up to 125% of the insured rebuilding cost if, at the start of the first period of cover or any subsequent renewal, you have had a professional independent re-building valuation which is no more than three years old and insured your buildings, at the time, for at least the recommended value. If your buildings are not repaired or replaced we will only pay up to the insured rebuilding cost.