Living with a thatched roof is simply a matter of exercising common sense. Statistically, homes with thatched roofs are no more likely to catch fire than those with conventional roofs if the owner understands the risk of thatch fire. However, if a thatched roof does ignite, a fire is almost impossible to control and the results can be devastating. Your property could be partially or totally destroyed.

You could of course, also lose your treasured possessions and have to live in alternative accommodation whilst your home is being rebuilt. This may take up to 18 months after consulting with the local authority, the conservation officer, architects and surveyors, in addition to the actual rebuilding of the property.

Understanding the hazards

The primary purpose of any fire safety advice is to protect life.

  • Fit smoke alarms: one should be fitted on each floor and one in the loft space. They should be checked every week and the batteries changed every year.
  • Make an escape plan: all family members & visitors need to be aware of the plan; display in a prominent position and review it regularly.
  • Know where the keys are kept: Door and window keys may need to be located in a hurry. Agree with everyone in the household where to keep the keys.
  • Keep escape routes clear: The best escape route is the normal way in and out of the house, choose a second route in case this one is blocked by fire. Keep routes clear of obstructions.
  • Pre-prepare a list of valuables and their location: a thatch fire will take a long time to bring under control and the Fire Rescue and Service are trained in salvage operations and therefore a prepared salvage plan could aid the recovery of your home contents.

In a fire

  • Keep calm & act quickly. Alert everyone – get everyone out!
  • Don’t waste time investigating
  • DO NOT try and tackle it yourself.
  • Dial 999: don’t go back inside, wait outside for the Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Shut doors as you leave.

Chimney Heat Detection Sensors

There are several products which will detect when the heat has reached a high enough point in your chimney adjacent to the thatch to cause a roof fire. These products are designed so that when a pre-set temperature is reached in the chimney flue adjacent to the thatch an alarm is set off in the house. If a wood burning stove is in use then you must immediately dampen this down to reduce the amount of heat rising up the chimney. Similar action should be taken with a multi-fuel stove.

Before you install any product please consult your insurance advisor.

Overall, the key issue is the effectiveness of the chimney lining system. If it is inappropriate or faulty then these products will only give a false sense of security.

Fire resistant barriers and chemical fire retardant sprays

There are a number of fire resistant barriers available that can be fitted in the roof on the rafters which act as a barrier preventing the spread of the fire to the rest of the house for up to an hour. If a fire starts, they provide a physical barrier between the thatch and the rest of the property to minimise the damage caused from water and debris.

In addition your roof can be sprayed with a chemical retardant spray to slow down the fire spread across the roof. There are two main products available Thatchsayf and Magma-Firestop. Please consult your insurance advisor for more information. The use of such products may entitle you to a reduction in your insurance premium.

The ‘Dorset Model’

Many new build thatched properties have been built to the “Dorset Model” fire protection standards. The Dorset Model method of construction means that many of the causes of thatch fires have been eliminated. Ask your builder for a specification for the property, and the materials used in the separation of the thatch from other parts of the building.