Understanding the risks of thatch fires

Many people dream of owning a thatched cottage, but these picturesque houses require specialist maintenance and can be difficult and expensive to insure.

Most insurance companies prefer to insure houses with standard construction – brick walls and tiled roofs – which have low risks of fire damage and other structural problems.

A fire engine in a rural location

With their roofs made out of dried water reeds, thatched cottages present very different risk profiles to insurers. Some older cottages have walls made out of natural materials such as wattle and daub, rather than the standard bricks used in modern homes.

This means that most insurers will either not insure a house with a thatched roof, or charge a hefty premium which often comes with large excesses.

Either way, you can bet that owners of those idyllic cottages have had to work hard to find suitable insurance for their homes.

Fire risks

Fire presents the greatest risks to thatched roofs. Should the roof catch alight, it will very quickly become engulfed in flames as the dried reeds are highly inflammable.

It is not just the house where the fire started that is at risk should its thatch catch alight.

Thatched cottages are often sited in rows, so if the roof of one is burning, sparks and burning debris is very likely to land on the thatched roofs of neighboring properties. if they have not been well maintained, they could also soon be alight.

Its a dreadful thought to consider a row of these delightful, often historic, homes with burning roofs because of a mistake by one owner.

Reducing the risk of thatch fires

As most thatched cottages are likely to have open fireplaces, or wood burners, great care has to be taken to ensure that sparks don’t exit the chimney and settle on the surrounding thatch. Also chimneys must be regularly swept to minimise the risks of chimney fires which would have dire consequences for a thatched roof.

A smoke detector

This is why insurers who are prepared to write policies for houses with thatched roofs are likely to stipulate that chimneys should be professionally swept annually, or even twice a year.

Your insurer will want to see certificates for the chimney sweeping so ensure that you keep them should they be required!

Smoke detectors are also imperative to ensure that any outbreak of fire within the house is quickly detected.

Owners can also install fire retardant barriers between the interior of the house and the loft. These prevent, or delay, the spread of fire into the roof space, thus hopefully giving time for the arrival of the fire brigade.

There are also fire retardant sprays available, which are used to treat thatched roofs so that any fire would either not set the roof alight, or would spread more slowly, increasing the chances that it can be extinguished before too much damage is done.

As these sprays degrade over time, the roof will need a complete re-spray every five years, which adds to the cost of maintaining and owning a thatch.

A girl stands close to a bonfire

No bonfires or BBQ’s

Those delightful summer evenings with the family cooking their al fresco meal on a BBQ are not a reality if a thatched roof is nearby. It only takes one spark to be carried by the breeze onto that roof for disaster to strike.

Bonfires are also not sensible in the vicinity of thatched roofs. As they emit more sparks and burning debris, they pose more risk that BBQ’s but the use of either is likely to prevent an insurance company paying for fire damage should they result in one or more thatches catching alight.

There are a lot of responsibilities for the owner of a thatched roof, but it is also their neighbours who too must take care, even if they don’t own a house with this sort of roofing themselves.

Owning a thatched roof is not all bad news!

It is clear that there are specific and significant, risks associated with thatched roofs. Preventing fires is crucial, as well as ensuring that chimneys are safe and well maintained and that bonfires and BBQ’s are not used close to the house, if at all.

These risks should not deter potential thatch owners as there is plenty of good fire prevention advice available and there are specialist insurance companies and brokers who offer this cover.

So the risks of owning a thatched cottage should not over-shadow the joys of these properties, however it is wise to understand the responsibilities and costs associated with these roofs, before turning your dream of living in a thatched home into a reality.

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