Thatch safety
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Thatched Living

Living in a thatched property doesn't mean you are any more at risk from fire, but it does mean you need to consider your fire safety and maintain your home to prevent fire. 

Although thatch fires are not common, over 90% of thatch roof fires start as a result of a faulty flue or chimney. The thatch is designed to repel water which makes extinguishing these fires difficult. 

Always check with your insurance provider about your level of cover and what precautions they require you to carry out. 

What causes a thatch fire?

There are many ways for a thatched property to catch; from ejected embers, chimney fires, failures in chimney brickwork/mortar, electrical faults, or external factors like fireworks or sky lanterns. 

 

Chimney safety

Old or poorly maintained chimneys can deteriorate to the point where smoke and hot gases can escape from the chimney into the upper rooms, the roof space, or directly into the thatch. 

•Sweep your chimney at least twice a year- in autumn and early spring. Tar and soot built up can lead to chimney fires resulting in burning materials being emitted from the chimney.

•Bird Guards prevent nesting and the accumulation of combustible materials being introduced to the chimney. 

•Failure in chimney brickwork or pointing may set fire to the Thach directly by ejecting burning material. Have the brickwork inspected by a registered engineer every three years. This ensures the brickwork is sound and any liner installed is in good condition. 

•Fires should be lit using firelighters and kindling only, paper or card can be lifted out of the chimney which could land on the thatch. 

•Regular sweeping of chimneys will remove soot, bird nests, cobwebs and other blockages. Having your chimney swept by a professional registered chimney sweep will remove creosote which can help to prevent a chimney fire. 

Check your insurance policy for their additional requirements.


PREVENTION IS ESSENTIAL - DETECTION IS NEARLY ALWAYS TOO LATE

Heating your home – open fires and wood burners

If you're heating your home with either an open fire or using a wood burning stove, it's important to contact your insurer and understand if there are any guidelines that you may have to follow. Insurers can work with thatch homeowners to provide guidance and explain the level of cover you have and any safety or precautionary measures you may need to take.

Safety is key when operating open fires or wood burners in thatch properties - only burn seasoned dry wood, make sure this is less than 20% moisture by using a probe. If you're using a wood-burning stove, ensure that it's installed and checked by an approved installer as they can provide advice and guidance regarding its operation and safe working limits. Introducing too much air (over firing) into a stove can increase the velocity of fire gases traveling up the flue, which increases the risk of ejecting an ember from the chimney top. 

Ensuring the stove is lined with a wide liner helps decrease this velocity and if this liner is also insulated, this helps reduce heat transfer through convection to the neighbouring chimney brickwork, which in most properties built before 1960 will be of single brick construction to which the thatch is behind. 

For more advice on heating your home click here for our Safe & Warm leaflet: 

Woodburning / Multifuel Stove Top Tips:

  • Choose a stove and flue design that allows good access for sweeping and cleaning.
  • Use an approved HETAS registered installer, find your nearest one here.
  • Have the chimney lined with an appropriate liner, don’t forget to have this checked regularly!
  • Never burn chemically treated wood!
  • Never use paper, cardboard, or flammable liquids to light a stove. Always use firelighters and kindling. Always stay with the woodburner when lighting and refuelling.
  • Burn seasoned or kiln-dried wood stored in a dry airy place. The moisture content of the wood should be below 20%. Check this by using a moisture sensing probe.
  • A Stove pipe thermometer is a highly effective means of monitoring the state of a stove, (this allows you to understand if the stove is working within its safe limits). Operating a stove at low temperatures risks creating soot and tar, running it too hot can eject burning material out of the chimney. Heat monitors/alarms for Woodburner/flue temperatures are recommended as early warning systems. There are stand-alone and linked systems available.
  • Don’t burn any other waste material, stoves aren’t designed for this and it can lead to blocked chimneys or flues.

Remember: Stoves are not incinerators, don’t use them to burn any waste materials.

 

YOUR MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST

  • Is a working smoke alarm fitted on every level of your home? Many thatch owners also have a smoke alarm in their attics/roof space to give an early warning should a fire begin in their home. (Not got a smoke alarm? Visit our Safe & Well page to find out more about our free service)
  • Do you test your smoke alarm works once a week? 
  • Have you regularly inspected your chimney or paid someone to inspect it for you?
  • Do you only burn seasoned wood?
  • Do you check all tradespeople are registered engineers and are aware of potential fire risks?
  • Do you regularly sweep your chimney?
  • Do you use fireguards with open fires? 
  • Is a bird guard fitted to prevent nests from blocking your flue?
  • Have you had problems with pest control in your thatch?

You can find a local chimney sweep by visiting the National Association of Chimney Sweeps website.

 

YOUR INSURANCE POLICY

It’s really important you check your level of cover with your insurance provider and ensure you are following their guidelines. 

For example, some insurance providers make it part of your policy to have a garden hose on standby. Some state how often spark arrestors need to be cleaned, and what size the flue outlet should be.

Not following your policy could have devastating financial consequences.

Remember you may have two separate insurance policies with different companies, one for the building and one for contents. Ensure you check both policies and make sure any valuables are listed.


Be prepared

Protect your home by fitting a smoke alarm on every level of your home, ideally on the ceiling of a hallway or landing. Many thatch owners also have a smoke alarm in their attics/roof space to give an early warning should a fire begin in their home.

  • Test once a week
  • Always follow the manufacturer's advice


For more advice on smoke alarms click here:

  

If a fire occurs - get out, stay out, call 999

  • Keep all exits clear
  • Have a plan B. The front door is usually your first option, but have a plan B, if plan A is blocked
  • Keep door and window keys accessible

 For more advice on planning your escape routes click here:

Is your Thatch property in a hard to locate location? 

In an emergency, identifying precisely where help is needed is critical. This can be near impossible if you are in an area with no address or if that address isn’t good enough to describe exactly where you are. In rural locations like farms, countryside, or moorland, it’s even more difficult to communicate location accurately. Callers who don’t know where they are often using their phones to try and find themselves via a pin on a map – but it’s difficult to describe that pin to someone over a 999 call.

what3words has divided the world into 3 metre squares and given each square a unique combination of three words: a what3words address. what3words is free to use via the app for iOS and Android or the online map at what3words.com. The system works offline, making it ideal for use in areas with an unreliable data connection.

Let the fire service help you

By listing valuable and sentimental possessions in our Thatched Living pack, and indicating where they can be found on the floor plan, you can help our crews to locate and attempt to recover items from your home.

Never take items with you when you leave your home. Items could hinder your escape and delay you calling 999.

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How often does my chimney need sweeping?

The National Association of Chimney Sweeps advise the following:

·  Smokeless fuel: At least once a year

·  Wood: Quarterly when in use

·   Bituminous coal: Quarterly when in use

·   Oil: Once a year

·   Gas: Once a year

You can find a local chimney sweep by visiting the National Association of Chimney Sweeps website.