Thatched properties

Thatch fires spread rapidly and as they’re extremely difficult to extinguish, many homes are sadly destroyed.

Nearly a quarter of thatched property fires we attended over the last six years saw the whole building damaged.

      A thatched red brick cottage. There is a wreath on the white front door and a white picket fence outside.

      Thatched roof fires

      Most thatched roof fires start in the chimney, but they can also be caused by badly installed electricity cables and embers from bonfires.

      Chimney safety for your thatched home

      There are safety precautions you can follow to reduce the risk of a fire if you have a chimney in your thatched home. 

      • Use a stove pipe temperature gauge. This will help you burn your stove at a safe and efficient temperature. Using your stove at high temperatures risks sparks catching the thatch; while using it at a low temperature can coat the chimney with soot and tar which can also lead to a chimney fire.
      • Add a chimney pot. Make sure the top of the chimney pots are at least 1.8 metres above the thatch.
      • Line your chimney. This stops fire gases and sparks from reaching the thatch.
      • Consider your fire type. While stoves are a popular choice, they present a bigger risk of a fire in your thatched property than a traditional open fire. If you do have a stove, get it checked once a year by a Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme (HETAS) engineer. A research project funded by Historic England explains the relationship between stoves and thatch fires, which you can read about on the Historic England website
      • Have your chimney swept regularly by a qualified chimney sweep. A chimney in regular use should be swept at least once a year. The frequency should depend on what you are burning. Take a look at our advice on how often you should sweep your chimney and how to find a certified chimney sweep.

      Spot the safety precautions for a thatched property

      We've highlighted some more areas of your thatched property that you need to be thinking about in order to stay safe. Take a look around the image on the right and see what you find.

      A large thatched property, with two chimneys and seven visible windows. It has a small stone wall and some hedges and bushes surrounding it.
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      Raise the height of the chimney

      Increasing the distance between the top of the chimney and the thatch will help reduce the number of sparks that will set the thatch alight.

      635
      Reduce the thickness of the thatch

      This reduction will provide extra safety.

      400
      Make sure electric cables in your loft are run inside conduit

      This is tubing which protects the electrical wiring. 

      16
      Install an outside tap with a long hose

      This will be extremely helpful in the event of a small fire.

      Other ways to reduce the risk of fire in your thatched home

      • Only burn well-seasoned wood. This means that it has been left to dry out for a long time and all the moisture has evaporated. Burning wet wood can cause water vapour to combine with other gases and particles. Unless the chimney is kept warm, this can create condensation, which then makes a substance that hardens to form tar. This is extremely flammable and can lead to chimney fires.
      • Make sure that you have working smoke alarms in your home. We also recommend installing an interlinked smoke alarm if you have loft space. For more information, take a look at our advice on smoke alarms.
      • Make sure you have the safety equipment advised by your insurers in your home (for example fire extinguishers, fire blankets etc).
         
      • Don’t have bonfires or use fireworks and sky lanterns nearby. It is a good idea to chat about this with your neighbours too.
      • Don’t allow contractors to use blowtorches or heat guns when carrying out work on your home.
      • Cover lights in the ceiling below your loft with intumescent hoods. These are fire resistant covers for light fittings and downlights.
      • Make an escape plan in the event of a fire. See our advice on escape plans.

      Book a free home safety visit

      If you have a thatched home in Devon or Somerset, you’re eligible for a free home safety visit.

      We’ll give you a free magnetic stovepipe thermometer (while stocks last), so you can make sure your stove doesn’t overheat. 

      Book your free home safety visit now

      Things to look out for

      There are a few signs that suggest you could have a problem with your thatch or chimney:

      • stained plaster or wallpaper around your chimney
      • dark deposits in the loft or on the chimney
      • soot on cobwebs
      • crumbling of the chimney’s lining
      • scorching to wooden lintels.
         

      Carrying out thatch renovation or re-roofing

      The Dorset model thatching methods can be applied if you’re planning a major renovation or re-roofing your home.

      This includes:

      • a fireproof barrier between the roof timbers and the thatch layer

      The thatch would then be ‘sacrificial’ in the event of fire, with the fireproof barrier preventing the fire from getting into the structure of your home.

      • installation of a vapour check barrier between the ceiling and the loft space

      You can get more advice by speaking to the local authority Building Control or the National Society of Master Thatchers.
       

       

      Spark arrestors

      We don’t recommend spark arrestors for chimneys. If you have them, make sure they are cleaned every three months by a professional chimney sweep.