Fires in thatched properties

Advice on fires in thatched cottages

I recently had the pleasure of attending a seminar on fires in thatched properties, courtesy of The Thatch Advice Centre and The Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps.

The seminar, led by Karen Crouch, threw up some interesting facts.

Firstly, fires in thatched properties are apparently on the rise, and there’s a strong link between thatch fires and solid fuel stoves with liners, and properties with low chimneys (less than 1.8m)

Karen also advised that, according to research, the vast majority of fires are caused by ejected embers from the chimney pot. Heat transfer is very unlikely to be a factor in thatch fires.

As a chimney sweep, much of this rings true. Stoves with liners are very efficient, and tend to have good ‘pull’ up to chimney. Sometimes, this strong pull can led to ejected embers. In most conventional properties, this rarely presents a problem, but on combustible roofs, it can clearly be a problem.

So that means you should get a spark arrestor for the top of your pot, right? Well… spark arrestors have a tendency to get tarred up very quickly. They require regular cleaning out so a generally not recommended.

Chimney height is an interesting one as well. Look around any street with pre-war housing and you will see chimney stacks of varying heights. That’s because many have been lowered over the years.

Thatched properties tend to be listed buildings, so if the chimney has been lowered, you may find it difficult to get permission from your local council to get it returned to its original height (I know… bizarre!). The best way of overcoming this potential obstacle is if you have proof, a photograph for instance, of the original height of the chimney.

And the reason for the rise in fire incidents? Well, solid fuel fires are becoming increasingly popular right across the board. Many people are having them retro-fitted. Experts point out that, statistically, homes with thatched roofs are not more likely to catch fire than those with conventional roofs. But when they do, it can cause severe damage to property and so receives a lot of attention/publicity.

The Thatch Advice Centre have issued some useful tips on how you can keep your thatched property safe:

• Take care when lighting fires e.g. use firelighters (paper and card not recommended) and when refuelling.

• Burn seasoned hardwood / kiln dried wood max moisture 20%.

• Sweep chimneys regularly, not just at the start but during the burning season. Keep woodburner baffles clean.

• Run your woodburner/stove per manufacturer’s instructions and avoid aggressive burning.

• Keep an eye on flue/chimney temperature. Too high, speeds up flue gases and increases risk of ejecting burning material. Too low, increases soot and tar in the flue and potential for a chimney fire.

• Spark arrestors are not recommended.

• Think carefully about a bird guard.

• The greater the chimney height the higher the dispersal of any embers away from the thatch.

The centre’s website is a wealth of information. They have also produced a leaflet, which you can download here.

Mr Soot Chimney Sweep offers a professional and friendly chimney sweep service in Wigan, Stockport, Southport, Ormskirk, Chorley, Warrington, South Preston and surrounding areas. Book Mr Soot online or call 0800 0541154.


One thought on “Fires in thatched properties

  1. Good summary, the plan is to reduce the risks of thatch fires starting by improving the advice. Once thatch catches it is notoriously hard to put out and are costly in terms of loss of property (especially our heritage buildings) and fire fighting. Well done.

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