The notion of an old-fashioned looking wood burner in what is already a chocolate box picture scene is very tempting, but it does come with its hazards. The main one is fire, due to the fact thatch can be very easy to ignite. That’s why it’s crucial to get a tradesman who knows exactly what he’s doing.
Referring to the fact the number of fires in thatched homes were on the rise, Marjorie Sanders, Chief Executive of the National Society of Master Thatchers (NSMT), back in 2009, said:
“With the cold evenings being experienced this summer the numbers are already ahead of the most recent statistics.
“Such devastating losses are set to make this the most costly, in terms of irretrievable loss of historic fabric and financial reinstatement, in modern times.”
So the NSMT have been aware of the problem for some time now and this is why they have urged thatched cottage owners with the notion of getting a wood burner, to adhere to certain basic safety rules.
- Getting the chimney properly swept. This is because the concentrated heat of wood burning stoves, as opposed to open fires, can be transferred to straw on a thatched roof if the flue or chimney has a build-up of tar, caused by poor – or no – sweeping.
- Make as large a distance as possible between your flue and thatch. Four or five inches inches between the two isn’t enough as sparks from the flue can easily ignite straw. Get a much bigger gap to reduce the chances of it catching alight.
- Go on an advice day course/seminar on the subject. That way you’ll learn the best way to protect your home and family.
One individual in the business of thatched cottage insurance, who has paid out a sizeable fortune to the owners of such thatched cottages after they were burned down, said he blamed a rise in thatched cottage fires as being down to inexperienced wood burning stove owners. Then there’s also the fact that being listed, the building can’t always accommodate the typical safety measures available to other properties.
Richard Playle said:
“There is a new breed of thatched property owners that do not realise what they can and cannot do – younger people coming out from the cities, a house in the country, commuters. Cottages also change hands more frequently.
“Nobody gets the real nitty, gritty advice on how to operate fires safely. What’s really terrifying is that sometimes a thatcher putting on a new roof will find already charred thatch underneath – it would only have needed a strong wind from a different direction to set it all off. Some people don’t realise it but they’re living on a knife edge.”
Rising costs of fuel (electricity, gas and oil) has resulted in more wood burning stoves being sold in recent years – an increase of around 30 to 40 per cent. In 2009 around 200,000 homes parted cash to have a wood burner installed.
Thatch Cottages image by Wapster on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.