Thatched properties and fire risks
Engaging a competent and thorough building surveyor is crucial in helping to reduce the risk of fire in a thatched property – and there are more sources of fire risk than you might think.
In data collected over the last 18 years, the UK has seen the equivalent of the loss of one thatched building per week due to fire, currently totalling 994 properties. For chimney-related fires alone, costs exceed £25 million per year.
Typical risks range from the condition of chimney stacks, unsuitable solid fuel stoves and vermin eating through electric cables, through to poorly positioned lighting and even the work carried out by tradesmen. Whether you’re looking to buy a thatched property or maintain an existing one, obtaining a full and thorough building survey can go a long way towards reducing the risk of fire.
As much as 80 to 90 per cent of thatch fires are caused by solid fuel stoves, with faults ranging from badly fitted, inappropriate liners to a stove being too large for the size of a room. Flue gases of modern solid fuel stoves can reach 450–600°C, and thatch will char when the temperature through bricks exceeds 180–200°C. A chimney stack in poor condition is a major fire hazard for multi-coated thatched roofs with a central chimney and a solid fuel stove.
A spark arrestor, as shown in the photo below, should not be fitted as it can, in time, become a fire hazard when it clogs up with tar and soot from the flue gas. The best termination is a straight, open chimney pot with nothing to obstruct the escape of flue gas.
While PVC conduits fitted to electric cables can help to protect them from mice, they’re not capable of withstanding the more powerful gnawing action of rats or squirrels. A steel conduit should run along the middle of the loft. Any conduit running along a purlin is in danger of mechanical damage by the thatcher from outside. If a conduit has to run along a purlin, it should be on the inside face, unlike the work shown in the photo below.
Other fire risks include the poor positioning of downlights and outdoor lighting – for example, a halogen light sited within one metre of thatch is a fire hazard. And wire netting, used over long straw thatched roofs to protect against bird strike, should be fitted correctly so that in the event of a fire it can be pulled off – a building survey can show whether this complies by not being stapled or nailed at the eaves. Netting should also be at least 300mm away from any electrical source.
For the peace of mind that comes with a thorough building survey, contact us.
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