Safe under thatch: A thatched roof need not load your premium, writes Mary Wilson

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The Independent Online
THERE are people who would give their eye teeth to live in a thatched cottage and others who would do anything not to.

The advantage of living under thatch is that you are warm in winter and cool in the summer. The minus factors are cost of rethatching, fire risk and consequently increased insurance premiums.

The mainstream insurance companies, whose biggest worry at the moment is subsidence and are therefore rating premiums according to your postal district, simply put an extra charge on your rating.

Norwich Union, for example, adds pounds 2.20 per thousand, which applies to contents insurance as well. Commercial Union charges an extra pounds 3.40 per thousand.

General Accident, on the other hand, has two schemes designed for thatched houses. It would not reveal rates because, a spokesman said, each property was taken individually. But, for a house that was well maintained and had the requisite fire precautions, the premiums could be cheaper than for a similar, tiled property.

Specialist thatch insurers charge less; and because they offer a standard rate, regardless of where you live, a thatched house often works out cheaper.

The Thatching Advisory Service insures about 2,000 of the 50,000 thatched homes in Britain. Premium costs depend on the type of reed you use. The cheapest is for Norfolk Reed, which lasts longest but costs a little more if you have to re- thatch. For this you would pay pounds 3.30 per pounds 1,000 as a member of the Thatch Owners Protection Scheme, pounds 3.57 otherwise. Membership costs pounds 64.63 a year, and entitles you to a free annual survey, 24-hour emergency service and vermin protection.

CGA Direct charges a straight pounds 3.00 provided the property is in good order and is your main home.

The company insures 9,500 homes and now uses a French-owned insurer, Ganminster. It switched from Lloyd's because of premium increases.

Richard Playle, the deputy managing director, said: 'We insist that chimneys are swept twice a year and are properly maintained, and that the electrics are checked every five years. A smoke alarm in the roof is a good idea if it is connected to one on the landing.'

Philip Blanchard, a director of the John D Wood estate agency, lives in a thatched house near Winchester. 'Our insurance was certainly more expensive before I made the effort to find a specialist insurer, Reedways from Ilminster,' he said. 'I will be paying about half what the premium was before.

'The only time I really worry about the thatch is on bonfire night. And the first thing we did, when we bought the property six years ago, was to extend the hosepipe to about 150ft, so that it could reach both the front and back of the house.

'Most thatch fires occur from the inside, when there are plumbers or electricians in the roof space, using a blowtorch, or from a badly maintained chimney or electrical fault.'

Use common sense, said Tessa Blair, of the Thatching Advisory Service. 'You must have your chimney regularly swept, and be careful about what wood you burn - well- seasoned, not green. And never light a bonfire if the wind is blowing in the direction of the thatch.'

The advisory service sells a fire-retardant treatment, FRT 80, that considerably reduces the speed at which thatch catches fire, and a barrier foil, used like roofing felt, that stops rafters burning and protects thatch from internal combustion. These would add 15 per cent to the cost of rethatching.

Thatching Advisory Service, Rose Tree Farm, 29 Nine Mile Ride, Finchampstead, Wokingham, Berkshire RG11 4QD, 0734 734203. CGA Direct, UK House, Worthing Road, Horsham, West Sussex, RH12 1SL, 0403 240033.

(Photograph omitted)

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