A Risk Too Far?

We had the chimney swept this week. No fires have been lit since it was last done but the insurance company insist that it is swept again regardless. And it raises the thorny issue, once more, of just what to do about the woodburner.

Much has been written about the use of a woodburner in a thatched (straw roof) house and none of it makes particularly cheerful reading. The stove generates considerably more heat in the chimney than would be the case with a traditional open fire. Heat then transfers through the brickwork of the stack and into the thatch, so much heat that it some circumstances it can cause the straw to spontaneously combust. Once in the thatch, a fire spreads fast. In a village nearby a thatch fire recently damaged a whole terrace of cottages where, allegedly, a woodburner was in use.

Our chimney has previously been lined, with the best quality liner available. And it’s insulated with pumice chips around that. The debate is whether even this is enough. Some authors suggest that a liner in fact contributes to another problem, by increasing the chance that burning embers will make it up through the chimney and out on to the surface of the thatch. My inclination is just not to use the woodburner at all. Earlier in the year we got an estimate for removing the whole lot, restoring the chimney and returning to an open fire. £2500. Ouch.

So in the meantime we carry on paying to sweep a perfectly clean chimney. AND pay the additional insurance premium for having a woodburner installed. It’s not even pretty to look at, while it’s sitting there generating no heat…

Frustrating, what?


2017-11-07T14:19:29+00:00December 6th, 2012|Tags: |


  1. Julie December 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    How frustrating for you. Maybe long term it will be better to get it back to an open fire. £2500 does sound very expensive though. Julie x

    • Jessica December 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      Maybe more than it cost to put the woodburner and liner in in the first place 🙁

  2. simone December 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    It is a beautiful woodburner but I would get shot of it. I couldn’t live with the worry of taking a risk and keeping it. Only you can decide!

    • Jessica December 6, 2012 at 5:20 pm - Reply

      It’s the sort of thing that would keep me awake at night, Simone. Not least because the place where the chimney passes through the roof is almost directly over the bed!

  3. Denise December 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    We had a long discussion over what to replace the old Aga with – we were tired of the dirt! We replaced it with a Rayburn – dirty! lol! Still at least it does the central heating AND cooks the meals!

    • Jessica December 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm - Reply

      And keeps the kitchen so warm and cosy… still envious!

  4. Vera December 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    Oh that’s a difficult decision, but since I know what it is like to have a house which does not have a roof, and since you would not have a roof if your thatch took a cinder from the fire, then I would opt to treasure that roof and keep it safe. On the other hand, I also like wood burning stoves, and I quite like the uniqueness of yours. But I don’t like open fires because they spit out embers onto the floor, which could cause a mini bonfire in the fur of the dogs roasting themselves in front of it. So I would opt for treasuring the thatch, keep the wood burner for show only, and have an electric fire running discretely somewhere else to heat the place up!

    • Jessica December 6, 2012 at 5:36 pm - Reply

      I can sympathise with the dogs, having suffered that fate as well. In our last house I liked nothing better than to lie in front of the fire and was often the recipient of embers myself. It would prompt Mike to peer across the top of his G&T and declare “Wife On Fire” (yet again)..

  5. john December 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    tempting fate me thinks!

    • Jessica December 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm - Reply

      Me too..

  6. Susan T December 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    Now that is frustrating. I must say being a person who longs for a wood burning stove with every fibre of her being(house with no chimneys) I would be very upset to part with your beauty, but on the other hand you have to live and keep warm, difficult one.

    • Jessica December 6, 2012 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      It is. I’ve heard so many people rave about them. We have the same issue, Susan. Neither of our houses was designed with a woodburner in mind!

  7. wherethejourneytakesme December 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Gosh what a predicament – we have dilemmas such as these with our cottage and each decision is always an expensive one so I don’t envy you at the moment! Have you had a professional opinion individual to your house about the risks that you would be taking or just a general blanket one?

    • Jessica December 6, 2012 at 7:26 pm - Reply

      Both. A lot of research plus a visit from a chimney/stove specialist.

      • wherethejourneytakesme December 6, 2012 at 11:51 pm - Reply

        Well it seems like you can only go by the advice given – but open fires are lovely – hard-work but lovely.
        Imagine sitting by a roaring open fire on Christmas Eve, with only candlelight and the glow from the fire, Carols playing softly in the background, making toast with an old fashioned toasting fork and drinking hot mugs of cocoa while you hang up your stockings on the mantlepiece and leave a mince pie and glass of milk (or stiff Brandy) for Santa on the hearth. Tempted now!!

        • Jessica December 7, 2012 at 9:27 am - Reply

          Sounds good to me…

          • wherethejourneytakesme December 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm

            PS Simone at Linden Grove has a lovely picture on her blog at the moment – Christmas Dreams by the Fireside – it could have been meant for you!

          • Jessica December 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm

            I’ve seen it. Bliss. Next year?!

  8. Em December 6, 2012 at 7:42 pm - Reply

    I had the same problem a few years ago and, in the end, found that NFU would insure us as long as it was only us that used it, ie – not tenants. They seemed to be more sympathetic to rural issues! That was four years ago so things may have changed. But worth giving them a ring….

    • Jessica December 6, 2012 at 8:16 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the tip, Em!

  9. Lyn December 6, 2012 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    Oh dear I have no words of wisdom for you I am afraid. I hope you find a solution to your problem….without it costing the earth. I must say ‘fire’ always scare me. Xxx

    • Jessica December 6, 2012 at 10:51 pm - Reply

      It scares me too, Lyn. Thanks. Loved the half eaten Santa!!!!

  10. CherryPie December 6, 2012 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    I don’t think I would use the wood-burner either!! Have you tried getting different quotes for the open fire. It sounds far the better option all round.

    • Jessica December 6, 2012 at 11:04 pm - Reply

      We haven’t yet, no. And it is the next thing to do. Although given the amount of work, I fear any quote is going to be high. The story of our renovation life – spending money to correct the ‘improvements’ of the past.

  11. BadPenny December 7, 2012 at 9:33 am - Reply

    It seems crazy that an open fire would be safer ! We long for a wood burner but do not have the dilemma you face. I can’t think what to say !

    • Jessica December 7, 2012 at 11:01 am - Reply

      Strange but seemingly true. It’s very tempting to have the woodburner working for Christmas, especially as we have an awful lot of wood waiting to burn! But I think we’ll play safe and wait until we can do the work to restore the open fire.

  12. Anny December 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    If you’d rather sit and look at an unusable coal effect gas fire, circa 1975, I could do you a swap…

    • Jessica December 7, 2012 at 2:12 pm - Reply

      It would go beautifully with our central heating boiler, from a similar era!

  13. elaine December 7, 2012 at 6:41 pm - Reply

    Oh dear – another predicament – perhaps it would be cheaper to replace the thatch with slates.

    • Jessica December 7, 2012 at 7:00 pm - Reply

      I feel like a magnet for predicament.

  14. rachel December 7, 2012 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    Sell it (the woodburner, I mean) and give yourselves a break!

    • Jessica December 7, 2012 at 7:58 pm - Reply

      Rachel, welcome back!
      Do you know anyone who wants a woodburner?

  15. Rosie December 8, 2012 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    I guess you have to think of the roof first for the sake of your safety, having said that I do like your wood burning stove:)

    • Jessica December 8, 2012 at 8:17 pm - Reply

      It is very frustrating. I’d love to get it fired up. Shame there isn’t a thermostat setting so I could have it on ‘low’!

  16. Natalie December 11, 2012 at 1:33 am - Reply

    I love thatched-roof homes, but I never realized that chimney and the related heat source could be such an issue! I think I would be too paranoid to use the woodburner.
    I worry enough about our wood/oil furnace….

    Looking forward to seeing your bookcase! We are having one built for us right now, a wall unit that will be installed before year’s end with any luck.

    • Jessica December 11, 2012 at 10:06 am - Reply

      Then I look forward to seeing yours too! This one in progressing slowly, it’s an ambitious project for Mike, who hasn’t tackled anything like it before. Sitting room still looks like a building site.. two weeks to Christmas, yikes!

  17. Charles Lock November 18, 2014 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    move the woodburner to a potting shed which does not have a thatched roof, possibly use it via cunning design (insert cunning design here) to heat a greenhouse through the winter. Chimney fires are not good, my uncle used to have a Jotul and carefully coated the interior of the chimney with carbonised tar which went off like a rocket one day. When he put tyhe hose in the steam created an even bigger draft which sounded like a rocket. Fortunately the fire brigade arrived before the house was permanently altered. I think my grandfather also had a less exciting and more traditional chimney fire. Given that these memories are at least two generations old it might be that chimney fires are a little traumatic and should be avoided…

    • Jessica November 18, 2014 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      I can’t think of anything worse.. the combination of wood burner and thatch is particularly problematic. There are stacks of wood outside now and I refuse to burn a single log until the chimney is back to what is was designed for.

I'd love to hear from you..