The dangers of wood-burning stoves

Published October 24, 2014

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Many of us living outside smokeless zones have replaced open fires with wood-burning stoves. And one reason for this is that they are so much more energy efficient: throwing out far more heat than conventional wood or coal fires. But this brings with it additional dangers, as illustrated by a recent claim we worked on.

Our client had three open fires in his house which he had used frequently and uneventfully for many years. But eventually he decided to replace them with wood burners as these are more efficient. They were functioning well but one day, a few months after they were installed, the fire alarm went off. There was no sign of a fire but he immediately got the family out of the house. He then went upstairs and could hear a whooshing noise in the roof but nothing else. He left the house and then saw smoke coming from the roof, shortly followed by flames. The house was almost completely destroyed.

The fire was caused by the fact that there wasn’t sufficient gap between the flue from one of the wood burners and the adjacent timber floor. Although this had been fine with the old open fires, it proved disastrous with the wood burner as the temperatures involved are so much higher. This was sufficient to cause the timbers to ignite.

Ensure compliance with Building Regulations

The key point for anyone installing wood burners is that their existing chimneys may be inappropriate and may need to be upgraded. Wood-burning stoves should always be fitted to the manufacturer’s specification by qualified HETAS engineers and should comply fully with Building Regulations, which include strict guidance on the gap which should be left around the flue.

Not only is it dangerous to do otherwise, it could also invalidate your insurance cover. We all have a duty under the terms of our home insurance to take all reasonable precautions to safeguard against loss or damage. We have seen claims declined where fires emanated from wood burners which were fitted by homeowners and not in accordance with regulations – and the insurer can take the view that this is reckless and unreasonably increases the risk of a fire.

The problem is potentially even greater for thatch owners, and we will go into more detail about this in a future blog.

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