Renovating Thatched Properties: What You Need To Know

Posted on by Anthony Wakefield

It will come as no surprise to the owners of thatched properties that finding comprehensive and effective insurance cover during a renovation phase is challenging. But whilst the vast majority of the specialist contract works insurance providers will decline to insure such a risk, we do have access to a market who will provide All Risks cover for thatched properties undergoing works.

As you would expect, the insurance of such properties is dependent on heavy underwriting, and some fairly stringent subjectivities. Renovators can also expect to pay a significant premium for the cover for exactly the same reasons as they are required to pay higher premiums in the standard property insurance market. It is obvious, but it bears repeating. Thatched properties pose a greatly enhanced fire risk, and when such properties do catch on fire, they are frequently completely engulfed, leading to more costly claims.

Before our market will offer a quotation to insure a thatched property undergoing works, they will need to be completely convinced of the following:

  • Project management is being undertaken by experienced and qualified individuals
  • Contractors are of high quality, and are familiar with the additional risks a thatched property presents
  • There has been a thorough risk assessment undertaken in respect of Fire. This risk needs to have been identified, assessed and managed, and this process needs to have been well documented
  • The project has been budgeted and planned, with a relatively firm end date. Whilst we appreciate that projects do overrun, our markets will not consider projects where the planning is vague
  • There needs to be adequate water supplies on site to tackle a major blaze
  • The risk needs to be otherwise ‘clean’, which is to say that there are not additional enhanced risk factors present which tip the risk out of appetite. For example, if there was a poor history in relation to theft, or if it was felt that the project management function was being taken on by someone without the requisite experience, the combination of these factors and the enhanced fire risk might mean that the total risk presented exceeds the insurer’s willingness to accept it.

To ensure the best chance of achieving a reasonable quotation for cover during a works phase, it is therefore essential that the proposer is able to demonstrate stringent risk management procedures, particularly in relation to fire, and that in the broader sense, the project will be managed professionally.

Quotations for this cover will invariably include the following subjectivities:

  • Where thatch replacement is occurring, confirmation that the provisions of the Dorset Model (a best practice guide for works being undertaken to thatched properties) will be adhered to, or alternatively, that an alternative model is being utilised which is at least equivalent, and which is documented
  • Compliance with the content of the UK TFA 16 Steps Guide. This is a best practice guide issued by the Timber Frame Association. Whilst this does not relate specifically to thatch, its provisions represent a very good framework for the management of fire risk, and our markets will require it as part of the insured’s risk management obligations. Again, if the renovator cannot confirm adherence to the Guide, they will need to provide evidence that they are applying a set of risk management steps which are at least equivalent, and which are documented
  • An increased excess in respect of the Fire peril

They might also include:

  • A requirement to survey
  • A requirement that water-storage tank capable of storing several thousand litres of water is present on site. This would be imposed when the proposer could not confirm that there are adequate water supplies on site already (a pond, a swimming pool, a river, a hydrant accessible by the fire brigade)
  • A requirement to supply a full scope of works document and a gantt chart (primarily to demonstrate that the project is well planned with a defined budget and a start and end date)

In conclusion, peace of mind insurance for thatched properties during the works phase is achievable, but it does require a certain commitment from the renovator around stringent risk management and broader project management professionalism. If the insurers get the sense that one or both of these factors are not present, they will have no hesitation at all in declining to offer a quotation.

Working with Renovation Underwriting, we can provide cover for thatched properties for our existing clients or on new projects. Contact Cyrus Wakefield on 01306 734 102 for details.