Thatched roofs are beautiful in the eyes of many, and are an aesthetically pleasing option for game lodges and other buildings looking to cultivate a rural or ‘countryside’ look and feel, but they require significant maintenance, including protective measures against the possibility of a fire outbreak. At the same time, because they are so potentially flammable compared to other types of roof, the insurance requirements on buildings with thatched roofs can be onerous.

According to numerous insurance companies, a thatched roof is regarded as a non-standard construction by insurers – in contrast to roofs made of tile, slate, concrete, asbestos, metal or zinc, which are deemed to be standard – and this will be taken into account when determining your home insurance cover and premium[1]. Your insurer will expect you to have your thatched roof professionally installed, to maintain it regularly, as well as take steps to reduce fire risk.

These steps include the following:

Have your thatched roof installed and maintained by professionals.

* Protect it against fire, using fire-retardant materials, which can help to delay the spread of a fire over and entire thatched roof, and also make sure that any chimneys are protected. Have fire extinguishers strategically available, and service them annually.

* Protect against lightning: The direct lightning flash density is high in large areas of South Africa, and direct lightning strikes can cause fires; alternatively, lightning can cause a power surge, damaging electrical equipment and appliances in the same way as a power surge from an electrical utility source.

Hano Oelofse, MD of lightning and surge protection company DEHN Africa, says, “DEHN Africa has been involved in a number of installations on lightning protection systems for thatched roofs, and we are excited to launch a new and exciting initiative, which combines our expertise in lightning protection with a holistic insurance offering. We believe this is a first in South Africa, where vast areas of our country are prone to the high possibility of a lightning strike at different times of the year.”

Oelofse notes that traditionally, external lightning protective equipment for thatched roofs has involved the use of a free-standing lightning mast, which must be higher than the thatched roof.

“The idea is that the lightning flash will ‘seek’ a pathway to the ground and thereby discharge itself through the lightning mast; preventing your flammable roof from being struck by the lightning instead. However, the masts are very visible, which from an environmental perspective somewhat defeats the objective of having the thatched roof blend into the environment. The mast has to be installed at a height derived from the lightning risk assessment whereby the correct angle of protection is given according to each lightning protection level. The lightning mast must be high enough to cover the entire building.

“A free-standing lightning mast must be earthed and bonded sufficiently, and also needs to be serviced annually, otherwise insufficient bonding and earthing of the free-standing mast may lead to flashovers to the thatch roof and hazardous step and touch potentials around the mast. A mast alone is not sufficient to prevent damage to the equipment in your home, and so you still need a separate surge protective device.”

Today, however, the nature of lightning protection for thatched roofs has changed with improvements in technology, says Oelofse.

“For some years now, DEHN Africa has provided lightning protection system (LPS) components for use specifically on thatched roofs,” he clarifies, “and our high-voltage-resistant insulated (HVI) lightning protection system, which is compact and neat, removes the need to have a 30+ metre lightning mast installed. This is far less visible to the naked eye than a mast, and therefore more visually pleasing. At the same time, however, the HVI system provides arguably even better protection from a lightning strike than a thirty-metre mast, and it is accepted by leading insurance companies.”

Oelofse says that, given the technical expertise offered by the HVI technology, and the company’s confidence in its product, DEHN Africa is now prepared to offer insurance guarantees linked to its HVI system, through the launch of DEHNinsure.
According to the terms and conditions of insurance underwriters as regards thatched roofs:

* All insurance companies require that an LPS be installed, as per SANS Code of Practice 10313.

* A certificate of compliance (COC) is required before the insurance policy can be underwritten, as a method of assurance that the components will work and the workmanship is compliant.

* Whenever a property is sold, the COC must be renewed.

“DEHN is able to guarantee or offer insurance as a combination of public and product liability, professional indemnity and the underwriting of electronic equipment insurance,” explains Oelofse.

“DEHN Africa is proud to introduce DEHNinsure for thatched roofs, powered by HVI. This three-in-one offering of product and public liability, professional indemnity, and electronic equipment insurance means that insurance companies will have the surety and peace of mind of knowing that the damages that they used to pay for, or equipment that they used to replace due to lightning strikes, will now be covered or repaid by DEHN Africa, in the event of failure for the reasons outlined above. This is all due to the combination of today’s technology improvements in lightning protection and DEHN Africa’s faith in our products, systems, employees and solutions,” concludes Oelofse.