Up in smoke: Why garden buildings are putting neighbourhoods in danger

·4-min read
Trendy fire pits and pizza ovens may have raised lockdown fire risks. (Getty Images)
Trendy fire pits and pizza ovens may have raised lockdown fire risks. (Getty Images)

Lockdown life has encouraged many of us to transform garden outbuildings into everything from home offices to backyard bars, while the urge to upgrade outdoor spaces meant many invested in fire pits and pizza ovens. 

People across the country converting sheds and garages into work studios, home gyms and garden bars, with figures revealing that 47% of households across the UK spent money on garden improvements during the pandemic.

Planning applications for garage conversions alone soared by 25% last year, while there was a 7.5% rise in people seeking permission for garden buildings and works.

But turns out these trendy garden makeovers come with an additional fire risk. 

New research has revealed that outbuilding fires - in sheds, garages and conservatories - rose by 16% last year compared with 2019.

Freedom of Information requests issued to 45 of the UK’s fire authorities, by insurer Zurich UK, reveal that 33 saw a rise in shed and garage blazes, with an average increase of 25%.

Fire and rescue services in Lancashire, Lincolnshire, West Sussex and North Yorkshire recorded the biggest surges in outbuilding fires – rising by 58%, 50%, 47% and 46% respectively.

Read more: Man fulfils childhood dream with back garden ‘Hobbit house’

The trend for garden offices could have contributed to an increased fire risk.(Getty Images)
The trend for garden offices could have contributed to an increased fire risk.(Getty Images)

And it seems the garden shed upgrade has become the latest casualty of lockdown, with new data revealing a steep rise in the number of residential outbuildings going up in smoke in 2020.

Data collected by Zurich from UK fire authorities showed that there were 3,681 residential outbuilding fires recorded in 2020, compared with 3,170 the year before.

Electrical equipment, as well as popular lockdown purchases such as pizza ovens and fire pits, added to the existing fire risks created in gardens by mowers, barbecues, and paint thinners.

Watch: How to transform your temporary WFH space into a permanent office. 

With many of us stuck at home, we spent more time in our gardens than ever before. Aside from storing gardening tools, our sheds and garages have become a haven to escape the stresses of family life and for others, a place to work," explains Phil Ost, head of personal lines at Zurich. 

"But as Brits take refuge in their garden sheds and garages, it appears to have sparked a rise in accidental blazes.  

"Likewise, the huge increase in people buying pizza ovens and fire pits, which carry a fire risk if not extinguished correctly, could also account for the jump in outbuildings going up in smoke."

Ost says sheds provide a perfect environment for fires to take hold because they are often made of wood, sited outside and home to flammable liquids like petrol for a lawnmower or oils and paint thinners. 

"We are urging homeowners to be mindful of potential fire hazards and take precautions to minimise the risks.”

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Pizza ovens proved popular garden additions during the pandemic. (Getty Images)
Pizza ovens proved popular garden additions during the pandemic. (Getty Images)

Read more: A good garden can add over £50,000 to home value- here's how to upgrade yours

Thankfully there are some steps you can take to reduce the chance of your shed or garage going up in smoke.

How to reduce your garden fire risk

Shut your shed down

If your shed or garage has power and you are running electrical appliances, make sure you do as you would in your home. "Turn them off if you are out or have gone to bed and do not leave appliances running overnight," suggests Ost. "Also regularly monitor for damage to cables and faulty appliances."

Cool off

It is vital not to store your used BBQ or fire pit in the shed until it has cooled down completely.

Safe storage

Ost says flammable or combustible liquids such as oils and paint thinners should always be stored safely and in approved containers when not in use.

Think before firing up

When in use, BBQs, fire pits and pizza ovens should be placed as far away from your shed or outbuilding as possible. "Shut the shed doors and windows before lighting," Ost adds. 

Choose the right spot

Ensure your shed is positioned a suitable distance from other buildings and your home. "If it should catch fire, this will reduce the chances of it spreading to yours, or a neighbour’s property," Ost explains. 

Watch: Plant these vegetables now if you're planning an Autumn garden. 

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