As the first Covid lockdown hit, workers in Britain opted to turn their sheds into offices – “shoffices” – and bars, but the trend has led to a surge in outbuilding fires.
Data from freedom of information requests by the insurer Zurich found that blazes in sheds, garages and conservatories rose by 16% in 2020 compared with the previous year.
The rise has been put down to the popularity of converting residential outbuildings to shoffices, bars and home gyms. Planning applications for garage conversions increased by a quarter over the past year as people increasingly worked from home and spent more time indoors.
In April, a survey by another insurer, Aviva, suggested that one in 10 of those asked worked from a converted shed, garage or summerhouse. People have been increasingly willing to pay for expensive luxury shed-office conversions, while the word “garage” became the most popular search item on the property website Rightmove. Additionally, panning applications to convert them rose sharply.
Phil Ost, the head of personal lines at Zurich, said: “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.
“Homeowners up and down the country have converted outbuildings into everything from bars and yoga studios to gyms and offices.
“But as Brits take refuge in their garden sheds and garages, it appears to have sparked a rise in accidental blazes.”
The biggest rises in outbuilding fires, in the 33 of the 45 UK regions that responded to the FoI request, were in Lancashire, with a 58% increase, and Lincolnshire, at 50%.
Ost said: “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.”
During the first lockdown, fire pits and pizza ovens also grew in popularity, adding to the existing fire risks created in gardens by mowers, barbecues and paint thinners. Outdoor pizza oven sales were also up by 306% year on year from March to April 2020.
Warnings have also been issued about property moved to self-storage units while people are working from home, with some warehouses being set alight.
Stuart Bensusan, from the insurance specialist Surewise, told the BBC: “It highlights the importance of thoroughly vetting any storage facility you use and taking the necessary steps to protect your possessions while they are in it.
“Many consumers have complete faith in storage units, and unfortunately it simply never crosses their minds that something might happen to their unit or the whole building. This leads to many customers being underinsured or worse having no insurance cover at all.”
Many storage unit operators offer insurance, but customers may shop around for cheaper deals, and some may have cover included through their home insurance policy.