Thatched roofs are getting renewed attention in the UK, thanks in part to their eco-credentials. Thatch is not exactly a new material, having been around for about 10,000 years. In fact, most of the thatched houses in England are on old listed buildings, but many people are starting to appreciate their aesthetic qualities and question the validity of the disadvantages which have discouraged their use.
For example, there is a misconception that they’re a high fire risk and so are expensive to insure. In fact, they don’t need to be a higher fire risk than any other roofing material, provided your roof is done by an experienced master thatcher and you carry out routine inspections and maintenance. They’re also not more expensive to insure, provided you go to an insurer with experience in thatched roofs.
That’s not to say that thatched roofs are without disadvantages, but it’s important to weigh the pros against to cons so you can make an informed decision before you say yay or nay to thatch.
- Novelty value: There are an estimated 35,000 thatched properties in England, of which 24,000 are listed. Modern thatched homes are therefore still a novelty and guaranteed to be a talking point.
- Durability: Thatch is incredibly durable with some thatching material able to last up to 65 years. Water reed is the most durable material, with a lifespan of 55 to 65 years. Combed wheat reed has a lifespan of 20 to 40 years. Long straw has a life span 15 to 25 years.
- Insulation: Thatch is naturally insulating, so it will keep your house cool in summer and warm in winter – saving you money on your heating and cooling bills.
- Sustainability: As a sustainable resource, thatch is environmentally-friendly. Harvesting methods are also eco-friendly.
- Flexibility: Thatch can be shaped into soft, aesthetically pleasing forms, which is a nice difference to the hard lines of other roofing materials. Combining thatch with other materials also creates a nice contrast and can result in interesting designs.
- Lightweight: Thatch is light and doesn’t need the heavy support structures that other roofing materials need. This lowers costs.
- Installation costs: Installing thatch is labour intensive – and can take up to four weeks – so it’s not the cheapest to install.
- Annual inspections: You will need to inspect your roof, or have it inspected professionally once a year to ensure that it’s on good shape.
- Maintenance: The ridge cap may need regular maintenance and even repair as it is prone to wear and tear. Leaks are the most common problem, which can cause more serious damage to other sections of the roof.
- Safety precautions: You will need to take a number of safety precautions to prevent fires and pest infestation. For example: You will need to cut down overhanging branches so that the thatch doesn’t hold onto moisture, you need to install a lightning rod to disperse lightning strikes, you will need a spark resistor for your chimney, and you may have to use special treatments to deter pests.
Remember that one of the most telling factors in the success of thatching is the quality of the thatcher. Get a quote from at least three thatchers and find out as much as you can about them – reviews, endorsements, etc. The web is a great help in this regard.