Thatched dwellings have been with us since the Bronze Age and were the most common roof covering across Britain’s rural areas. They remained popular until the late 19th century when other roof materials such as clay and slate tiles and corrugated iron sheets became available.
Today, thatched roofs are still a practicable and fashionable choice, adding charm and character to a building. They’re also durable and sustainable and can last for many years with the proper maintenance. Take a look at the video below to show you how it’s done.
If you’re considering the purchase of a thatched house or other building, it’s important to be in full possession of the facts. Here, Dakota Murphey alongside Chiltern Associates give some pros and cons of living under a thatched roof:
Thatch is a material that naturally insulates, keeping your home warm in winter and surprisingly cool in summer, so there’s no need for glass wool insulation or foil-covered polystyrene slabs.
- A professionally installed thatched roof that is cared for and well maintained can last for around 40 years or so.
- Thatch is actually water reed, a tall, grass-like, hollow-stemmed plant, which is naturally waterproof. A roof thatcher will layer the reeds about a foot high, so it’s practically impossible for water to seep through.
- Thatch is aesthetically pleasing on the eye – the initial wheat, or honey colour, darkens as it settles in. And thatch blends beautifully with the surrounding countryside, unlike today’s more brightly coloured tiles and slates.
- As a roof type, thatch is one of the most environment-friendly. It’s grown easily and harvested with little or no machinery. And although thatch may be more labour intensive to source and to lay, this is offset by the eco-friendliness of the material.
- One of the unique characteristics of thatch is that it can be combed and shaped into an array of pleasing forms – some houses have thatch foxes, pheasants and even dragons sitting on top of the roof for all to see.
- Thatch may be an expensive material to put over your head, but for all the reasons stated above it’s a decidedly good one.
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- As most of the supply of water reeds for thatching come from the continent, this, and the laborious task of laying it makes it somewhat more expensive than alternative roofing methods.
- A thatched house will attract higher insurance premiums than a tiled or slate roof.
- To keep on top of any minor repairs that may need doing, an inspection of a thatched roof should be carried out annually and repair work was undertaken as soon as possible after the inspection date. If not, you may have a much more expensive repair on your hands further down the line. Particular attention should be paid to the ridge cap – this is the area of the roof that suffers most from high winds and storms. The cap should be checked every six months to safeguard the roof’s structural integrity.
- Once laid, thatch needs to dry properly, so make sure there are no large overhanging trees. Shade from trees can cause damp and this condition can promote the growth of moss and other fungi, thereby reducing the life of the roof.
- During the summer months, hot weather can cause thatch to ignite, so it’s a good idea to apply a fire-retardant every 5 to 7 years (your insurance company will probably insist on this). The thatch is impregnated with a combination of fire retardant and a biological preservative. Most professional thatch companies also recommend that fire boards are installed for added safety. There are a number of other safety measures that you should also include:
Lightning Rods – Because thatched roofs are more susceptible to being set alight by lightning than any other type of roof, lightning rods should be installed on the roof to intercept lightning flashes and disperse them into the earth (again, your insurance may well insist on this).
Fireplaces – Most fireplaces in thatched houses are built with a double-wall thickness surround, and the chimneys fitted with spark resistors, which are located high enough so that the risk of stray embers is greatly diminished.
Birds, vermin and insects – Jackdaws, magpies and crows are known for pulling out strands of thatch for their nests and they can very quickly devastate a thatched roof. Rats and mice can also damage thatch and, in the summer months when it’s hot outside, insects and bugs like fleas, mosquitos, flies, moths, beetles and small mites, can be drawn to the coolness of thatch. Ask the company laying your roof to recommend how best to protect you from all of these – after all you want your thatch to last as long as possible.
This article was written by Dakota Murphey, BA (Hons) marketing graduate working as an independent writer for Civil Engineering.