Thatched cottages look lovely, don’t they? And they are! But before you plunge into buying one, there are a lot of things you need to know! I am currently on the hunt for a period property in the UK to buy and turn into my very own home and my heart is currently set on a 3 bedroom thatch. Hopefully, this article will help you decide whether you do or don’t want a thatched roof and if you do, it’ll guide you on all the things you need to look out for!
The word ‘thatch’ is Anglo-Saxon in origin and simply meant roof covering, it is thought to be one of the oldest building techniques in the world and there is no surprise that East Anglia, home to the Anglo Saxons, is covered in thatched buildings. Sadly, from the start of the 19th Century, there was a steep decline in the number of thatched buildings. In 1800 there were approximately 950,000 thatched buildings in England, but by 1960 this number had dropped to 35,000.
The lifespan of a thatch roof
The straw you see on top of these houses weren’t just plonked there in the 1700s, it has to be redone every few decades! There are a number of different types of thatches and this will dictate how often you will need to fork out for a new one.
Long Straw – Once the most common type of thatch in the UK, the basic material for long straw is a cereal straw, usually wheat but sometimes rye. Long straw thatched roofs will last around 20-30 years.
Combed Wheat Reed – As with long straw, this type of thatch is based on cereal straw, usually wheat. It is known as reed because of its similarity to water reed in appearance and in the way it is laid on the roof. Combed wheat reed thatched roofs should last upwards of 30 years.
Water Reed – Water reed is a wetland plant, which was historically maintained to provide for thatching purposes. Water reed thatch should last at least 30 years, but often 40-50 years, and sometimes longer! This is the longest-lasting type of thatched roof.
Thatches will usually charge by the square (10 ft × 10 ft) so if you’re looking for ball-park figures and a rough estimate, an average price would be about £700 per square. It’s important to note each thatcher is different and therefore prices will vary. The cost includes sourcing the materials and the labour involved in putting it all together.
Thatched roofs need maintenance, even after a new thatch has been put on. The ridge of a thatch needs replacing every 10-15 years, this costs usually £150-£200 per foot. It’s important to have your roof inspected regularly, just like you would your boiler or car, the better maintained you keep it, the longer it will last!
Thatched properties come with a slightly higher cost of insurance due to a higher fire risk, they also have a more expensive rebuild value than conventional houses because they’ve been built using specific materials by specialists, there are only 800 master thatchers in the country after all! That being said, whilst there are specialist insurance companies you can go for, such as the NFU, many standard home insurance companies will still offer you a policy.
Whilst fires in thatched buildings are not the norm, research has shown that the major cause of fires in thatched buildings is heat transfer from the chimney into the thatch. The thatch reaches its ignition temperature and a roof fire can develop and spread rapidly.
There are simple precautions you can take that will greatly reduce your chance of a thatch fire:
- Properly insulating your chimney flue to prevent heat transfer. It’s often worth thinking twice about installing a log burner as they burn at higher temperatures.
- Good chimney maintenance is important, this includes having your chimney swept twice a year if you use your fire regularly.
- Homeowners have the option of adding a system of heat sensors within the thatch around the chimney, which will give an early warning of any overheating of the thatch.
- The higher the chimney the better. If you are thinking of putting in a log burner you may have to modify your chimney, this is so sparks can die away before they drop on to the thatch.
- Electrical wiring should be checked regularly.
Roof surveys start at £150 and are important for anyone looking to buy a thatched property. Surveyors will be able to tell you when the roof was last replaced, what type of thatch it is, if any repairs need to be done, and the cost of having it maintained or replaced.
You might constantly hear that old buildings are constantly cold, but that isn’t always the case. Thatching creates air pockets within structure of the thatch that traps and holds heat, insulating a building in both warm and cold weather.
Last but not least… Whilst not everyone wants the hassle of a thatched roof (many due to misconceptions!), thatched properties tend to hold their value as they are more niche and rarer than other types of homes!