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Thatching for warm, dry roofs

August 2012  

Thatching for warm, dry roofsThatched roofs are quintessentially British - the vision of that wonderful thatched country cottage with roses growing up the walls is one of the most enduring to illustrate the perfect British village.

Thatched roofs really are beautiful but they are also surprisingly efficient and the benefits of thatching have been known for thousands of years. In the late Palaeolithic period (20,000 years ago plus) there is evidence that water reed, heather and rushes may have been used to cover primitive shelters in Europe. Over the centuries the method of using natural materials for roofing developed into a sophisticated technique requiring skilled and knowledgeable craftsmen.

Today thatching is as popular as ever and thatching material is obtained commercially, usually from long straw, combed wheat reed or water reed, rather than just relying on locally available material that was the case in the past.

The type of reed used will alter the style of the finish; long straw provides a slightly rough, shaggy look while combed reed is smoother and currently very popular. Water reed is thought to be a superior product because it can offer a slightly longer life and higher levels of waterproofing.

But today the art of the professional thatcher is so developed that all well thatched roofs are very water proof indeed. Water is kept out by the tight overlapping of the bundles and water simply cannot penetrate to any great depth. Normally moisture will not penetrate into a thatch bundle more than one or two inches at most.

A skilled thatcher will lay five or six foot bundles of reeds on top of each other to provide an impenetrable shell of waterproofing. Thatch is usually laid at reasonably steep angles as well, perhaps at a pitch angle of 45 degrees. With each thatch layer building up to a thickness of around a foot or more, and with the slope of the roof, rain, sleet and snow is drawn by gravity off the roof well before it can penetrate into the thatch.

Of top of being waterproof, thatching offers a very high level of insulation and also ventilation. It keeps a building snug and warm in winter but can breathe enough to allow adequate airflow which will also help to keep a building cool in summer. Conventional roofing materials can trap heat and moisture requiring ventilation in lofts and attics. This is not the case with thatch.

Another benefit of thatch is that it offers excellent sound insulation.
With the storms we have been experiencing lately, some people have concern that thatch can simply be caught by a high wind and blown away. This is not the case. Today modern thatching is attached to roofs with screws and heavy duty steel wire. This does not show through the thatching but offers enormous strength. In older buildings often the more traditional wood spar system of attachment is used instead, but this can be equally strong. You won’t hear of any modern thatched roofs being blown away in normal British weather.

There are variations on styles of thatching, for instance the roof ridge, the area right along the top of a roof, can be either flush or block. Flush means it is in line with the rest of the roof line while a block ridge is built up and then cut to form a raised block at the top of the roof. Both are very attractive and offer good finishes.

There are stories about animals making their homes in thatch. Rats and mice will only be attracted to a thatch roof in poor repair where there are holes and gaps for them to penetrate and start building nests. A well thatched roof won’t have any gaps and won’t be of any more appeal to a rodent than a properly tiled house.

Fire proofing is another concern, but today there are a number of techniques to help make thatch fireproof and insurance companies offer full cover for buildings with thatched roofs without greatly increased fees.

Really, thatch has a great deal going for it. Add to that the fact that it is a sustainable material, often sourced right here in the UK, and it is not surprising that the number of thatched properties in the UK is actually on the increase.

There is a host of information on the web about various methods of thatching and professional thatchers in all parts of the country. Any reputable company should be able to introduce you to previous clients who will be able to give first hand information on the benefits of living under a lovely thatched roof.

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