Dating back to well before the Middle Ages, European thatched dwellings were present in some of the very first small permanent villages established throughout the continent—they were inexpensive, readily available and extremely hard-wearing. For several centuries thatch was in fact the only material available to individuals; until the late 19th century, with the advent of commercially produced slate and increased transportation options, thatch reigned the supreme choice for almost all homes and buildings. Thatched roofing has had its fair share of ostracism, and until the mid-20th century was seen as a pauper’s material, projecting poverty and mediocrity. Since that time thatch has experienced an ebb and flow of admiration and is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, due in part to its environmental friendliness and magnificent appearance.
These days we love a good thatched cottage or country home—a sign of wealth and lavishness; we covet them, envy them, and are beginning to utilise their eco-friendliness to create stunning energy-efficient homes. So let us debunk some of the myths surrounding the maintenance and practicalities of thatched roofs and check out the following examples of an exciting and wonderfully versatile material.
Generally thatched roofing is a common choice for older homes, or those with traditional or heritage architecture. These days, thatching is a versatile material for all manner of homes, traditional and modern. The beauty of a thatched home is its natural insulating qualities and low maintenance upkeep—contrary to popular belief, a thatched roof lasts extremely long if well-maintained, generally the ridge or peak area needs reworking every 10-15 years, and well looked after roofs last upwards of 70 years. This thatched home utilises a traditional design with modern elements to create a house that nods its head to the past, while looking forward to the future. The thatched roof provides an adaptable material that is subtle yet impressive.
Thatched roofing needn’t be a roofing material solely for older style homes—this fresh cottage incorporates a high-pitched thatched roof that infuses a sense of charm and charisma into the modern space and contemporary interior. Many people shy away from thatched roofing as they assume it won’t be waterproof enough for rainy or temperate climates. On the contrary, thatched roofs actually provide an extremely good barrier against leaks, rain and indeed snow. The thatched roof must be constructed to at least a 45-degree angle, this ensures the water runs off and does not build up which can cause moss and poor drainage. If you live in an area of high snow or rainfall, a steeper pitched roof will ensure it is watertight and protected against tough weather conditions.
Thatched roofs are excellent for energy efficiency, and a great eco-friendly alternative to other roof materials. The energy efficiency of your thatch will be dependent on the geography and topography of the location of your home, as well as the quality of the material used, and the proficiency and competence of the thatcher. Thatched roofs provide natural insulation, and a well thatched roof will ensure your home is cool in summer and warm in winter.
One common question about thatching is in regard to pests and whether the roof will attract unwanted critters into the home. Generally a thatched roof is actually a deterrent for pests, the construction of the roof is so dense that they tend to avoid it altogether. Wire netting is sometimes placed over the thatch, but this can actually reduce drainage to the surface and is not encouraged. Sometimes an anti-bacterial or anti-fungal spray is applied to the thatch, but this is rarely necessary and can reduce the eco-friendliness of the roof.
Often a widespread fallacy about thatched roofs is that they won’t hold up in a coastal storm, or during bad winter weather—this couldn’t be further from the truth, a thatched roof actually weathers a storm far better than any other method due to its construction and composition. Water reed thatching comes from bodies of water and has a natural resistance to salt and liquid. Moreover, thatching is fixed directly to the rafters, ensuring it is part of the structure, and not simply laid atop the home. Thatching generally protects extremely well against both strong winds and rain, and during winter creates tough insulation from the elements. This hard-wearing quality makes thatching the perfect roof for a coastal or lake side home, where weather can often deteriorate building materials resulting in costly upkeep and repairs.
Finally, one of the common deterrents to a thatched roof is the perceived fire risk associated with using dry straw, or water reeds. This mistaken belief often causes individuals to shy away from the useful thatched roof, for fear that it will become a hazard and a danger. In actual fact, thatching is so dense that they tend to smoulder rather than burn, of course however, if the fire starts within the home, the thatch will burn, but this is a commonality in all roof types. For added protection, thatch, and the rafters underneath the roof can be treated with a fire retardant material that will allow them to withstand hotter temperatures.