Common misconceptions about thatched properties can often deter first-time buyers, so make sure you are familiar with the issues associated with this type of property.
If you are thinking buying a thatched property you should consider the following aspects in order to achieve a better understanding of thatched roofs.
This article offers you a very brief overview of thatch and thatched properties. However, you are recommended to undertake additional research and obtain specialist advice.
There are about 80,000 thatched buildings in England and Wales and there are three main thatching types; Combed Wheat Reed, Long Straw and Water Reed all of which can be found on top of a wide selection of building types including, cob, stone rubble, stone, brick, timber frame and some new builds of concrete block or brick.
There are a variety of different traditional regional shapes of roof and a number of different regional methods of thatching. In the West Country thatched roofs will be either Combed Wheat Reed or Water Reed and have a shallow pitch with a rounded shape. Often multi coated, they can be up to 2m deep at the ridge. The rest of the thatching counties have Water Reed, Combed Wheat Reed and Long Straw roofs, where the pitch tends to be steeper. In East Anglia and the Midlands roof shape is more angular and Long Straw giving the appearance of being poured onto the roof frame.
There are NO hard and fast rules gauging life expectancy. The life of thatch depends upon many factors working together and largely depends upon the ability of the roof to dry quickly without over drying. Claims are wildly made that roofs will last for up to 60 years; in reality some roofs have, some roofs have also failed after 5 years.
However, as a guide new thatch should last between 15-35 years, depending on the type and quality of materials used.
Maintenance on a typical three to four bedroomed home will usually include replacing the ridge every 10 to 15 years.
Towards the end of its life, a thatched roof will require patching; however, regular inspection and maintenance of the thatch can prevent problems such as vermin damage or rot from shortening the lifespan of the roof.
Thatcher’s use the best quality reed that is available but straw and reed are natural products and there are good years and bad years.
Other factors that will effect the life of a thatched roof include the position and location of the house, the pitch of the roof, trees, moss, birds, insects and animals, the skill of the Thatcher, use of some fire retardants and moss killer sprays and poor roof design to name but a few.
Unlike a conventional roof, new roofs and badly leaking ones should be relatively easy to judge if it is in poor shape. Deterioration in older roofs can be more difficult to detect.
Dark wet patches on the eaves close to the wall indicate the thatch is leaking. Obvious signs of leaks could show up as brown water stains running down the walls both inside the house and under the eaves and hollows, dips and gullies.
If gullies are appearing (vertical deep patches of rot), these will require the attention of an experienced Thatcher.
Thatched valleys and the area beneath chimneys are vulnerable spots but thatched roofs can be repaired and patched successfully. This is often done when a roof is being re-ridged.
If fixings are exposed all over the roof, it indicates that the thatch is either nearing, or has reached the end of its life.
If the roof is covered in heavy moss, it could mean that the thatch is unable to breath and is therefore unable to dry out properly.
As the final protective covering along the top of the roof, the purpose of the ridge is twofold: to conceal the last fixing rod and to provide an attractive finish to the roof.
Although a high quality ridge will only need replacing every 12-15 years, a poor quality ridge may only last 5-7 years. Sometimes, however, the ridge may look shabby, whilst still serving its purpose of keeping water out.
Due to its unique insulating properties, thatched properties will keep internal temperatures warm in winter and cool in summer.
Thatched properties can still enjoy the benefits of a real fire. As with many things, it is simply a matter of exercising common sense.
Fire will always be a potential threat to all buildings whatever the roof is made of.
Statistically, homes with thatched roofs are no more likely to catch fire than those with conventional roofs.
Most house fires start within the building and can be attributed to a number of causes including poor electric or gas appliances. There have been many attempts to fire proof thatch either by treating the reed before it is put on the roof, by spraying chemicals into the roof or by creating a fire proof barrier between the thatch and the roof structure. There are a variety of other fire barriers and there are special requirements for electrics in lofts. It is advisable for linked smoke alarms to be fitted in the loft of a thatched property and any netting over the surface of the thatch has to be fitted correctly so that it can be removed easily.
Older chimneys are often less than one metre in height from the thatch to the top of the chimney pot.
Spark arrestors are now generally considered hazardous and unless they are removed and cleaned several times a year they can clog up with tar and restrict flue gasses. Ideally there should be a fire barrier placed between the thatch and the chimney.
The installation of wood burners and liners now comes under Building Regulations. In the past where open fireplaces cooled down over night, now wood burners can maintain a near constant and more intense heat that reaches further up the chimney - this dries out the lime mortar between the bricks which may be as much as 400 years old. When wet and unseasoned logs are burned the acidic tar produced can go through masonry and lime mortar or corrode a stainless steel chimney liner. A close inspection of chimney stacks in the loft is necessary to detect any smoke or tar stains - if found then recommendations should be made to call in a chimney specialist.
Thatched homes are not disproportionately expensive to insure - it is simply a matter of shopping around and finding an insurer who is experienced in thatched properties.
When you take on a listed property that is thatched, you meet additional limitations on what you may or may not do.
Most external or internal repairs or alterations to listed buildings require listed building consent and you should talk to your local Building Conservation Officer before employing a Thatcher to carry-out work on the roof.