Thatching is one of the oldest roofing techniques in the world and is used in both tropical and temperate climates around the world. Broadly speaking, thatching is the construction of roofing material out of dry vegetation such as water reed, straw, rushes, heather, palm branches or sedge, in a layered manner to shed water away from the inner roof. The dense material packing provides insulation. 

Thatched roofs are considered a quintessentially British countryside staple – found on cottages and homes throughout rural areas around the whole of the UK. However, they require different maintenance to that needed for standard houses and so buying a home with thatching is daunting for many. Before you take the plunge and move into a thatched property, here’s everything you need to know…

A thatched property on a sunny day

A full electrical check should be included in every survey

Poor wiring and thatched roofs don’t mix and can make for a huge fire hazard. It’s imperative that a full electrical risk assessment is included with any survey completed on a thatched house so don’t be afraid to ask for one if it isn’t. Any work that needs doing, no matter how minor, should be completed immediately; and ideally ahead of purchase. What’s more, most insurers will require further electrical inspections every 5-10 years to provide continued cover.

House insurance costs and clauses may differ

While most home insurers will certainly provide property and contents cover for thatched homes, their cover levels are almost certain to vary from those provided for ‘regular’ houses. Thatched properties may not necessarily result in sky high premium prices, but ideally insurers who specialise in thatch or in period properties should be approached. If possible, ask for a bespoke valuation and risk assessment to be completed in place of a blanket assumption assessment.

Dirty thatching may not require immediate replacement

Thatching may look dirty or discoloured but this doesn’t necessarily mean that re-thatching is required. Thatching companies also often offer simple repair, cleaning and strengthening treatments and these can help preserve current thatch for longer. If you’re looking to buy a thatched property but haven’t yet, involve a professional thatcher and negotiate the seller’s asking price based on their recommendations for work.

Professional thatchers’ costs vary hugely

Thatching is a specialism and although there are certainly plenty of professionals to choose from, there aren’t thousands of them around. This does mean that quotes for work can vary hugely and so it’s always recommended that homeowners of thatched properties obtain at least three quotes from respectable service providers before agreeing to any one. If in doubt, ask any neighbours with thatched properties who they use for their own roofs. What’s more, it’s always worth remembering that the title ‘Master Thatcher’, often referred to by professionals, doesn’t actually require any set training or qualification and so should not be taken as a gospel indication of quality.

You’ll need to book ahead for thatching work

Once you have found a professional thatcher to take on work for you, don’t be surprised if they can’t come round to start on it the next week. Many thatching specialists have a waiting list of up to a year and so services need to be booked well in advance. Booking in regular maintenance rather than waiting for a full re-thatch job will save money and time in the long run, and avoid the need for any emergency repairs. Simple repairs and restructuring over time can help strengthen not just the thatch but also the roof underneath it and help prolong its lifespan.

More than 75% of thatched homes are listed

You may assume when buying a house that you’re free to do with it as you like regardless of its roofing structure – but this is not the case. Over three quarters of all thatched properties in England and Wales are listed by English Heritage and this grading will include guidelines and requirements for re-thatching. It’s best to check in with your local authority before commissioning work and exploring what is and what isn’t permitted.

A thatched holiday home

Some councils offer financial grants for re-thatching

Many district councils run historic building schemes that aim to encourage those homeowners in their areas with thatching to properly protect and repair their listed properties. In these cases, there are often designed ring-fenced funds that can be applied for to help finance re-thatching when it’s to be done in a certain style. The exact amounts available vary hugely so it cannot always be relied upon, but should certainly be looked into when the time comes. Keeping your property in keeping with the character of the local area is often considered a priority by those who run it.

Don’t forget flue and chimney safety

Thatched properties can enjoy the warmth of a real fire within, but common sense and safety precautions must be paramount when doing so. Appropriate firelighters should always be used, a professional chimney sweep hired at least annually and working fire and smoke alarms fitted throughout the home. Thatched roofs are much more of a fire risk than more modern materials and so it is important to practice smart fire safety.

Thatched roofs may seem very quaint and British, but they feature all over the world

If you’re a fan of thatch but looking to move abroad, you may still be able to find a property with such a roof. There’s believed to be around 60,000 thatched homes in the UK but there’s over 150,000 in the Netherlands and many across France, Belgium, Denmark and Ireland. In warmer climes such as Indonesia and Japan thatched roofs can also be found – but these are often made of different materials and have slightly varying maintenance requirements to keep them in shape.

Thatched roofs are beautiful traditional structures and should be valued and treated as such. With the right maintenance they can last for many, many years and be appreciated and enjoyed as they deserve. If you’re looking to purchase a thatched home, do your research, make an informed choice – and go for it! Your forever home awaits. 

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