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Technical blog - What to consider when thinking of buying a thatched property

— 18 Sep 2018 by John Alexander


Monitoring thatching in progress


Thatched roof in need of replacement


Newly thatched roof in the local tradition

thatch detail

Thatch is a fantastic traditional material and one of the oldest types of roof covering. A vernacular  building tradition, thatch has evolved alongside changes in the farming industry.

However, there is a great deal of misinformation about the material and the risks of owning a thatch property, including fire risks, maintenance and dust.

Here’s what to consider before buying a thatch property:

Insurance - You must be satisfied that you can insure your property.  There are some insurance companies that specialise in insurance of thatched buildings and you should contact insurers at the outset to see what issues they consider high risk.

It is often considered that insurance risks are mainly fire and vermin.  However, current advice in the public domain is outdated and based on questionable science. 

The biggest fire risk is now thought to be smouldering brands being expelled from a chimney or elsewhere rather than the heat generated within a flue. This risk can be minimised by choosing the right solid fuel stove and controlling use.

Maintenance - Many areas have a local thatching tradition and if the building is listed you will be expected to maintain your thatch to this tradition, so that the historical setting isn’t diminished.

In the South West, the tradition has been to thatch with a wheat straw a tradition called Combed Wheat Reed (CWR).  In the last few decades this has been replaced with water reed as the length of the reed tends to be longer and the material was more readily available.  Yet, some thatchers are still giving the same advice as 20 years ago even though the situation has drastically changed.

In recent years, water reed has become less durable and new straw growers have come to the market so the supply and quality of CWR has improved.

You should consider maintenance carefully; water reed maintenance involves complete removal of the thatch, whereas the maintenance of CWR involves the renewal of a top coat only – a much smaller amount of material and work.

Before buying a thatched property, it is advisable to talk to at least two local thatchers about its existing condition and what they would recommend as a maintenance programme.  They can also provide budgets for this work.

For more information visit the Conservation of Traditional Thatch website or click here for contact details of thatchers.  

Jonathan Rhind Architects can advise on thatch in the CWR tradition, especially if you find you are getting conflicting advice from local thatchers. Get in touch with us here.

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