Whichever way you look at it, thatch is an extremely effective roofing technique used worldwide and throughout the ages. It remains the most common roofing method in the world, specifically in developing countries, utilising low cost, local and sustainable materials, as well as being lighter than many alternatives and a terrific insulator. However, it is in the developed world that thatched insurance plays a role in the decision to own a thatched home.Get a Quote
Are all thatched roof materials made equal?
In short, yes. Different types of thatch are used throughout the world, including palm leaves, heather, rushes, gorse and in the Hebrides, marram grass. In some parts of the world even seaweed and bamboo have been used. One of the big benefits of thatch is that is made from local materials, and they all have a shelf-life of anywhere from 15 to 50 years.
The durability of thatch can be dependent on many factors in addition to the quality of the thatched roof materials. These include the quality of the thatcher who built it, the climate and conditions the roof is exposed to, the aspect of the property and even the pitch of the roof itself. One thing many experienced thatchers agree on, is that the it is only as good as the amount of correctly laid thatch covering the fittings; that is the horizontal wooden ‘sways’ and hair-pin ‘spars’ that fix the courses of thatch to the roof.
Interestingly, despite thatch being a popular roofing method across parts of Germany, France, Denmark and the Netherlands, there are more thatched properties in the UK than in any other country in Europe. Even more interesting is the fact that in UK we now actually import thatched roof materials from countries such as Turkey, China, Africa and Eastern Europe.
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Popular thatched roof materials in the UK
At Highworth Insurance we specialise in thatched insurance and have witnessed the recent resurgence in popularity of thatched roofs. We thought we’d take this opportunity to outline the three most popular types of thatched roof materials used in the UK today.
Water Reed or Norfolk Reed
As the name suggests, this type of thatch was used almost exclusively in East Anglia and was once sourced in the Norfolk Broads. Applied as ‘one coat’ it is laid using methods similar to those used in Eastern Europe. However due to the depletion of the reed beds and the large amount required to thatch a property, around 80% is now imported. Water reed enjoys a reputation for being hardy and can last for up to 50 years.
Combed Wheat or Devon Reed
Very popular throughout the south of England and especially in Devon, hence the name. Combed Wheat is straw that has been through a comber attachment. The result is the removal of shorter straws and all and the stems lying in the same direction. Combed Wheat thatched roofs can be expected to last for 20 to 30 years and tend to have a more rounded appearance than Water Reed roofs.
Just like Combed Wheat, Long Straw is exactly that ‘long straw’ which has gone through a threshing machine to remove the grain. This can bruise the straw, but leaves it otherwise intact. Long straw is notorious for being the most labour intensive for the thatcher, since it needs to be prepared by hand before it can be used. Roughly expected to last 15 to 25 years, these roofs can look shaggy in comparison to thatch using other materials.
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A note about ridges
Ridges sit along the apex of the roof and need repair and replacement more frequently than the roof itself. Patterned, straight cut or flush, they generally last around 10 to 15 years and are commonly made from Combed Wheat.
Thatch Materials: An interesting history
The history of thatched roof materials in the UK is rather fascinating. Wheat in the Medieval ages grew to almost 6 feet tall! Clearly this produced excellent, durable straw for thatched roofs. However, changes to agriculture dramatically effected the popularity of thatch. It was the arrival of the combine harvester in the late 1930s and 1940s which led to the reduction of good quality thatching straw, since this spurred the release of short-stemmed wheat varieties. Furthermore, an increased use of nitrogen fertiliser in the 1960s onwards, weakened the straw and its durability. Thankfully since the 1980’s there has been an increase in straw quality, with specialist growers returning to growing older, tall-stemmed varieties.
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The changing tides of thatched insurance
In recent years thatch has been synonymous with high upkeep costs and extortionate insurance premiums, due largely to its proclivity to catch fire. However, modern thatching methods, fire retardant coatings and the advent of specialist thatch insurers such as Highworth Insurance, has led to a gradual return to its former glory. Aside from its undeniable aesthetic appeal, many architects are recognising the efficient and sustainable benefits of thatch and it is becoming more and more popular in modern day eco homes.
If you own a thatched property and are looking for a competitive thatched insurance quotation, you can contact our specialist advisors at Highworth Insurance, who will be happy to discuss your property and unique requirements.