Traditional Thatch

With today’s innovative architectural design comes less and less use of traditional materials in the construction of human dwellings. Nowadays, thatching is a rare sight, especially in more urban areas. However, this increasingly obsolete substance offers a multitude of constructional and environmental benefits. Here at NSMT, we believe that it would be criminal to let such a valuable natural resource go to waste. This is exactly why our mission statement upholds the use of traditional thatch practices for everyday roofing.  

We have centred our company around the preservation of this once time-honoured roofing technique, while simultaneously providing a thinking tank for local thatchers. Most importantly, we propagate the use of thatching as a means to preserve our land’s natural heritage, maintaining the historical aesthetic of each heritage site. Learn more about NSMT’s thatching services and previous projects, and discover whether thatching would be the right fit for your home! 

A Guide to Traditional Thatch 

Thatching involves the intricate layering of natural materials, with water reeds or long straw being the usual candidates in Britain. Once the materials have been gathered, the layering process can then proceed. Thatchers will affix the initial layer to your thatched roofs boards using screws and wires. The subsequent layers then go atop, stabilised by wooden pegs and additional wiring. The layers increase interminably until what is known as a coat” of thatch develops. The finished structure is a rustic display of homeliness, tradition, and a long lost charm that sets your home apart from surrounding residences. 

 What is Traditional Thatch 

This thatch entails the layering of natural materials, like water reeds, long-straw, or ridges to act as roofing for homes. 

Why use Traditional Thatch over Modern Materials? 

Though modernity usually poses elegant solutions for todays problems, this isnt the case when it comes to thatch roofing materials. In fact, thatching traditionally can offer several benefits that do not fall under the repertoire of modern materials.  

The Benefits of Traditional Thatching 

With proper maintenance, a thatched roof will keep rainwater at bay very effectively, owing to its thick covering and appropriate slope angle. Not only is it waterproof, but its resistance to all elements of weather make it an appealing choice for those living in extreme climates. The benefits of thatch do not stop here, though. 

 More Environmentally Friendly 

As is the case for all-natural materials, the reeds and straw that go into the thatching process are biodegradable, meaning that they return to nature with absolutely no harm to the environment. Because these materials are locally sourced, they immediately become the more cost-effective choice, instantly reducing exhaust fumes that would otherwise result from long-distance material transportation.  

 Very Durable and Long Lasting 

The best part is that thatch lasts for years at a time, requiring maintenance very rarely. This immediately translates into less consumption of building materials relative to regular maintenance frequencies of other materials. 

Natural Insulator 

As materials are hand-laid atop your thatched roofing structure, air becomes trapped in natural pockets among the layers. This added bonus of insulation comes in very valuable in extreme temperatures, especially during Britains cold winters. The air also provides a natural cooling system, allowing heat to escape your homes structure, and maintaining the interior at a pleasant temperature. 

Adds Character to Your Property 

Your home will undoubtedly stand out with its unique thatched roofing, in stark contrast with the modern tiles and slates of surrounding residential buildings. 

Why Thatched Roofs Are Making a Comeback 

Over the course of the past few years, architects have begun revisiting this ancient thatched roofing style, utilising it for both rustic and high-end residential buildings. The new innovative thatch design crosses climates, from tropical to temperate, serving its purposes equally well. It has even popped up in high-end resorts in global tourist spots, beloved for its rustic yet exotic aesthetic.  

Thatching only fell out of practice during the industrial revolution due to the mass production of generic roofing tiles, making this the cheaper choice when compared to the artisanal skills of specialised thatch tradesmen. However, now that thatching materials are sourced locally, and receive anti-flame coverings so well, thatched roofs have risen in popularity once again. 

Guidelines for Thatched Properties 

If youre considering thatch as your roof style of choice, there are a few things to take into account. Because it is an organic material, it is only natural for it to contain micro-organisms. However, an overgrowth can prove problematic for the overall lifespan of your roof. Consequently, it is best for owners to carefully assess their building materials for quality and cleanliness beforehand.  

Stalks should be clean and free of broken twigs, as this ultimately weakens the interlocking pattern of the thatch. Stems should also be cut at an appropriate height to maintain strength, with a low-salt content to avoid water retention. Moisture percentages should not surpass 17.5%, or else it will form an optimal medium for the growth of bacteria. Also, keep an eye out for higher bundle weights, as this adds durability and extra waterproofing capabilities to the finished thatched roof. 

Thatch Fire Prevention Advice 

Though thatch is regularly equipped with fire retardants, it is still wise to exercise caution in regards to fire prevention when living under a thatched roof. Use fire retardant sprays, closely monitor and control fireplaces and/or chimney exhausts, and make sure these exits are swept thoroughly to prevent leakages. Chimneys can even be fitted with fire alarms for an early alert system.  

Another up-and-coming strategy is the use of a fire barrier which forms a foundation under the thatching layers. Should a fire start and reach the ceiling, the fire barrier stands staunchly between it and the above thatch. 

 Conservation 

As we take steps towards the future, it is crucial to preserve our pasts, and natural heritage sites are no exception. The UK is lucky to possess so many of these wonderful locations, offering a glimpse into a different era. Their historic value cannot be replicated, necessitating their careful preservation for future generations. Thatchers embody this urgent responsibility to conserve such deeply meaningful sites, as they undertake new methods of construction to ensure the survival of thatched materials. 

NSMT work jointly with local governments to maintain conservation while acknowledging that thatched buildings must meet the demands of an increasingly modern world. This fragile balance is what we have spent years honing and monitoring, using a resilient approach of high-quality workmanship. 

In this regard, conservation is inevitably about protecting the structure of thatched roofs. With the looming risk of pest infestation, it is vital that you have your roof regularly inspected for mice, rats, or nesting birds. Lay down some netting or chicken wire to deter critters from making your roof a permanent home. Metallic wires should also receive routine attention from your thatchers, as rust is inevitable and will leave the roof vulnerable to holes. 

 Pests 

Thatched roofs are a warm and dry sanctuary for wildlife. Saying this, it is important to keep pests and imposing creatures at bay to ensure a long life for your thatched roof.  

Birds will usually pluck out straw from your roof to build their nests, sometimes leaving gaping holes in your structure. Make sure to cover your roof with wiring or chicken netting to avoid this happening, and avoid the placement of bird feeders outside your home.  

Netting also inhibits the entry of rats and mice, who are usually very hard to get rid of once they have settled in the recesses of your thatching. Some thatchers offer galvanised wire coverings as well. Make sure to discard food waste in sealed rubbish containers, to avoid attracting these unwanted pests. You may opt for traps or poison, which are some other common methods for pest control. 

Climate Change 

With such turbulent climactic changes, researchers suspect an alarming decline in the lifespan of roof thatching. Previously, frosty winters and sweltering summers would form enough of an extreme climate to deter fungal and microbial growth amongst the thatching layers. Now, with abnormal rain patterns and rising temperatures, opportunistic forms of growth, such as algae and moss, are growing uncontrollably on exterior thatched structures. With all this wear and tear, thatch degrades at a much faster rate than those of past years. 

 

Water Reeds 

Such reeds grow in wetter areas and marshlands and are harvested in the winter months before green shoots have had a chance to appear. The height of the final reed is largely dependent on the amount of nutrients it has received from the soil. Eventually, they are gathered, dried, and cleaned to be sorted into height-specific categories. The finished roofing style rings similar to that of long straw, with a distinct sharper edge. 

Cereal Straw 

This straw is separated from the grain, resulting in a loose, twig-like appearance. Once these piles are cleaned and treated, they can then be arranged into a roof structure, possessing an overall shaggy yet appealing aesthetic. The edges can be neatly laid with clear-cut stick borders. 

Traditional Thatch Materials 

The most common materials in Britain for roof thatching are cereal straw and water reeds. Their robustness and local growth render them highly attractive material choices. 

 Contact Us 

Maybe youre interested in a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle. Or maybe youre trying to cut home maintenance costs by opting for cheap natural resources for your roof. Maybe you just have a soft spot for rustic-looking roofing that mimics natural heritage sites. Whatever the case may be, NSMTthatchers will work tirelessly to bring you the highest quality thatching youve seen yet. 

We aim to not only preserve this beloved technique but to spread information about its history and uphold traditional practices for future generations. Any questions you may have can be sent via email or relayed over the phone, whatever is most convenient for you.  

Our secretary, Andrew Raffle, takes the lead in answering your questions, so dont hesitate to reach out to him! Thinking of advertising in our magazine? Please contact NSMTs Julia Shelley via phone or email, and pitch your idea to land valuable ad space in our publication!  

National Society of Master Thatchers