The thatching of roofs is a historical and celebrated tradition in the United Kingdom. Incredibly, early thatched roofs are thought to date back to the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age. The earliest recorded thatch roof building is The Howick House, a hut-like structure thought to be nearly 8000 years old – built not long after the last ice age.
The process of thatching evolved over time to include fortresses, towers, and Viking Longhouses. Thatched roof houses can even be found on ancient Roman coins. Modern thatched roofs still survive to this day with over 60,000 examples. Many are treasured for their architectural or historical importance, such as Robert Burns’s cottage in Scotland. Around 75% of all thatch roof houses are listed buildings.
Much like chimney sweeps, thatchers have seen their trade change from a thriving business to an unusual, albeit highly skilled, specialist service. Thatched roofing repair and replacement costs can be enormous. Master thatchers can spend up to a month crafting a roof by hand, so labour costs can quickly mount up. Not to mention annual maintenance visits.
So just how expensive is it?
How much does a thatched roof cost?
As you would expect, the cost of installing a thatched roof can vary greatly. Materials and labour are the main factors that decide how much it will cost. Simplicity is another deciding factor. The lack of complexity of a small cottage, compared to a large detached house, with irregular features, will take less time and fewer materials.
Furthermore, replacing a thatched roof will be far cheaper than installing a brand new thatched roof from a tiled or slated roof.
A thatched roof specialist will normally charge by the square. The dimensions of a thatcher’s square are 10 ft × 10 ft (100 ft²), or 3 m × 3 m (9 m²). Although prices differ Rightmove estimate the average price being around £700 per thatcher’s square. A small simple cottage, then, with a 45-degree roof would cost around £6,500.
However, a larger detached house, especially one with tricky features, such as chimneys or dormer windows, will be significantly higher in price. The average price for this type of thatched roof can be between £25,000 and £35,000.
What are the repair costs of a thatched house?
This can largely depend on the material used, with water reed arguably being the riskiest option. A damaged water reed thatch cannot be repaired, meaning it will need to be stripped to the timber and replaced. However, water reed is regarded as the most durable with a typical lifespan of 20 – 40 years. Long straw roofs, on the other hand, often only need to be partially stripped to be mended, but their lifespan is much shorter.
New lead flashings can cost around £350 with new scaffolding costing around £300. Cement flashings are a cheaper but less durable option at around the £200 mark. Labour is often a considerable amount as everything is done by hand.
Labour can be anywhere from £100 to £225 a day per thatcher. Two or three roof thatchers can take around a month to complete a new roof. As a standard slate roof only takes from 1-3 days to complete, there is a hefty difference in labour costs. Installing a new thatched roof can cost up to 30 times as much as a regular roof from labour alone.
Moreover, the decorative layer, known as the roof ridge, also has to be replaced every 10-15 years and costs around 25% of the cost of the entire thatch. With so many factors to consider, the only real way to obtain an accurate estimate of a repair is to book amaster thatcher to inspect your roof.
Exemplifying the differing cost estimates is the below table by Checkatrade:
|Cost of thatch||Low Cost||High Cost||Average Cost|
|Thatched roof cost per ‘thatchers square’ (9 m2)||£700||£1,000||£850|
|Total thatch roof cost||£15,000||£30,000||£22,500|
You can also expect to pay up to £1,000 a year for an annual inspection and minor repairs by master thatchers. However, there are a number of ways to help maintain a thatched roof and keep costs down.
How can I maintain a thatched roof?
Clean the roof by hand
Thatched roofs must be cleaned regularly by hand. Leaves and moss can be removed using a variety of rakes. Rakes are incorrectly thought to spread fungal spores. However, spores are unavoidable and only damp conditions can contribute to the advancement of fungus. In fact, cleaning can reduce the spread of fungus by making the environment less hospitable for spores.
Trim overhanging trees and shrubbery
Keeping the roof as dry as possible can prolong its life massively, although the unpredictable weather patterns of the UK do not lend themselves well to this. However, you can limit your thatched roof’s exposure to moisture by trimming any overhanging trees or bushes. This will eliminate any slow drips into the thatching after rainfall, allowing it to dry in the sun. Shade can also drastically reduce a roof’s ability to dry out by blocking sun and wind.
Algae can wreak havoc on a thatched roof by preventing natural drying. Spraying your roof with algaecide is a cost-effective way of killing algae and moss allowing the sun and wind to dry the roof naturally.
How long will a thatched roof last?
Of course, it is impossible to accurately tell how many years a thatched roof will last. However, here are some material-dependent estimates:
- Reed – 20 to 65 years
- Longstraw – 15 to 20 years
- Combined Wheat straw – 20 to 40 years
- Heather and turf – 20 to 30 years
Do thatched roofs attract pests?
Unfortunately, pests are extremely fond of thatched roofs. A plethora of creepy crawlies are known to make themselves at home in the warm dry thatching material.
Birds and the Bees can also be drawn to a thatched property. Straw thatched roofs are especially susceptible to damage as birds will pull out the straw to make nests. Nesting birds also find the roof itself extremely appealing, which can devastate the structure of the thatching.
Nesting spiders, wasps, and bees can also be a scary proposition for some. Moreover, in extreme cases, an infestation of these could warrant a visit from pest control.
Rodents, usually rats or squirrels, can cause severe damage to a thatched roof. They can pull out great chunks of thatching and chew through supporting structures. This means patches may need re-thatching and in extreme cases, an entire roof may need to be replaced. So, if you notice anything untoward going on, it is essential to contact pest control as soon as possible!
Will I need specialist home insurance for a thatched roof?
The majority of home insurance companies will cover thatched roofs. However, much like the roof itself, insuring one is expensive.
A more cost-effective option is to take out specialist insurance. Thatched roof houses are classified as “non-standard” in the insurance realm. “Thatched roof property insurance” is a specialised home insurance for these types of properties, which should streamline all thatched roof insurance needs into one policy.
Much like standard insurance, it covers against such things as:
- Storm damage
- Accidental damage
However, these properties have a higher fire risk and this is reflected in the price. Moreover, many insurance companies stipulate a number of rules to meet insurance requirements. For example, a homeowner will be expected to maintain the roof, and install fire precautions, such as fire retardant sprays and protective material.
Type of thatch
A homeowner will have to decide which type of material they will use for the thatch. The cost, longevity and style of the material should be given careful consideration. Unfortunately, you may need to adhere to local aesthetic guidelines.
Safety and deterrents
Not only will a number of safety precautions help protect your home they will also keep costs down in the long run. A well-maintained, well-protected thatched roof will cut down the total number of repairs and the severity of damage.
As dry, flammable roofing can be a fire hazard, special consideration should be given to fire prevention strategies. In contrast, a water repellent coating may be added to reduce the chance of leaks.
Netting should also be considered to deter birds and rodents.
However, these measures can drastically alter the price so it is important to factor your financial situation into your considerations.
It may be important to some to design the ridge with personal artistic flair. But, it is important to realise that more complex designs cost more. And, remember, these have to be replaced every 10-15 years at around 25% of the price of the roof. However, truly exceptional decorations may increase the house value.
Thatched roof buildings hold significant historical and cultural importance in the UK. However, this love and preservation of traditional thatched roofs comes at a price. From all angles, thatch on roofs is incredibly expensive in comparison to modern materials.
Roof thatching is now a highly-specialised trade and a thatched roof specialist can come with astronomical labour costs. The total cost of thatched roofs and thatched roof repairs can fluctuate greatly. The main considerations affecting cost are the size and complexity of the roof, and the main materials used.
A water reed thatched roof, for example, will cost more than long straw thatch. However, if a water reed roof becomes damaged it will need to be replaced with a whole new roof. Straw and other materials have a shorter shelf life but can be easier to repair.
A simple small thatched cottage costs far less than a complex large house with multiple dormer windows and chimneys. This is in terms of building a new thatch roof or repairing an existing thatched roof. This is because more materials are used and longer hours are worked.
A roof ridge can account for around 25% of the overall price – so, extravagant decorative skills (adding size and complexity) can increase the cost of replacing a roof.
A well-maintained thatched roof can add years of longevity to it. A homeowner or housekeeper will be kept busy maintaining its condition. Tasks such as cleaning, gardening, roof spraying and safeguarding against pests are all required to maintain a thatched property.
All in all, thatched roofs are incredibly expensive to install, replace, repair and insure. But, perhaps the biggest expense is the toil it takes to maintain them, affordable only by those with heavy wallets and full hearts for thatched houses.