The advantages and disadvantages of thatched roofs

Before buying a house with a thatched roof, be sure you know what you are letting yourself in for.

Thatched roof

Owning a house with a thatched roof is something that many people aspire to have. Thatched roofs are lovely to look at and offer some excellent benefits – but there are disadvantages.

These are the advantages and disadvantages you need to know:

Advantages

  • Environmentally friendly. One of the most environmentally friendly roofing materials available is thatch. Thatch reed is grown and harvested without machinery and is usually sourced from rural communities. This means the industry also creates jobs, which are much-needed in South Africa, considering the high unemployment rate.
  • Excellent insulation. Thatched roofs provide excellent insulation, so your home will stay warm when it’s cold outside and cool during the hot summer months. In addition, this superb insulation enables you to save on electricity for heating and cooling.
  • Durability. Thatched roofs are typically last longer and are very durable. With appropriate maintenance, they can last up to 60 years or more. In addition to proper maintenance, the length of time a thatched roof will last depends on the original materials used and the skill and experience of the thatcher.
  • Ages well. Thatched roods age well and will shape into natural forms that add to their charm. As it darkens with age, thatch tends to blend into the surrounding greenery.
  • Adds character. A thatched roof adds warmth and character to a property. Brick, steel and glass can create a clinical atmosphere, which is softened by thatch to produce a welcoming ambience.

Disadvantages

  • Expense. Installing a thatched roof is more labour intensive than other roofing methods, so it is generally more expensive.
  • Fire hazard. Without the proper precautions, thatched roofs can be a fire hazard. Fortunately, sophisticated and effective fire retardant processes are available. One process is Micon Thatchsayf which was developed in South Africa by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to be environmentally compatible. Micon Thatchsayf consists of a water-based solution of fire-retardant and intumescent chemicals in a polymer emulsion binder that protects the thatch.
  • Decay. Because thatch is an organic material, it is susceptible to decay and decomposition. This means you need to take precautions to minimise the possibility of this process taking place. In warm, wet climates, in particular, thatch is prone to fungal attacks. The Micon Thatchsayf product also improves compaction while allowing the thatch to breathe, preventing rotting. It also retards bacterial growth and does not alter the natural appearance of the thatch.
  • Maintenance is required. To keep a thatched roof at its best, regular maintenance is needed. The maintenance cycle varies depending on the type of thatch material, roof pitch, sun and shade, exposure to pollutants, and extreme weather.
  • Higher insurance costs. Due to the higher risk of fire damage, home insurance is higher than houses with tiled, steel or aluminium roofs. However, most short-term insurance companies do insure thatched properties, and installing significant fire retardant measures should result in lower premiums.
  • Overhanging trees. Any overhanging trees close to the house must be cut back when you have a thatched roof. Branch trimming should be done as the branches can cause the thatch to dry out, increasing the risk of fire.
  • Animals can cause damage. Birds looking for food, gathering nest-making materials or nesting in the roof itself becomes a greater possibility when the thatch is not processed appropriately for its intended use. Rodents can also cause extensive damage.

Before deciding on a thatched roof for your house, you need to weigh up all the above pros and cons.