All photos are of
Thatch Company projects.
Why use thatch for a roof?
Thatched roofs are beautiful! Once you've seen a thatched building in decent repair, you'll never ask such a question again. There is simply no other type of roof that has such texture, such swoops and rolls, and such personality. Distinctive? With a capital D!
We've included larger photos of several of these projects.
What is thatch?
Thatch is a natural reed and grass which, when properly cut, dried, and installed, forms a waterproof roof. Traditionally thatchers use locally available materials. If local farmers were growing wheat, then wheat reed or straw was used. Rye, barley and oat straw, and even heathers have been used. In wet lowlands, sedge has been a traditional thatch, particularly for ridging material.
The most durable thatching material is water reed (Phragmites Australis) which can last up to 60 years. This is the thatch used by The Thatch Company. Here you can see bundles of water reed stacked on the roof and beside the house in preparation for the day's work.
The Shannon River and its tributaries used to produce an abundance of water reed. It still does, but increased runoff of farm fertilizers in the last two decades have all but ruined this traditional source of reed. When bathed in nitrates, water reeds grow longer and faster. They become much more brittle and are easily snapped. Their useful lifespan on a roof is also shortened tremendously.
The Thatch Company imports its water reed mainly from Turkey. Why Turkey? Turkey has still not "progressed" to the point of destroying its waterways with excessive farm fertilizers. Turkish reed is also particularly well suited to the Irish climate. We also use reed from Poland, Hungary, and selected reed beds of France.
Thatch can be dressed into unusual shapes, indeed. In this picture, the thatch flows around the roof line of an old traditional cottage, lifting for a window, then sweeping down to cover the rounded corners.
How does a thatched roof keep out rain?
Water reed is naturally waterproof. This is no waterlogged plant, soggy and bloated with water. In fact, the inside of a natural water reed is hollow. The water is kept out by the tight overlapping of cells on the plant's outer layers. If you bundle enough of these water shedding plants together, water simply cannot penetrate. Moisture typically does not absorb into the thatch bundles more than 1 or 2 inches.
The thatchers' art consists of carefully laying 5 to 6 foot bundles of reeds atop one another so that an impenetrable shell of waterproofing covers a roof. Each thatch layer is built up to a thickness of around 12 inches and gravity carries rain, sleet, and snow down and off the roof.
What about ventilation and insulation?
One of the great attractions of thatch is that is extremely thermally efficient warm in winter and cool in summer. Unlike conventional roofing systems that trap heat and moisture vapour in attics, thatched roofs require no attic ventilation.
A water reed thatched roof, 12 inches thick at a pitch angle of 45 degrees meets the most modern insulation standards. The scientific term for insulating properties is "thermal conductance," known as the U value. The U-value of a properly thatched roof is 0.35, which is equivalent to 4 inches of fibreglass insulation between the joists. Only in the last decade have building codes begun to demand this level of roof insulation. Yet, thatch has been providing such a "modern" value for hundreds of years.
An added benefit is that thatch is a much more effective sound insulation than fiberglass. An inch of thatch will stop a microphone from picking up sounds.
Are there other benefits of a thatched roof?
"From a conservation point of view thatch is less demanding on the land as the raw materials do not require quarrying or mining. Water reed... is a natural crop that, properly maintained, promotes the surival of wildlife and improves the environment generally; perhaps even more importantly, it grows in areas which are otherwise agriculturally unviable. The alternative thatching material, straw, is a by-product of an essential food harvest. So neither product creates wastage or is a drain on the world's natural resources." (from Thatch by Robert West)
Also, organic thatch weathers to produce a warm, textured, charcoal patina over decades of service. For appearance, warmth, charm, and performance, nothing approaches thatch.
Will a thatched building hold its value?
Yes! Homes with thatched roofs command higher selling prices than similar ones with tile or slate.
Thatch is also very effective in commercial settings such as restaurants, hotels, pubs, and retail shops. If you're trying to tempt motorists into your commercial establishment, thatch beckons more convincingly than neon.
Will thatch stand up to strong winds?
Modern thatching methods make thatch one of the strongest types of roofs, certainly one better able to handle high winds than common asphalt strip shingles. Note that the roof timber work and laths seen in this photo were constructed by The Thatch Company.
Before the thatch is placed on the roof, long brass screws are firmly inserted deep into the wooden roof laths. Twisted onto the screw is a long, heavy duty steel wire. Bundles of reeds are then placed onto the roof. Over the bound reed bundles steel rods are placed. Then the wire which is secured to the lathing is tied through the reeds to the steel rods. The result is a natural water-repelling material firmly bound by steel rods and wires to the roof laths and joists.
Of course, you won't see the steel rods or wires since these are buried 5 to 6 inches below the top reed layer. The result is a light yet extremely durable, steel tied roof. It's not going anywhere! This picture is a hotel in Kinvarra, County Galway. You are looking at the largest thatched roof in Ireland. During the 100 + mile per hour winds of the 1998 St. Stephen's Day storm, not a reed was out of place. This despite the serious damage done to many slate roofs in the area.
It should be noted that when rethatching and conserving older buildings, The Thatch Company does not use steel, but the more traditional (and quite effective) wood spar system. Check out our rethatching page for more details.
How is the ridge of the roof protected?
The roof ridge is best made of a more pliable and better bonding material than water reed. Wheat straw is preferred for this purpose and it is held in place by wooden spars. It is important that winter wheat be used since it is stronger and more durable than spring wheat. Of course, The Thatch Company uses only winter wheat straw.
There are two basic forms of ridge: flush and block. A flush ridge is just that - it is flush with the rest of the roof line and does not stand out from it. A block ridge, on the other hand, is built up and then cut to form a block raised very visibly over the roof ridge.
|Flush Ridge||Here is a flush ridge. The wooden spars are woven together and the ridge line is not raised.|
|Flush Ridge||Here's another flush ridge seen as a whole. The simple lines of the cottage are emphasised by the flush ridge.|
|Flush Ridge Detail||A closer look at a flush roof ridge.|
|Block Ridge||Here is a sample of a block ridge. The straw is built up into a block above the roof line, then cut back to make a raised cap along the ridge.|
|Block Ridge Detail||This a detail of a block ridge cut. The raised block can clearly be seen. This is a somewhat more decorative design with the rosette emphasising the chimney.|
|Block Ridge||This block ridge is set between two gable end buttresses. In this case, the thatch is not required to move through 90 degrees from one gable to the other. The thatch is vertical at all parts of the roof - creating a less costly thatching which is simple in construction and long lasting.|
|Block Ridge||Here a block ridge has been cut to leave decorative scallops in the ridge line. Note how the two scallops on the left frame the dormer window.|
|Block Ridge||You're looking at a block ridge cut atop this unique house in Kilcolgan, County Galway. Note the thatched pads beneath the windows to catch the water runoff.|
Technically, both ridge styles are equal. Each does the job of sealing the ridge line quite effectively. The choice of which to use is usually one of aesthetics. Flush ridges are more understated. Block ridges stand out more and can be cut in quite elaborate styles. Thatchers each have their own distinctive style of ridge patterns, and experts can tell who thatched a building with a glance at the ridge line.
The Thatch Company generally prefers a distinctive, but simple pattern. But, this is always discussed with the customer (you, hopefully). The object is to produce a pattern that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, yet solid and reliable when those winter storms come bearing down.
Remember, the patterns produced by the woven spars are there for the entirely practical purpose of holding down the straw on the ridge. Happily, this is an example where beautiful form flows naturally from function.
What type of building can be thatched?
The Thatch Company has placed thatched roofs on everything from small cottages to huge hotels. Houses, commercial establishments, heritage centers, holiday villages - you name it, we've probably thatched one.
There is a practical consideration - the roof should have a slope no less than 45 degrees (12 inches in 12 inches) to aid in the shedding of water. 50 degrees is better. In high snow areas, this pitch should be considered minimum.
Certain eave and dormer window designs work better with thatch than others. Thatch weighs only 7 pounds per square foot, so no special roof reinforcing is needed.
This stunning roof is the Ballinskelligs Heritage Center, County Kerry. This is the kind of his state of the art project at which The Thatch Company excels.
How long does it take to thatch a roof?
The size of your project will determine the length of time The Thatch Company team will have to be on-site. You are looking at a very small part of the biggest thatching project ever undertaken in Ireland and probably in the UK as well.
The Thatch Company completed all work on time and to schedule. There were several dozen holiday villas to be thatched. The project was massive, though the scale of it hasn't transferred well to film.
One thing The Thatch Company has learned to do to speed up jobs is to scaffold the entire project before beginning. That way several teams of thatchers can work on the roof at one time. This picture of a somewhat messy site (not our part of the project!) shows the scaffolding stretching around the building. Note also the fairly elaborate block ridge cut.
Won't pests be attracted to thatch?
Rats and mice are attracted to holes. A properly thatched roof won't have any. Rodents won't go into properly set water reed because there's nothing in there to interest them. Again, it should be pointed out that thin asphalt shingles are much easier for rodents to get into than 12 inches of strong water reed. If you don't have problems with a standard roof, you won't have them with a thatched roof.
|Rethatching - Before and After|
|Before - An invitation to pests.||After - There shouldn't be any problems for decades in this County Waterford cottage.|
Birds are a more troublesome problem. The water reed is too well bound and heavy for the birds to pull it out. But, the wheat straw in the ridge line is quite attractive to nest building birds. There are three ways to keep this damage to a minimum. First and foremost, the ridge pattern work must be strong and effective. That's no problem if you hire the professionals at The Thatch Company. Second, if damage appears, it must be fixed promptly. Damage or no, you'll have to plan on replacing the roof ridge every 8 to 10 years. Finally, if birds are just a tremendous nuisance in your area, chicken mesh wiring can be laid over the roof so that no critters can get at it. When done properly, such wiring does not overly affect the look of your thatched roof.
Ah, well, there's the one problem with thatch. It's a natural product and it will burn.
Happily, there are a great many solutions to this problem on the market. Our roofs can meet your local fire safety standards.
How do you make thatch fireproof? There are a range of solutions including the fireproof foil seen here which we deal with in full on our Fireproofing page. For now, let it suffice that it can be done.
There is no problem getting insurance on your thatched building. The Thatch Company has been certified by one the world's largest insurance companies and they are willing to provide cover for buildings which we thatch and fireproof. The cost to you is generally the same as that required for a similar building with a conventional roof.
How much does a thatched roof cost?
Distinction carries a price, but not an unacceptable one. A typical thatched roof costs more than its cement tiled or slated roof counterparts. But, since the carpentry and wood work needed to support a thatched roof is less expensive, overall costs are comparable. Further, there are no gutters, downpipes, soakaways, soffit boards, or the need to paint and maintain these items.
In this picture you'll note the detailing over a window. The cut of the thatch and the direction in which it is laid helps shed water to the sides and not onto the window below.
Check out our pricing and contact page for a rough idea of what your project might cost.
How long does a thatched roof last?
When thatched properly by professionals, the major portion of such a roof (the water reed) should last 40 to 50 years. In other words, as long as any other roof.
However, the roof ridge will have to be replaced roughly every 8 - 10 years. Such ridge line replacement is, luckily, a fairly rapid and reasonably inexpensive procedure.
The photo is of the Quiet Man Heritage Center in Cong, County Mayo. This is the spot where John Wayne made the famous film starring himself and Maureen O'Hara.
Do you work overseas?
If the scale of your thatching project justifies it, we are willing to travel worldwide. Members of the Thatch Company team have thatched buildings in America, Asia, and several European countries. That said, the additional expense to you of our travel and the transportation costs of shipping thatch deep into the heart of an interior area like Iowa make it unlikely that thatching a single country cottage will justify the costs. But, if your project requires the best - we will be there.
If you're interested in thatching your roof or rethatching an older home, then you'll want to contact the team at The Thatch Company. You can call +353-58-47335, fax or email us. Our contact page contains pricing information and a short history of The Thatch Company.
The Thatch Company