« back to news

Costs that can go through the roof

A thatched cottage will always elicit a smile. The quintessentially image of country living – especially if there are some pink rambling roses round the door and the property is set amidst a rambling cottage garden. All very 'chocolate box' pretty – and we all love it. However, how does the reality of living in such a property measure up?

No matter how misty eyed we may become at the prospect of a thatched property, the reality can indeed put people off. Regular repair and maintenance costs, the increased risk of fire – as well as the rise in insurance premiums can make the scales fall from our eyes! However, it is not all bad news and good advice can help you turn your dream of a country residence into reality,

Did you know, there are almost 100,000 thatched roofs in the UK and in some parts of the UK a whopping 1 in 4 new roofs are being thatched? Quite a reversal in history: new thatched roofs were forbidden in London in the 12th century and existing roofs had to have their roof spaces plastered to reduce the risk of fire. Nowadays new thatched roofs can be designed in such a manner that any flaming materials would drop onto fireproof boarding and not straight into the property.

Thatching materials vary across the world – and indeed this is the oldest type of roofing known to mankind. It is also a very efficient thermal insulator when applied thickly. A thatched roof will ensure that the building is cool in summer but warm in winter. Further more, with certain types of thatching, particularly in low rounded roofs, good acoustic insulation can make for extremely quiet living conditions. No surprise then that certain new builds include a thatched option – it is after all a green concept and is aesthetically very pleasing. On some developments built to include thatched properties, surrounding houses have increased in price as the outlook from their windows is so pretty!

Thatching is sustainable. If crops are managed properly and ecologically then the resource can be renewed regularly. Many of the natural thatching materials are improved by regular harvesting. For example, reeds, marram grass, broom, heather and juniper all regrow in more useable forms and can be recycled to form an excellent fertilizer.

That is the good news. The downside can be that thatched houses are more vulnerable to fire risk that those covered with other materials, and it is therefore imperative that precautions are taken to reduce the risk. Insurance costs can be high due to this factor. If you needed to replace an area – or the whole roof – the process of thatching is more labour intense than other roofing styles and so the costs are higher.

Made from organic materials, the roof will be more susceptible to decay and decomposition and so precautions must be made to guard again this. Animals can cause damage – birds see this as a nice warm nest making opportunity and rodents can find themselves with a des-res if the roofs are not maintained and netted properly. Roofs made from wheat straw often have grain left in them – an instant larder for hungry animals. However, thatched made from water reeds tend not to have this problem.

The maintenance cycle varies greatly and depends on the type of thatch, roof pitch, the degree of shade or exposure to the elements (north facing, for example) and the kinds of materials used. Not surprising then that thatch fell out of favour as a popular material – not just because of fire hazard, but because of the amount of maintenance required.

A consultation with your local Fire Brigade will help you review exactly what you need in terms of fire precautions- such as smoke detectors and spark guards on the top of chimneys. Make sure chimneys are swept frequently too – and lined, especially if you have a wood burning stove. Electric wiring will need to be reviewed and checked thoroughly. All of this will help your insurance premium. Therefore it is vital that you go to a broker who has the expertise to be able to help – and to take into account all the factors which will work in your favour. Thatched home dwellers are often surprised that their premiums are not as high as they have expected, so talk to an expert, seek their advice and then act. By taking simple steps your insurance premiums for your chocolate box dream may not be as chewy as you think!

Posted on 1st March, 2010