Cute Thatched Cottages!

While England’s Cotswold district is famous for thatched houses, I saw these iconic cottages throughout my tour of the UK and Ireland – from the remote Aran Islands off the rugged Irish west coast to Scotland’s northern Isle of Skye.

Since I still haven’t given up the idea of building a house one day, I became interested in how thatching works exactly. Here’s what I learned:

Thatch That!

Thatching is a generic term that encompasses all types of dry vegetation as roofing material, including straw, water reeds, rushes and heather. 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 Europe, thatching as a building method probably dates to the late Palaeolithic period (basically the Stone Age). Thatching remained popular until the late 1800s, when other roofing materials, such as slate, became available, and transportation via railroads and canals facilitated the transportation of building supplies.

Quick Q&A: Our friends at Wikipedia supplied the follow info:

How Thick? 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. Good quality straw thatch can last for more than 45–50 years when applied by a skilled thatcher. Traditionally, a new layer of straw was simply applied over the weathered surface, creating accumulations of thatch over 7 ft. (2.1 m) thick on very old buildings.

Warm or Cold? A natural insulator, the air pockets within straw thatch insulate a building so a thatched roof will ensure that a building will be cool in summer and warm in winter. Thatch also has very good resistance to wind damage when applied correctly.

Afraid of Fire? Thatch is not as flammable as many people believe and burns slowly ‘like a closed book’. The vast majority of fires are linked to the use of wood burners and faulty chimneys.

What about Water Damage? Naturally weather-resistant, when properly maintained a thatched roof does not absorb a lot of water. A roof pitch of at least 50 degrees allows precipitation to travel quickly down slope so that it runs off the roof before it can penetrate the structure.

Sound-proof You Say? 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.


There are several disadvantages to living in a thatched house. First, they are harder to insure because of the perceived fire risk, and because thatching is labor intensive it is much more expensive to thatch a roof than to cover it with slate or tiles.

Also Birds can damage a roof while they are foraging for grubs, and rodents are attracted by residual grain in straw. Yikes!

Thatching Today

Currently, there are almost 100,000 thatched roofs in the UK and thatching is once again becoming more popular. It is now a symbol of wealth rather than poverty. Part of the popularity is due to a renewed interest in preserving historic buildings and using more sustainable building materials.

All this means I would give thatching serious consdieration!

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This entry was posted on Monday, July 16th, 2012 and is filed under Hearth.

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