Christopher Kirk Master Thatcher. Specialists in long straw and water reed thatching, Essex, Herts and Cambs

Frequently Asked questions

How long will the thatch last?

Exactly how long your thatch lasts will depend on many factors including how exposed the site is and how well the thatch has been applied. Aside from extreme weather and acts of God, As a rough guide:

  • Water reed thatch tends to last around 50 to 60 years.
  • Wheat reed thatch should last around 30 to 40 years, this type of thatching material is traditional to the west country.
  • Long straw thatch should last around 20 to 30 years. Long straw thatch is the traditional thatching material of the East Anglian region, and tends to be specified as the preference of heritage organisations in that area. More

What if my thatched roof starts leaking?

If your thatch starts leaking then it urgently needs repair. Emergency repairs can include the temporary use of plastic sheeting to prevent further damage. As soon as there is a chance, a more permanent repair should be carried out, matching in the existing thatching material. I'm experienced with all types of repair and patching, and happy to provide thatch reports and quote for insurance jobs if required.

How long will it take to thatch?

Apart from the weather, which will of course have an effect, how long the actual thatching process takes mainly depends on how many thatchers are working on the job. At present I generally work as a team of three. Re-thatching a medium-sized cottage might take somewhere between six and eight weeks. Larger projects take correspondingly longer, a barn might take around ten weeks, and smaller jobs including re-ridging will be quicker. Phone me to discuss how long your job is likely to take.

How much will it cost to thatch my roof?

Every job is different. My clients tell me that I am very cost effective, especially as I do not charge VAT. Get in touch to discuss how much your job will cost.

What about repairs to the ridge

Ridges should be replaced every 10 to 15 years, around half way through the life of the thatch. At the same time any patching or repairs should be made to the main thatch, and new netting should be installed. A replacement ridge tends to cost in the region of 20 – 25% of the cost of a complete re-thatch (naturally, precise details vary). Get in touch to discuss re-thatching your ridge.

What about other repairs to my thatch

I am a fully experienced Master Thatcher, and provide a full service, meaning that I can competently tackle repairs to any thatched roof, including sub-contracting specialists if needed for specialist work such as decorative lead work. Get in touch to discuss your job.

How can you tell what sort of straw has been used on my roof?

What’s the difference between long straw and wheat reed?

Different thatch materials are traditional to different areas of the UK, Reed thatch is more expensive, but lasts much longer, Reed is an East Anglian or more specifically a Norfolk material. It is more robust and requires a distinct thatching technique. Long straw thatch is traditional to East Anglia, where I work. Listed buildings will usually need to comply with regulations by ensuring that they use the material traditional to their area for re-thatching. Defining what material has been used is not an exact science. An experienced Thatcher will be able to tell you, or research further by visiting sites such as www.eamta.co.uk Wikipedia or thatch.org for further explanation about the characteristics of the different thatching materials and how to recognise them. If your building is listed, you may find that there are restrictions on the type of thatch that can be used. Check with your local authority for details.

How long is the waiting list?

I will do my best to fit in urgent repairs as rapidly as possible. If your job is small it may be possible to fit it in more quickly between larger projects. Generally at present the waiting list is around 18 months.

Does thatch rot?

Yes, straw and reed is organic matter and can rot. Normally this does not happen on your thatched roof because viable thatch means that the water only penetrates a short way into the thatch material and runs off quickly, so that the thatch can dry out. Eventually, however, with prolonged dampness on older material that has already started to break down, rot can set in. How long this takes depends on the particular situation. Once thatch starts to rot, its ability to repel water becomes seriously reduced and repair or replacement is needed.

What about fireproofing?

As is well understood, the biggest problem with thatch is that it is more flammable than other forms of roofing. Current best practice for fireproofing thatch is to ensure that a fireproof sarking board is laid on the rafters and underneath the thatch, stopping any fire from spreading from the straw to inside the roof and the rest of the house. The trouble is that this is only possible to install when roofs are stripped right back to the rafters. As most thatching work consists of re-thatching, where material is added on top of the existing thatch, it is often not economic to strip back to the rafters.

Fire retardants

It is possible to apply solutions to the outer surface of the thatch that aim to slow down the spread of fire. Fire retardants are designed and tested specifically for use on thatched buildings and produced to ISO 9002 standards. They are water repellent external fire retardants that are sprayed directly onto the surface of the roof. Tests rate retardants as protecting the roof for over half an hour against spread of fire.

These do not claim to actually stop you getting a fire in your thatch, but could help to provide a bit more time should the unthinkable happen. I have some experience of fire retardants, and I can quote for using them, but I don't generally recommend them. They are expensive, yet so far it is unclear how much they affect the long-term durability of the thatch.

What about insurance?

It is vitally important that thatched properties have appropriate building insurance. I don’t offer specific advice about this, although I am competent to assess your thatched property and produce a report if needed. If you are a new owner it will pay to research the market carefully. Insurers vary in their policies and requirements, see my links page for sites where you can find out more about thatch insurance.

Is there a local thatching style?

Yes, there are thattching styles local to the area. The style partly depends on the type thatching material used. Particular to the north Essex area is the practice of putting pinnacles on the roof. Most of the properties that I work on are Grade 2 listed, meaning that it is important to ensure that the style of thatch and materials used are in the spirit of the traditions of the local area, as well as complying with the requirements of English Heritage or the local council of the area. I am able to work in a variety of thatching styles and I am happy to discuss them with you. More about styles

What about building regulations?

I am used to ensuring that my work complies with the requirements of building regulations specified by the relevant Local Authority, however it is rare that building control inspect.

What about Grade 2 listing permission?

Most of my work is on listed properties, however since it tends to be defined as 'Like for like repairs' in English Heritage terms, it is comparatively rare for specific listed building consent to be required. I am accustomed to working to standards laid down by English Heritage and Local Authorities. More

Will the thatching make a mess?

Not as much a mess as traditional thatching used to. Like any major building work, some mess and inconvenience is inevitable, but I try to keep this to a minimum. Traditionally all straw was dressed on site, a process that involves delivering a large quantity of straw to your garden and then wetting it down and combing, making rather a mess. I carry out these processes off-site, delivering relatively small quantities as it is needed, thus minimising inconvenience. The dirtiest part of the process tends to be removing the top layer of old material. All materials are natural and non-toxic, so hazards are minimal. Read my testimonials section to find out what previous customers think about the mess

Pests in the thatch

Thatch is an attractive environment for insects and other wildlife. The main reason for applying galvanised netting to the thatch is to keep out larger vermin, particularly rats. It is very common to find wasps nests in thatch, and bees and other insects are not unusual. As a Thatcher it is not my job to deal with such pests. It is the job of the local authority to help you combat any infestations, be aware that they will probably charge you for this. See my links page for more information

Birds nesting in the thatch?

If wildlife are not doing extensive damage or causing a nuisance then it is fine to leave them there. Some species are protected, so seek advice.

What are your terms and conditions?

You will get detailed terms and conditions when I provide you with a quote for your job. Terms feature staged payments during the job. All work is carried out to local council and Master Thatcher Association specifications.

Guarantee

Like any reputable tradesman I aim to work to the highest standards of quality and craftsmanship, and ensure that my work is fit-for-purpose. I also expect to enter into a long-term relationship with clients, coming back to renew your roof in due course. Because thatching is not an area that easily lends itself to the application of clear building standards it is not possible to offer an explicit written guarantee. However I do undertake to rectify any problems or defects with my work within a reasonable time frame.