One of the delights of the English countryside is the existence of thatched properties. We love to see them and believe that they should be preserved as part of our way of life. You can spot them on many older public houses, restaurants and country cafes and we particularly enjoy finding appropriate insurers to provide insurance cover for thatched roofs.

What are the benefits of a thatched roof?

The thick roofing provides excellent natural soundproofing from external sources, such as aircraft and road traffic. It also provides insulation, meaning that the thatched property remains cool in summer but warm in winter, helping to keep fuel costs low. The smaller windows that are normal in such a property also contribute towards this insulating effect. Due to their age, thatched properties typically have very thick, solid walls which are advantageous over modern cavity filled walls. In summer, the heat from the outside travels very slowly to the inside ensuring that the temperature within remains cool.

What are the downfalls of a thatched roof?

The weatherproof thatch on the roof can withstand strong, even gale force, winds and is very rarely prone to leaking. However leaks can be caused by wooden spars in the ridge breaking and sometimes, after a spell of dry, warm weather the thatch may open slightly and then leak when it rains. However, this is self-healing as the thatch will close again naturally. Regular checks and preventative maintenance are essential. Due to their age and sometimes remote locations, not all thatched properties will be connected to mains water. Instead, water may be drawn from a nearby private or shared well, which could cause an issue with water supply in the event of a fire. Also, as fire can spread rapidly, insurers will also need to know the distance to the nearest fire station and whether it is full- or part-time. There are other interesting questions that a thatched roof insurer will ask you before you take out a policy.

Thatched roofs and wildlife

The materials used in the thatch mean that the roof is at threat of attacks by birds that are nesting or looking for insects. Holes may appear in the thatch and should be repaired as soon as possible as, left unrepaired, the birds will concentrate on these areas and the holes will become much larger. Most bird damage to roofs tends to be under the eaves or at the junction of the chimney and the roof. The glis-glis (edible dormouse) which are quite prevalent in and around Hertfordshire do like a thatched environment and can cause considerable damage, especially if they chew through power cables. Insurance policies do not cover damage caused by birds and other pests, so it is essential to check your roof regularly.

Some roofs have wire netting in these places to prevent animal and bird ingress, whilst some are completely covered by wire netting. Roofs that are totally covered by wire netting are often subject to higher insurance premiums as there will be the added difficulty of pulling the wire netting off in the event of a fire. This will delay the fire from being extinguished and result in more widespread fire damage.

Are thatched roofs a fire hazard?

Although thatched properties are no more likely to catch fire than regular homes, when a fire does break out the damage will often be significant as fire spreads more rapidly in thatch. For this reason, insurance premiums will be higher. Most insurers will insist on at least annual cleaning of any chimneys and often require that the chimney outlet be a minimum of 1.5-2.0 metres above the roofline. Thatched property owners often use wood-burning stoves and open fires, which tends towards making insurance underwriters nervous, bless them. For this reason, we do have to ask questions about your individual situation. We are not being nosey. We just need to know everything that the insurance companies will ask us. Getting it right in that first conversation means that we do not have to come back to you with more questions.

Different thatch materials have different responses to fire so you do need to know what you have so that the insurer can calculate a correct premium. The following are the common types. There are now artificial materials available, but these may not be considered appropriate by some owners nor acceptable where the property is listed or in a conservation area. However, they are fire-resistant – no building material is fire-proof, even concrete. Given enough heat, it will burn.

Different types of thatch and how long they last

  • Long Straw consists of thrashed wheat that has been harvested in the UK and prepared by hand. It provides a very ornate finish, fixed with “liggers” and hazel spars along the roof’s eaves and gable ends. 20-30 years life expectancy.
  • Water or Norfolk Reed is a much coarser and more durable material. Grown in marshland and is significantly longer than straw, at 5-6 feet. 50-60 years life expectancy.
  • Combed Wheat Reed is from the same source as Long Straw, mechanically straightened and cleaned by passing it through a ‘reed comber’. The resulting bundles give the roof a smoother, more uniform appearance. 25-40 years life expectancy.

The ridge of a thatched roof bears the worst of the weather and requires attention every 12-15 years. All ridge work uses Long Straw, regardless of what the rest of the thatch is. Another maintenance consideration is the quality and longevity of the electrical installation, and most insurers will insist on a regular schedule of inspection and certification.

Insurance premiums can be higher for thatched properties than for equivalent properties of more standard construction, but this is offset by the lower energy costs and the sheer delight of living in such a lovely property. Another reason for higher premiums is that most insurers do not understand thatch and therefore stay clear. As with any market, if you reduce the number of suppliers, prices increase.

As well as the buildings cover, the usual household extensions for contents, valuables, personal possessions, bicycles, frozen food etc. can all be added as required. For pubs and restaurants, all the usual business covers including liability can be provided. All businesses have unique requirements so please talk to one of our expert advisers.

We understand the needs of thatched property owners and have a panel of insurers that we can approach according to individual circumstances. Please call 01442 242400 or contact us today by email.

Talk to one of our friendly consultants to assess your needs and find a bespoke insurance solution to suit your business.

01442 24 24 00

7 High St, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, HP1 3AA