Thatching Materials

The three main thatching materials in use today are water reed (often known as Norfolk Reed although a large amount is imported from Eastern European countries and further afield), long straw and combed wheat reed.

Types of Thatch

There are three commonly used thatching materials:

  • Water Reed
  • Long Straw
  • Combed Wheat Reed
  • Others include Flax, Heather, Broom, Sods, and Marram Grass.

Water Reed (Phragmites Australis) is the most durable thatching material. 

Long Straw is a winter wheat straw that has not been combed (its name refers to a style of thatching rather than a material achieved by any singular process— although, generally, for the last 90 years, long straw thatching has used the processed straw from the threshing drum). It has the shortest life expectancy of the three commonly used materials.

Combed Wheat Reed is winter wheat straw which has had the leaf removed and is laid in a similar way to water reed. With modem farming methods, tall strong straw has become less readily available.

Life Expectancies

Water reed, which is the most durable thatch, has been known to last up to 50 years. Maintenance will include re-ridging every 10 to 15 years and possible patching of the main coat and redressing works.

Combed wheat reed can have a life expectancy of approximately 20 to 30 years. Long straw will last from 15 to 25 years. Both these materials will require re-ridging at 10 to 15-year intervals.

Likely due to climatic conditions, these life expectancy figures can drop noticeably the further west the thatched property is situated. The warm, high humidity, clean air conditions experienced in the West Country are ideal for the microbes that begin the decomposition process.

Overhanging trees and bushes can also reduce the life expectancy of thatch, as, in many cases, they will reduce the movement of air and light and can help to promote the growth of moss due to the damper conditions and falling debris.

The pitch of the roof will relate directly to the pitch of the thatch and equally the thickness of the thatch will influence its pitch. Thus, a 457mm coat of thatch will lie at a much slacker pitch than a 300mm coat and therefore a thicker coat will wear more quickly.

As a general rule, the thinner the thatch, the steeper the pitch. However, there must be an adequate thickness of thatch over the fixings, thus a 100mm coat of thatch is steeper than a 300mm coat, but because the exposed stem length is longer (and therefore wears more quickly) and because there will be very little thatch over the  fixings, the thatch will not last as long as a 300mm coat.

An optimum thickness for maximum longevity would be between 228mm and 381mm for water reed and 228mm and 300mm for combed wheat reed and long straw. Therefore, it’s important to remember that there are an almost infinite number of specifications depending on the pitch of the roof and the length of the thatching material.

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