Advice and Opinion

Thatch has insulation qualities to reduce energy consumption

Many people are attracted to the idea of building a new home – or other buildings – with a thatched roof. Others dream of extending or converting their current home with the use of thatch. However, says Master Thatcher, Jason Lucas, all too often they can be daunted from taking the matter further by misconceptions on this matter.

This was the reason why in 1994 Lucas, then CEO of Lucas Quality Thatchers and now CEO of Jason Lucas Master Thatchers, appointed Liesl Schoonraad as his architectural consultant.

“I realized that we had to have someone capable of talking to clients and other designers who would understand their problems fully,” he said.

Schoonraad was given the task of educating possible thatch users and architects in how to create designs suitable for the use of thatch.

Schoonraad had completed four years architectural design at what is now the new Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She had always had a liking for thatch and after joining Lucas she had regular sessions with him at which in time she acquired such an in-depth knowledge of thatch’s potential that today, said Lucas, she is invaluable to his team.

“There are,” said Schoonraad, “certain fundamental points about thatch which one has to grasp if the final design is to be really satisfactory. Its big advantage is that thatch does enable the clever designer to be very innovative. Although it is true that many thatch users today still stick to the tried and tested Cape Dutch and Cape Fisherman Cottage styles, certain of the game lodges and hospitality buildings, not only in South Africa but elsewhere in Africa, have shown that thatch can be suited to modern avant-garde buildings of all sorts.”

Asked to give one example, Schoonraad mentioned that thatch can be taken down to walls only 1 metre high or even right down to ground level, thereby making it possible to have two or three levels within a conventionally sized building, with mezzanine levels and windows set into the thatch. This has time and again proved to be a surprisingly attractive innovation.

“Even if you take the walls up to normal heights,” said Schoonraad, “the use of thatch can greatly increase the interior volumes because thatch is almost always used without ceilings and, in fact, is a charming architectural feature in its own right.”

The second point to be grasped, said Lucas, is that today thatch scores very highly with City Councils and others moving now towards ‘green’ building rulings. Not only is it a wholly natural and replaceable material but its proven insulation qualities reduce energy consumption and enable the architect or designer to comply easily with the growing body of ‘green’ regulations.

“It must also be realized,” said Schoonraad, “that thatch is not, as is often thought, a temporary roofing alternative. If the recommended refurbishment measures, which involve pulling out and cutting off the weathered bottom 200 mm or 300 mm of the thatch, are put into practice at, say, 20 year intervals the thatch will then retain its pristine look and will last almost indefinitely.”

These and other factors, added Schoonraad, make thatch competitive in price, even with traditionally cheap roofing materials such as IBR sheeting.

Asked about thatch being a potential fire hazard, Schoonraad said that today that belief is outdated because the use of ceramic fire blankets inserted into the thatch and automatic rooftop water sprinkling mechanisms reduce the fire hazard to much the same level as for any other roofing.

What advice does Schoonraad have for those mulling over the possibility of using thatch?

“The answer is very simple.” she said. “Talk to me. I am not here to cajole anyone into a thatching contract. My job is simply to listen and to explain how thatch can be used to meet the needs of the client.”