What Every Thatch Owner Should Know About Their Thatcher

After 30 years of running my own Thatching business it still surprises me how some Thatch Owners make decisions about choosing a Thatcher to work on their roof.

The most common thing they seem to focus on is the price i.e. “You’re not the cheapest” or “I’ve had a cheaper quote”. Now don’t get me wrong – everyone wants to make sure they are getting the best deal available. There is nothing worse than when you are on holiday speaking to the family next to you and finding out that they flew from the same airport, booked their holiday at the same time and are also going half board but they paid 20% less than you!

Let’s face it the reason Black Friday and Boxing Day sales are so popular is that retailers heavily discount – if you’re looking to buy a big ticket item but don’t need it at any particular time then it makes sense to wait for the sales. If you are in more of a hurry and one retailer is selling a particular hoover washing machine at £295 and at another its £275 then you are obviously going to go for the cheaper one – after all it’s exactly the same model and does the same job.

So what’s all this got to do with Thatching prices? You have a thatch roof, you get perhaps 3 Thatchers to price it, they all say the same thing -“it needs re-thatching and here’s our quote”. You ask if they are Master Thatchers, they say yes – in fact you already know this because that’s how they advertise themselves. They show you pictures of jobs they’ve done and throw in a few nice comments that other Thatch Owners have made about them – what could be more straightforward?

Well unfortunately I have to say it’s not that straightforward. Let’s start with the much used term Master Thatcher and what it means. I have to admit I don’t know what it means and I’ve been in the Thatching trade for 35 years! Does it mean you have thatching qualifications? (I haven’t). Does it mean you thatch to recognised basic standards? (Can someone tell me what these are?) Does it mean you have been thatching for a minimum number of years? (How long should this be?) Does it mean you are self employed and run your own thatching business? (One of my Thatchers has been employed by me for 22 years!)

Thatching is a craft which by definition means no two Thatchers will produce the same finished roof. This is because they learnt the craft in different ways. I worked for 4 Thatchers before I started on my own and they were all very different in their approach; try getting 3 or 4 Thatchers to agree on anything! Yes, my Company is called Master Thatchers (North) Ltd and I guess I like the wording mainly because it portrays a certain professionalism.

Let’s look at the thatching prices you’ve received or more importantly what the specification is that the Thatcher has offered you. How detailed is the specification? Do all the prices include scaffolding? Is one Thatcher fitting wire to the whole roof and another not? Is one Thatcher stripping off a good top layer and the edges of the roof or just fixing a new coat of thatch to the one below without stripping? How thick is the new coat of thatch going to be – some Thatchers say 10” is enough others will say 14-16” is their minimum – a thicker thatch will take more material but will it last longer? What sort of ridge pattern and construction are you having – a flush ridge will be simpler, take less time and therefore should be cheaper than a highly ornate ridge? Do you care what ridge design you are having? To truly compare prices you have to do a certain amount of homework. Are you comparing like for like?

Imagine going to buy a new Volkswagen Golf and saying to the car salesman – I’ll take the cheapest – well it’s a car isn’t it? Imagine going into a restaurant and asking for the cheapest main course – well it’s a meal isn’t it?

Various N and S Ireland 002This week I visited a Thatch Owner who had his roof thatched in 2007. When the Thatcher turned up to start the job with the reed already on site he said to the customer that he would have to charge another £2500 because the Thatcher had incorrectly calculated the roof area from the architects drawings. To make matters worse, a week from completion the Thatcher then ran out of reed and said the customer would have to pay even more money so the roof could be completed. His second calculation was therefore still wrong! The ‘kicker’ for other Thatchers, let alone the customer is the Thatcher might have originally won that contract because he was £2500 cheaper than the next price!

The moral of this story is make sure you have a fixed firm price; also make sure you read the Thatchers terms and conditions. What has he excluded? Is he fitting Lead to the chimneys or will that be an extra? If he removes all the old thatch and discovers the roof timbers are rotten who will replace these and at what cost? If the Thatcher you have chosen is professional in his approach discussion on all these items will be brought to your attention BEFORE he starts the work.

Thatching is a very labour intensive job and the majority of Thatchers work on their own or with one or two others. A couple of years ago we re-thatched and fitted fire boards to a 5500sq metre roof which took us nearly 3 months (working 6 days a week) and we had almost perfect weather with virtually no rain. In all, 7 of our Thatchers worked on the roof – some of them to cover holiday absences. I know one other Thatcher who priced the job who works on his own with a labourer. I wonder how long it would have taken him to do the job. How would the householder have coped with work men on his roof for maybe 7 or 8 months or even longer? Thatchers get round these issues by saying they will bring in outside help (subcontract Thatchers) but the question is – will this extra labour be available when needed and will they work to the same standard as the Thatcher who won the contract? In this situation subcontract Thatchers mostly get paid for the area of roof they thatch and care has to be taken to ensure the quality of work is maintained. It’s always best for the Thatch Owner to therefore ask the Thatcher how many personnel he employs when the Thatcher prices the work and how long will the work take?

When it comes down to it any Thatcher can offer a customer only three things:

  1.  A price
  2. A specification
  3. A time to start and complete the work.

If you use the same ‘cheapest is best’ strategy that you would when buying a washing machine don’t be surprised if things don’t work out as you expected. Thatchers should also aspire to the highest levels of professionalism and integrity and whilst none of us are perfect, the customer has a right to expect this.