Why settle for shingles, a metal roof, or one of the other default options chosen by most homeowners? The real estate market emphasizes building or finding “your dream home,” and yet many buyers are ultimately limited to simple variations on the model homes in different subdivisions. When you watch movies that transport you to places like Medieval Scotland and Middle Earth, there are cozy houses that would be difficult to find in your community. However, with a little creativity and the right roofing choices, you can recreate the feel of a hobbit hole with the conveniences of modern technology. Here are just two examples of roofing ideas that could help you create your fantasy.
Thatch was once one of the most common methods for sealing a home against the elements. Similar techniques are still in use in rural Africa and other parts of the world, and the techniques have been adapted for modern construction in America. Thatch was initially attractive to mankind because of the easy accessibility of grasses. When packed together by someone who knows the right technique, thatch can effectively block out rain and other elements for a number of years. The material does need more maintenance than a typical modern roof, and it will need to be entirely replaced after a few years. Originally, the low cost of the materials made replacement less troublesome.
In the movie Braveheart, Mel Gibson stands atop of his childhood hovel, replacing the thatch that was sufficient for keeping out Scotland’s perpetual rain. The scene resonates with many modern viewers who are nostalgic for the era when DIY techniques could re-build a thoroughly blighted property.
A few contractors in America will install thatch if requested, but the material is no longer as cheaply accessible as it once was. Professional installation is expensive with such an obscure skill, and the unconventional choice might complicate the process of getting the property insured. Thatch can be tight enough to stop falling rain, but creatures still tend to burrow through, particularly bugs and rodents. Still, for those who can handle the list of downsides, thatch can be a better choice for the environment than tar, metal, or manufactured shingles.
Hobbit holes in Tolkien’s series were tunneled directly into hillsides, and there is a movement where people have started constructing underground residences. In addition to living like a hobbit, these homeowners typically have much lower heating and cooling costs because the hillside provides excellent insulation, keeping the living space cool in summer and warm in winter. As a less extreme compromise, green or grass roofing borrows a centuries-old idea by covering the top of the building with sod and vegetation. The Vikings used a comparable technique in northern parts of the UK, and a grassy-topped house would be less of an upset to your neighborhood than a hobbit hole.
As human buildings and cities cover progressively more of the Earth’s surface, the sheer number of metal- and shingle-covered spaces has become an ecological problem. Especially when combined with paved areas, the water simply runs off into drainage systems where it was absorbed. Plant matter and sod provide a compromise that also helps to insulate a building.
Whether you choose to think way outside of the box with a fantasy home or stick with more conventional materials, it’s worth noting that these ideas you might recognize from movies are also ecologically sound.