How to Install a Thatch Roof

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thatch roof half way finished - photo by Thatch-It.com
thatch roof half way finished - photo by Thatch-It.com

A back to basics approach to roofing would lead you to the age old practice of thatching roofs. Not only functional, but beautiful as well!

Things You'll Need

  • quality grass or reed
  • ladders/scaffolding
  • teams of 3 or more
  • wire mesh
  • machete or other cutting tool

So you want to add a thatched roof to your dwelling. First decide if it is a thatch "look" you want or "real" thatching because the two are very different. For "real" thatching follow the next steps in order. For a thatch "look" without the fuss, skip to step 6.

thatch roof half way finished - photo by Thatch-It.com
thatch roof half way finished - photo by Thatch-It.com

Real thatching is done on a house without a sub-roof and at a pitch of at least 45 degrees. The thatch is laid directly on the rafters and is visible from the inside of the structure. Additional rafter poles can be temporarily put on the outside to hold thatching in place as you continue to lay upper levels.

Grass or reed should be bundled by stacking it, packing it and tying it into bundles. The bundles should measure 8 inches thick or bigger. The bundles can then be applied to the structure on the rafters with an overlapping pattern starting on the bottom of the roof. The bundles stay in place by hand-stitching each bundle to the battens on your structure.

bundles of grass - photo by A.C.E. Thatch and Bamboo
bundles of grass - photo by A.C.E. Thatch and Bamboo

Now that the bundles have been laid and tied to the rafters, remove the temporary outside rafter poles. The next step is an optional wire mesh to cover the entire roof to protect it from birds and the occasional high wind gust. This is rolled on and and fastened with wire routed through the thatch.

The thatch roof design has a lot of steps and requires a coordinated team effort. It is a very time consuming roofing material, but can be done much faster with a team assigned to specific jobs. Throwing, tying, gathering, etc. All bundling should be done days before the actual roofing begins because of the amount of time ths step takes. Enjoy your new roof!

mesh netting can be seen on top - photo by me in Botswana this summer
mesh netting can be seen on top - photo by me in Botswana this summer

Thatch "look" can be done much faster than the above mentioned authentic thatch. It is typically made from palm tree leaves. Palm leaves have can withstand the sun, rain and wind. The leaves are dried and made into strips which are woven. In addition to its beauty and efficiency it is also a renewable resource.

This type is used for tiki bars, awnings and huts. Thatch is easily secured to surfaces or supports by simply stapling and overlapping each panel. This type of roofing does require a sub-roof of plywood. It should be laid in order from the bottom and working toward the peak.

Tips & Warnings

  • gather reed and grass and bundle in short work sessions
  • you can buy pre-bound bundles of grass to save time
  • pre-fabricated thatch panels can also be purchased
  • get a great team assembled and assign jobs
  • have fun!
  • fire retardant can be sprayed on roof, but has lets off a chemical smell
  • people who live in grass roofed houses are more fire cognizant

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