Timber and thatch structures in Northern America

Thatching material around the world – Part 3




In the northern parts of America, the craft of thatching was introduced by early European settlers. As history has shown us, the most common thatching material would be whatever suitable material was readily available.
Sedge and slough grass was a popular choice before straw become available as a byproduct of wheat cultivation. Mud or clay was typically used to fix bundles of thatch onto a roof structure of wood.

Not surprisingly, Native American tribes also built thatched roof shelters. Switchgrass or palmetto palm leaves was a popular choice to build ‘chickees’, structures that could be easily dismantled and rebuilt as circumstances required.

Moving towards the Caribbean, palm and plantain leaves as well as sugar can ‘trash’ (basically the leftovers after the sugar cane harvest) were laid and tied in an overlaying fashion and attached to timber roof structures.

In Mexico and other central American countries, palm leaves and fronds were woven into mats and fastened to timber structures to roof their palapa huts.
Ancient civilizations such as the Maya, Inca and Aztec also used thatch as roof covering. These master builders constructed walled shelters of stone or mud bricks and roofs thatched with woven sticks, grass and palm leaves.

Modern Innovations in Thatching

Thatching has evolved over time, incorporating modern innovations for enhanced performance:

  • Fire Retardant Treatments: Advancements in fire retardant treatments have made thatched roofs safer and more resistant to fire.
  • Synthetic Thatch Materials: Synthetic thatch materials offer an alternative to natural thatch, providing increased durability and reduced maintenance requirements.

Preserving Thatching Heritage

Efforts are underway to preserve and promote the art of thatching:

  • Historical Preservation Efforts: Learn about organizations and initiatives dedicated to preserving historical thatched buildings and techniques.
  • Thatching Training and Apprenticeships: Discover programs that offer training and apprenticeships, ensuring the continuation of this ancient craft.

If you missed our previous blog Thatching material around the world – Part 2 click here!



Can thatched roofs withstand extreme weather conditions?

Thatched roofs are designed to withstand various weather conditions, but their durability depends on the quality of the thatching material and craftsmanship.

Are there any modern building codes that prohibit thatched roofs?

Some regions may have building codes that restrict the use of thatched roofs due to fire safety concerns. However, exemptions or compromises can sometimes be made for preservation purposes.

How long does a thatched roof last?

With proper maintenance and occasional rethatching, a thatched roof can last anywhere from 20 to 50 years, depending on the material used.