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Does anyone know about thatching? I keep looking into older green building methods and I tend to come up with very little. All the new ideas I have been able to find on roofing seem to need to use plastic in one form or another. Is thatch really not a option anymore? What little I have been able to find out about it makes it look like an amazing roof! Am I missing some thing? Green, cheap and you can do it all yourself. They are not the firetraps that some people think. Some roofs in Europe have a 500 year old base of thatch. most thatching will last 50 years before you have to put another level on. Great R value, some are rated at 64. Those roofs are rather old and like 7' thick but still. What am I not seeing?! Why have so few people been using this amazing roofing?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I've read that it's a difficult skill to master, that a roof made poorly can be a real problem, and that varieties of grain that produce high-quality straw are becoming scarce due to the green revolution breeding programs (less straw for more grain).

This all only applies to European style thatch, of course. Tropical thatch roofing is still labor-intensive, but the materials remain abundant, and a problem area is more straightforward to identify and deal with.
 
Jami McBride
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Because it isn't a DIY project.  It is a learned skill, that takes time a lots of practice and no one is passing it on or down any more.  This is why you are coming up blank.

However, you can have a lovely thatched roof, you just have to hire and bring in a professional and his crew - $$$      There are more skilled artisans in Europe than here in the states for sure.

It's a mostly dead art these days.  Because of the price of things, you do thatching wrong and you'll spend way more than you saved repairing the water damage.

If your really enamored with thatching you may want to look into apprenticeships with someone still practicing the skill.  A DIY website would be very cool, maybe you could be the one to start such a grass roots project.

I love thatching, and did a lot of research on it a few years ago.
Another almost lost roofing system is slate roofing, but there are many more US resources for this than for thatching, as well as how-to books.

All the best....
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Another thing to mention: birch bark can be used in place of plastic for things like green roofs.
 
                        
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you might want to check out this website http://www.thatch.org/  He has a book he sells but there is a ton of information for free on there as well as a video or two .
 
Jami McBride
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Great, there is a DIY website since I last looked.  I have seen this guys youtube vid, but I haven't found any reviews of his book.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Birch bark CAN be used -- I was going to mention that.  However, it has to be used with great care, because there will often be holes in it, so you would have to be very careful in layering it, to make sure the roof wasn't going to leak.  Birch bark is what the old-timers used to put underneath their sod roofs in northern climates -- it takes forever to rot.

Kathleen
 
                        
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in a reprint of an old book  Shelters Shacks and Shanties  by D C Beard  he talks about thach roofs  for a brief two pages and seems to think that there really isn't anything too mysterious about it, although he was mostly talking about temporary shelters.  He is the only one I have run across to mention using bullrushes and I have always wondered why they weren't used more. It would be a whole lot faster to collect and thatch with bullrush  leaves than straw. and it would be easier to make sure no seeds left in  the thatch.
Anyone know why they don't seem to have made it to the bigtime as a thatching material?
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Pam wrote:
in a reprint of an old book  Shelters Shacks and Shanties  by D C Beard  he talks about thach roofs  for a brief two pages and seems to think that there really isn't anything too mysterious about it, although he was mostly talking about temporary shelters.  He is the only one I have run across to mention using bullrushes and I have always wondered why they weren't used more. It would be a whole lot faster to collect and thatch with bullrush  leaves than straw. and it would be easier to make sure no seeds left in  the thatch.
Anyone know why they don't seem to have made it to the bigtime as a thatching material?


I don't know the answer to your question about bullrushes, but there would be a big difference between thatching a temporary shelter and a permanent house.  It wouldn't matter if the temporary shelter leaked a little bit in a bad storm as long as it mostly kept you dry, and it wouldn't matter if the thatch all blew off or rotted a year or two after you made it.  Not so for a permanent house!

I have to say that my biggest trepidation about thatch has always been bugs -- seems like all that dead grass would be excellent bug habitat.

Kathleen
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:I have to say that my biggest trepidation about thatch has always been bugs -- seems like all that dead grass would be excellent bug habitat.


I wonder if diatomaceous earth would be a good thing to include, somehow. Or water glass, which would also work as a fire retardant.
 
                        
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The thatch used in cooler climates seems to tend to the stem rather than the leaf of plants  (which is why I wondered whether using the leaf of bullrushes might be an error) and there isn't a lot to interest bugs in the stems of mature straw. I have had round bales of straw out as a wind break for the horses for 5 years now and there is certainly weathering but no sign of bugs. Bugs might find shelter in it perhaps, but without a food supply shelter is a moot point. I suppose with thatch  there might be a degree of loss to birds for nesting material but the thickness would suggest that wouldn't be much of an issue.

I have a woodpecker which visits my house regularly as it is; I would imagine if there were any bugs in the thatch, the birds would take care of them. I had been trying to think how to thatch over the roof but that simply isn't practical, thatching cannot be put on over a solid roof ..unless I suppose you made up the thatch on the ground and then lifted it like a big blanket onto the roof..sounds a bit much to me
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I imagine you could put thatch on over a solid roof if you framed up and placed battens or purlins (not sure what you'd call them in this case) above the existing roof to tie the thatch to.  However, a good thatch roof is going to be heavy, so you'd have to make sure the roof structure was up to the weight.  (And for anyone who thinks that straw isn't heavy, just try to lift a large enough amount of it!)

Kathleen
 
Jami McBride
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Bugs - yes, and more.... this is where the saying raining cats and dogs comes from 

Seems the cats and rodent-dogs love to find and chase the mice in the thatch - oh my!

So I'm with you, some barrier between me and my thatch is in order, maybe on the inside of the thatching framework.  Starting with a dog house and moving up to a chicken house or shed might be a great way to practice the craft.

Wonderful images here, including some bugs:
http://www.google.com/images?client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-USfficial&channel=s&hl=en&q=thatching+images&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=oIm8TPzoN5K2sAPZ_MCABA&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQsAQwAA&biw=1242&bih=653





 
                    
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho94fRAOjok&feature=related,

check out some of the videos on the right of the above.  Some may be in English. You could possibly apprentice with a roof thatcher and start your own business. But would there be a market in this country?  I don't know if this cats and dogs thing is serious.  I can imagine that it is important for air to access the roof from below.
 
                                                
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Consensus amongst Irishmen indicates that anyone can do it, like riding a bicycle, but it takes more to master. My thought too would be the lack of proper materials in most locals.
 
                        
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some photos of a new barn in Holland with a reed thatch roof
http://inhabitat.com/2010/11/05/dutch-barn-with-peaceful-undulating-roof-made-of-local-reeds/reet-barn-9/?extend=1  image 8 is a close up of the roof  # 9 of harvesting the reed and # 11 of what the ends of the reeds look like.  Roof looks really nice,  I thought. Maybe inspire someone to try it....
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I had forgotten about reeds.

Here in Northern California, there's an excellent local variety of giant sedge, that was traditionally used for thatching and boatbuilding. Even seaworthy boats can be built from it, if they have a willow frame; vessels are strong enough for use within the SF bay and delta when made with just stems and twine.

It's called the tule, and parts of it are edible. The variety with a triangular cross-section is reportedly better for use as thatch.

Now that you mention reeds, but I bet tule would make a good roof for a modern house, as well as making a good structure in the traditional way.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Also read about use of Phragmites (reedgrass) for thatch.  I assume tule and bullrush both refers to Scripus acutus/tabernaemontanii or Scheonoplectus acutus/tab.
 
Deanne Bednar
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Hi from the Strawbale Studio in Michigan N of Detroit. I have been doing guerilla thatching since 1998...Check out the strawbalestudio.org website for photos and workshops.
There is a wonderful Jan 2014 schedule which includes a workshops on thatching, rocket stove, earth plaster & round pole, as well as a 1 month Winternship ~ Internship/Worktrade opportunity.
I am thatching with Phragmite, and have done quite a few structures. I really love it. Come for a class, a tour, a full moon potluck.
 
Jeff McLeod
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A master thatcher here in the US

http://www.thatching.com/index.html

"I decided at the tender age of 7 that I wanted to be a thatcher. When I was 16, my school counselor gave me the names of 50 thatchers working in England, and I began looking for an apprenticeship. In England, a 5 year apprenticeship, in addition to college courses, is mandatory before a thatcher can work alone. During my apprenticeship I won my first award - for best journeyman / apprentice - for work on a roof in Essex."

A nice little FAQ

http://www.thatching.com/faq.html

A properly thatched roof done by a real thatcher would IMHO be worthwhile addition. Going the DIY route is going to be asking for a multitude of problems. There is a reason it takes years to learn to be a thatcher.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Another example of building with reeds from http://permaculturenews.org/2013/12/03/traditional-mudhief-house-building-method-iraq/?ap_id=00000

 
Deshe Benjamin
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Jeff:

Amazing. I'm in conversation with this very thatcher about apprenticeship. Sounds promising too!

Thatch seems like one on the more ideal ways to house. Do it right and it will last half a century or more.
Material comes from grass. Bends to all architecture. Relaxing to work with I imagine.
If a farmer could benefit from his harvest 2wice I bet it could slow things down a bit..ina god way
 
Joe Wamsley
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A lot of these links look like they've disappeared. I found these guys on YouTube. Looks pretty amazing on a brick and timber construction. Multiple parts.

  < Uses metal hooks to hold stuff in place

  < Uses wire to hold stuff down

I'll probably use wire as I don't wanna go order the hooks...
 
Grant Holle
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Thatch is still commonly used in Senegal. Here is a modern-style vacation home in Senegal with a thatched roof: 


Traditionally thatch roofs in Senegal are used on small, round, earthen buildings and have no wooden supports--they just take a mat of long straw (generally strung together, nowadays with string) and then form it into a cone that is placed atop the structure.

In the coastal, touristy areas, you'll see some thatched roofs made from reeds. The houses are larger there, so the thatch needs wooden support.

I stayed in a cottage at a hotel with a thatched roof. It was beautiful and a good foot thick. It was amazing to me how cool the cottage was on a hot, hot day with no fans and certainly no a.c. The owner credited the coolness to the thick thatching made with hollow reeds.

 
Grant Holle
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I never got to visit one of these houses in the Casamance region of Senegal, but I heard it described several times. The idea is to have an inverted thatch cone on the roof that acts as a funnel to collect water. I always thought it sounded cool: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/202662051954432534
 
Marishka Noyb
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Would Hemp work for thatching?
 
Joe Wamsley
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Sure why not but probably harder to source unless you're licenced to farm. I have a feeling you'd make more money selling it though.
 
Jason Learned
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Marishka Noyb wrote:Would Hemp work for thatching?


From what I've read, they had to paint the hemp ropes because they would rot from the inside out if wet. I'm not sure if the stalks would rot in the same way because it was the fibers that made the rotting rope. This rotting is why they switched to jute.

Could be an interesting experiment to see if the whole plant has better rot properties than when made into rope. Maybe on a shed?

Jason
 
David Livingston
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Where I used to live in the UK it was at one time the custom to thatch with heather I know such rooves have a very steep pitch about 60 degrees. Whilst in other parts of the UK turf was used

David
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Where I live thatched roofs -with reed- are still common. Mostly for the old houses which traditionally had such roofs. But even sometimes new houses get thatched roofs.
Plenty of reed-roof-making-companies in the region, the reed is harvested from the wetlands around Giethoorn (famous touristic spot, so-called Venice of the Netherlands). But as I see it, it is not at all easy to do, no DIY! 
 
Joe Wamsley
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Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:... But as I see it, it is not at all easy to do, no DIY! 


Idk, depends on size of roof. Depends upon your time frame and idea of what is too hard. I am missing where high skill is required. Looks like you tighten it down and pack on the reeds thick. Then make sure the reeds or whatever don't close up your air gap.

Also looks like you can foot in sand to make a light structure...

Then who can't braid or learn to braid...
 
Ray Bunbury
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Marishka Noyb wrote:Would Hemp work for thatching?


Probably not.  Thatch is usually made from hollow stems that can wick away moisture.  Hemp absorbs and holds moisture.
 
Ingo Laupheimer
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How a thatched roof is build in germany, from harvest to the end: In german, but one can see, that it isn't diy in that size. They learned this profession at least three years.

 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Joe Wamsley wrote:
Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:... But as I see it, it is not at all easy to do, no DIY! 


Idk, depends on size of roof. Depends upon your time frame and idea of what is too hard. I am missing where high skill is required. Looks like you tighten it down and pack on the reeds thick. Then make sure the reeds or whatever don't close up your air gap.
Also looks like you can foot in sand to make a light structure...
Then who can't braid or learn to braid...

Ok, you're right, it depends on what size and kind of roof. If it's a small shed, or a gazebo, you could try. If you're a strong man, able to lift heavy bundles of reeds (which you first bundled together very tightly with a rope or wire around it) and push them next to eachother very tightly, more chance you can do it.
 
r ranson
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The book Just Enough has some brilliant images of how they thatched a roof in Edo Japan.  The thatch was tied tightly in bundles (the bundles had to be thick enough to keep out the rain and insulate the home), then lifted onto the roof.  One person under the roof and one above, they sewed the thatch in place with a big needle. 

 
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