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What is Thatching?

Banana stalks are used for thatching in some locations.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 March 2014
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Thatching is a type of building material which is made from plant stalks. Most famously, thatching is used as roofing in many parts of the world, although in the tropics, thatching can also be used to make walls. Numerous examples of thatched homes can be found in the tropics and in developing countries, where thatch is a cheap and accessible building material. Some parts of Europe also have thatched structures of historical value.

The plant stalks used in thatching vary, depending on the region. Wheat straw is a common choice for thatching, as are reeds, sedges, and some heathers. In the tropics, thatching may be made from palm or banana stalks. In all cases, the thatching is compacted into tight bundles which are layered to create a thick covering which will repel rain. Thatching also happens to be a great insulator, thanks to the pockets of air trapped inside the bundles, and as a result thatched homes tend to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

This building material may be one of the oldest building materials known to man. Because thatching decays more readily than stone and brick, it is hard to determine when humans first used thatching, but most historians assume that it was a fairly early development, and that many cultures created thatching independently. Many people associate thatched roofs with medieval Europe, where thatching was especially popular, but thatching was also used by Native Americans, many African tribes, and a number of Asian communities.

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When well-assembled, thatching can be extremely durable. Many thatched roofs last for 40 years or more, requiring minimal maintenance during this period. The thatch is replaced when it starts to thin heavily. Experienced thatchers can be found in many regions of the world, and many are part of family businesses which go back generations. In the developing world, where thatching is abundant, many communities have a thatcher to handle ongoing needs, while in developed countries, thatchers may be less abundant, and their services can be quite expensive.

In developed countries, thatch is viewed primarily as a historical artifact. Old structures which were once thatched may continue to be thatched to preserve their historic value, although such structures can be difficult to insure, due to worries about smoldering fires which can lurk in thatch. New homes are rarely thatched, although some homeowners do request thatching because they think it looks rustic.

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