How Roofs Were Made in the Old Days

How Roofs Were Made in the Old Days

Today, my article will tell you about roofs. Yes, don’t be surprised. I recently had the good fortune to visit Lviv, at the Shevchenkivskyi Hai Museum, where I saw firsthand the houses and churches of various ethnographic regions of Ukraine. I was so impressed by the architecture and beauty of these buildings that I decided to study each detail of these constructions in more depth.

The History of Thatch Roofs

The use of straw for roof coverings dates back to ancient times. This material was readily available and easily renewable, making it popular among peasants and rural residents. Thatch roofs were widespread across various cultures and regions, from Europe to Asia and America.

In Ukraine, thatch roofs, or “strykhy,” held particular significance and were an integral part of traditional architecture. They were used to protect against the elements and to retain warmth in dwellings. The craft of making thatch roofs was passed down from generation to generation, becoming part of cultural heritage.

Types of Thatch Roofs

Several types of thatch roofs existed, differing in materials and construction techniques:

  • A classic thatch roof, or “strykha,” was made from rye straw, tied into bundles, and laid onto a wooden framework.
  • A reed roof used bundles of reeds instead of straw, which was common in regions where reeds were more readily available.
  • A clay-thatch roof combined straw and clay for additional sealing and fire resistance.

These types of thatch roofs reflected local traditions and environmental conditions, giving homeowners a choice of materials and styles suited to their capabilities and needs.

Process of Roof Construction

The process of making a thatch roof begins with constructing a framework: rafters with posts, beams, and slats. The slats are nailed to the rafters at intervals of about 40 cm apart.

Next, bundles of straw or reeds are prepared, a process known as “bundle twisting.” Rye straw is ideal for roofing. The material is tied into small sheaves, bound with a straw or rope twist in the “guzyr” (the end opposite the grain head). The sheaf is then split lengthwise into two halves, with a 35 cm long, lenticular-shaped wooden stick inserted between the stems. The split strands of stems are twisted around each other 360°, forming a figure-eight shape with the twist. The finished bundle consists of two tied sheaves, tightly bound together.

Old thatch roofs were started from the bottom, placing bundles on the slats such that both sheaves enveloped the slat from above and below. Each bundle should fit snugly to its neighbor, with higher rows of bundles overlapping the lower ones. This process requires significant skill and effort.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Thatch roofs had several advantages that made them popular:

  • Availability and renewability of the material
  • Good thermal insulation properties
  • Ecological and natural
  • Aesthetic appearance, harmonizing with nature

However, they also had their drawbacks:

  • Relatively low fire resistance (excluding clay-thatch roofs)
  • Need for regular maintenance and replacement
  • Vulnerability to fungi and insects

Weighing these pros and cons was important for people of the time choosing materials for their roofs.

Modern Usage

Today, thatch roofs are not as widespread as they once were, but they still find their place. They are popular in ecological and ethnic construction and are also used for restoring historic buildings and museum complexes like the Shevchenkivskyi Hai in Lviv.

Additionally, thatch roofs attract attention with their uniqueness and naturalness, becoming part of cultural and architectural heritage that needs to be preserved and passed down to future generations.

Cultural Significance

Thatch roofs are not only functional, but they also hold significant cultural value, especially for Ukrainian traditional architecture. They symbolize a connection to the land, nature, as well as economy and sustainability.

Traditional roofs reflect the cultural heritage of various regions of Ukraine, showing ways of farming, unique architectural styles, and local peculiarities. Preserving these traditions is important for maintaining cultural identity and history.

Conservation Techniques

The restoration and conservation of historic thatch roofs require special attention. Modern craftsmen, maintaining the authenticity of the process, use modern materials and methods to reinforce the structure and durability of the roofs.

In restoration, it is crucial to balance traditional methods with modern technology to preserve historical accuracy and ensure the longevity and safety of the buildings. Such projects help to preserve cultural heritage for future generations.


Thatch roofs remain an important part of Ukrainian traditional architecture and culture. By preserving unique techniques and traditions, we can pass this knowledge to future generations, maintaining cultural identity and history.

I hope this article has helped you see and appreciate the depth and multifaceted nature of the heritage of thatch roofs and perhaps inspired you to preserve this part of culture.