History with Jimmy: Makuti Roofing

One of the interesting things about design is the combination of traditional and contemporary aspects. I am sure you have come across hotels, restaurants and serviced apartments, like the Kings Post, with a makuti fling to add in a mix of nature and luxury. Jimmy shares with you the Makuti story, a popular coastal element.


Makuti is thatch material made from dried coconut palm leaves. Thatching is a technique where layers of dried vegetation are lined up in such a way, so as to shelter an interior from being soaked in rainfall. Implication here is that, several layers of dried makuti have to be stacked one over another, until a sufficient thickness is attained, about 1 foot is suitable to make the roof impervious to water, and also provide insulation from the elements of weather.

Thatched roofing is not exclusive to our tropical climate, but has also been used in temperate regions for millenia. Only difference is that, in temperate Countries, Houses with thatched roofing are an exclusive feature for wealthy individuals, who find it ecologically friendly. In Countries in the tropical Regions, thatched roofing is used in numerous ethnic groups’ housing style. Even so, Hotel owners use thatched makuti roofing as a signature look for their unique structures, especially in the East African Coast.

Makuti roofing is made from individual weaved palm fronds. Women in local villages at the Coastal area usually do the weaving by hand. The palm fronds are harvested from Coconut trees, without any interference to the growth of the tree. The dried up fronds, are the ones that are specifically targeted during harvesting.

There are important factors that one has to consider, when the choice is made to build a roof using makuti thatching:

Choice of material: there is good makuti and bad makuti. It takes only an experienced local thatcher or one who is a professional at installing thatched roofing, working with local Women makuti weavers who conduct an honest trade in selling good weaved makuti.

Pitch: This is the angle of tilt of the roof, compared with the edge of the wall. Proper pitch is necessary, since the wrong pitch will result in leaking of rainwater.

Air: Makuti roofing has to be breathable. Lack of provision for ventilation through the makuti thatching will result in an Interior that is too hot for habitation.

Ridges and valleys: These are points of distinction between horizontal and vertical edges of thatch. Carefully design should be incorporated, since this will aid in drainage of rain water from the roof.

Climate: Thatching can work in a range of climatic conditions, only that colder climates require a thicker thatching than warm or hot climates.

Lifespan: The lifespan of a thatched roof is largely contributed by the skilled work of a good craftman, namely the thatcher. Even so, the nature of makuti is such that, it has to be replaced entirely after a few years, due to degeneration.

The use of makuti, as a roofing material has both benefits and limitations. Let us look at both aspects.


Benefits of makuti roofing:

Eco-friendly Makuti is absolutely natural material as such it does no harm to the environment, whether on a rooftop or even when disposed off once old and derelict.

Supports local community enterprises Makuti as a raw material, is best sourced as weaved palm fronds from local Women weavers.

Economical when covering small roof areas, makuti is very affordable. The cost per square metre only increases significantly when used to cover large roof areas.

It provides for a cool interior When living in humid tropical regions, on gets to appreciate having makuti roofing, since it does not retain heat and additionally provides a cool living environment.

Typical of tropical housing design since it creates that ambiance expected of a Coastal residence.

Temporary this aspect allows a builder to receive a permit much more easily, than if a permanent roofing material was opted for.

Flexible across a wide range of roof designs other roofing material is limited to a few housing designs, however, makuti is adaptable to very many varieties of house designs.

Quick to put up it is the fastest kind of roofing material that one can install.


Limitations of makuti roofing:

Flammable: makuti burns with a high efficiency and as such, is avoided by most people.

Insurance agencies charge a high premium, for counter offers in case of damage by fire.

Easily destroyed by strong winds when building using makuti roofing, it is recommendable that the area where your building stands be free from powerful wind currents.

Regular replacement. If roofing is done without ridges and valleys, and built in a good pitch, it takes 6 to 8 years, before replacing it. With valleys, replacement is after every 2nd year, with ridges incorporated, replacement is done every 3rd year.

Insect infestation Given that makuti is a natural material, insects tend to seek refuge within it. Some people cannot stand this, while others consider it a natural phenomenon and an aid to nature.

Hinderance to rain collection rainwater, gets coloured by makuti such that, it cannot be used for drinking and it stains ceramic tiles and articles. Perhaps the only use for such water is in irrigating the garden.


Good thatched roofing, requires regular maintenance. As mentioned earlier, the lifespan is 6 to 8 years, even so, regular re-ridging and re-valleying is necessary.

Absolutely avoid covering the thatch in galvanised iron sheet, as this will hinder evaporation, contributing to rot and a subsequent short lifespan for the makuti.

Thatched roofing fell out of favour as a roofing material in the west, not due to the hazard of fire, but that large roof thatching became prohibitively expensive, and good thatchers became increasingly difficult to find, even as cheaper roofing material became available.

There has been a turnaround, however, with about 60,000 thatched roof houses in the UK presently and many more are being built annually. In Kenya, thatched makuti  roofing has gained popularity at the Coast.

Did you enjoy the Makuti Story? Share on the comment section below.


Author: odoloyce

I love style!

2 thoughts on “History with Jimmy: Makuti Roofing”

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