What is a Thai Roof?

We have recently ventured away from Cambridge and took some time out in Thailand. We are local roofers through and through, but everyone needs a break! The place is brilliant, we loved it. It inspired us to write an article on their roofs and how they differ to the UK roofs!

Anyone who has ever visited Thailand will remember the distinctive traditional roofs. From a distance, these steep peaks with their pointed gables are eye-catching and beautiful. We see them everywhere, from local traditional Thai houses to the ornate Grand Palace of Bangkok. The roof is a hallmark of Thai architecture, a marvel at the very heart of the nation. But what makes them so unique?

Form Follows Function

In the harsh, cold reaches of Scandinavia, roofs are built steep, so that the snow slides off; while in arid Africa, roofs are built flat. Put simply; form follows function. A building must conform to the needs of the environment, or it will not survive.

As such, Thai roofs are steep, with some angles exceeding 45 degrees. A steep roof ensures that during the heavy rains – which can exceed 30 centimetres – the roof does not collect water, and the building remains undamaged. Additionally, most traditional their houses lack a ceiling, so warm air can rise and escape. Thus, keeping the building cool, despite the warm climate.  

Types of Traditional Thai Roofs

Typically, Thai roofs are made from terracotta tiles, teak shingles, palm leaf thatch, wood chip, metal roofing sheets (corrugated), or dried grasses. Though the roof is a distinctive part of Thai architecture, they can differ from region to region. In the more arid north, Thai roofs are a gentler slope, while in the south, roofing is steep and large, to deal with the barrage of heavy rain and wind.

However, there are four main types of roof:

  • Gabled roofs: The traditional roof of Thailand, has a steep concave shape and is mostly found in the central region. It is designed for the short bouts of heavy rain.
  • Hipped roofs: Also known as Panya roofs, these are usually used in palaces or governmental buildings. There is a strong Western influence. The ‘panlom’ or bargeboard rises to a point and denotes importance. See Sanphret Prasat Palace
  • Hipped-gable roof: Also known as gambrel or Manila roofs, they are commonly used by Thai Muslims in the south. They have a hipped form, with gables halfway up the slope on a couple of sides, to improve ventilation.
  • Double-gable roof: Here two different gables are placed on top of the house to help provide better protection of the structure. See Wat Pho, where there are many examples of double-gabled roofs.

Making a Thai Roof with Modern Materials

In modern Thai architecture, the traditional Thai house still has a place. Where previously, Thai structures often fitted together without metal nails, using pre-cut holes and grooves, modern structures often use an underlying metal framework. Nails are generally used for ease.

A layer of traditional Thai wood is used next, to provide bracing. Before a final layer of wooden shingle is used, to give the house a traditional Thai look. Decoration can then be added, according to the taste of the homeowner. Be it modern and slick, or classic Thai architecture.

The trip was great. We’ve taken home some ideas we can use for our flat roofs. Although Asian countries deal with different climates to us, it’s still interesting to see how their engineering works. Seeing how other people deal with roofing problems is a great exercise. Although proficient, we believe we are all always learning!