According to Colin McGhee, thatched roofs are “a bit of a novelty in the United States.” That perception won’t be diminished by the job he took on this past winter when he and his crew thatched a Maine island retreat. To stay on schedule and provide McGhee with snow- and wind-free working conditions, the contractor, Taylor-Made Builders in Northport, Maine, erected a custom enclosure over the entire building. The temporary framework is covered in plastic heat-shrink film and took a 10-person crew three weeks to assemble.

The 25-square roof required 2,500 bundles of phragmites, a common marsh reed. Reed courses are secured under continuous 1/4-inch steel rod that’s wired to the roof at 8-inch intervals. While working, thatchers stand on “biddles” — short ladders equipped with metal hooks that catch on the rod. To complete the job, the temporary shelter will come...

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