This is the first time sol-gel technology is used in the treatment of hemp shiv to develop sustainable thermal insulation building materials. The impact on the hydrophobicity of hemp shiv by depositing functionalised sol-gel coatings using hexadecyltrimethoxysilane (HDTMS) has been investigated. Bio-based materials have tendency to absorb large amounts of water due to their hydrophilic nature and highly porous structure. In this work, the influence of catalysts, solvent dilution and HDTMS loading in the silica sols on the hydrophobicity of hemp shiv surface has been reported. The hydrophobicity of sol-gel coated hemp shiv increased significantly when using acid catalysed sols which provided water contact angles of up to 118° at 1% HDTMS loading. Ethanol diluted sol-gel coatings enhanced the surface roughness of the hemp shiv by 36% as observed under 3D optical profilometer. The XPS results revealed that the surface chemical composition of the hemp shiv was altered by the sol-gel coating, blocking the hydroxyl sites responsible for hydrophilicity.