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Enchanted by the beauty of a wood roof? In the second installment of our Rooftop Knowledge series, we take a closer look at the pros and cons of cedar shingles.

©INSADCO Photography, Alamy

Aesthetically, it's hard to beat the amazing, rustic beauty of a cedar shingle house. Over time, the cedar shingles age out to a lovely gray or soft silver finish. But for all their good looks, cedar shingles have some unfortunate downsides -- among them, high cost and the effort to maintain wood shingles. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Here's your guide to buying, installing and maintaining cedar shingles, the most popular type of wood shingles on the market.

Pros of Cedar Shingles
As one of the oldest roofing materials, cedar shingles continue to be highly desired by homeowners. Here are a few reasons why:

- Cedar shingles have stood the test of time. In the expert home guide, Mr. Fix-It Introduces You to Your Home, contractor and Ace home expert Lou Manfredini notes that wood roofs were the most common in Colonial America. Those homes were built using shingles created from an easy-to-find resource: cedar trees.

- Cedar roofs are attractive and add curb appeal to a home. As the years pass, the color of the wood ages beautifully, providing a value-enhancing charm.

- Cedar is wind- and impact-resistant. Cedar shingles are durable and resilient in the face of storms, hurricanes, strong winds and flying debris.

- Wood offers energy benefits. It helps to insulate attics, and allows your home to breath and circulate air better. In the case of a fire, flames will burn through the roof, instead of trapping dangerous carbon monoxide within the house.

Cons of Cedar Shingles

Despite their beautiful appearance, here are a few reasons you may not want to invest in cedar shingles:

- Cedar is an expensive roofing material. Cedar shake shingles cost about $200 a square plus installation costs, notes Manfredini. For an entire roof, you can expect to pay six or seven times what you'd spend on an asphalt roof (see Rooftop Knowledge: Asphalt Shingles).

- Cedar roofs require regular maintenance. Manfredini explains in his book that cedar expands and contracts, plus it's very porous and susceptible to moss and mold growth. As a result, regular maintenance is required, including mildew and moss removal. If you live in an area with heavy rainfall, cedar shingles aren't the ideal choice.

- The sun is an enemy of cedar shingles. Damaging UV rays from sunlight cause cracks to develop.

- Cedar is highly flammable. Some areas have building codes in place that limit or ban the use of cedar shingles to reduce the risk of fire. Also, if you live in an area prone to forest fires, you may have to pay a higher insurance premium for wood roofing.

Buying Cedar Shingles
There are two main options for cedar shingles: machine-sawn shingles for a smooth, refined look or hand-split wood shakes, which are shingles that offer a rougher, rustic appearance. Look to buy cedar shingles with a Class A fire rating because these shingles include a fire-resistant treatment, according to the National Roofing Contractors Association.

Flickr, Ctd 2005

Installing Cedar Shingles
The installation process for cedar shingles is very similar to installing an asphalt roof. A few tips to keep in mind:

- Flashing is the trickiest part of the installation job.
Metal flashing is used over joints in your roof to prevent water from seeping in and causing damage. Without proper flashing, you're bound to see leaks. Check out this guide to help you with flashing.

- Avoid re-roofing
(as you don't know the condition of the sheathing underneath). There are a number of options for shapes of wood shingles: fish-scale, cove, and V-cut shingles. Cedar shingles require open sheathing, or 1-by-6 boards that are spaced apart. The spacing in the sheathing keeps air circulating to help prevent moisture buildup.

- Begin at the bottom.
You'll want to start the installation process on the bottom edge of the roof and work your way up.

Maintaining Cedar Shingles

A cedar shingled roof demands maintenance and repair. Follow these tips to keep your wood shingles in working order:

- Inspect the roof in the fall for any cracked or curling shingles.
Leaves and debris can build up on your wood shingled roof, so you'll also want to clean out your gutters.

- Clean and preserve your roof with a linseed-oil preservative.
Experts suggest that you clean cedar shingles every three to six years. Cleaning and preserving your roof is especially important in humid climates, where you run the risk of mildew growth. You can also use a DIY solution of equal parts warm water and chlorine bleach with a little detergent to combat moss and mold growth. Since this is a wet and slippery job, exercise caution if you plan to do it yourself.

- Combat weathering with an oil-based stain. Moss growth on a roof traps moisture and can seep through shingles and rot your roof structure in a matter of a few years. Help reduce weathering by applying a semi-transparent oil-based stain as a finish to your cedar roof. The roof naturally expands and contracts with the weather, so avoid applying any paints or varnishes which can cause the shingles to crack.

- Power wash correctly. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, make sure the power-washing of your cedar shingles is done right. If done improperly, shingle damage, leakage and wood erosion can occur.


Rooftop Knowledge: All About Asphalt Shingles
All About Roof Shingles (ShelterPop)
Metal Roof Choices (Networx)

  • Aquilus Domini

    indeed, cedar shingles are beautiful, however, they have a tendency to rot if you live in rainy/snowy areas (like Michigan, New England, Maine, etc.). and they are indeed extremely flammable (especially if you have obnoxious neighbors who insist on shooting bottle rockets on the 4th of July and they land on your roof).
    asphalt roofing seems to be the best and least expensive option these days, though it would be so nice to have a metal or wood shingle roof.

  • bryanornorma

    I considered Cedar Shakes, but the winner for me was a Metal roofing. It is stronger, doesn't stain, or disclolor, lasts practically forever, and even though it is kind of expensive to install initally, it will never likely have to be replaced in your lifetime. I looked at conventional shingles when I was 60 years old and figured they would need to be replaced when I was 80. I probably would not have the money at 80. So I went with metal now, while I could afford it.


    You fail to mention.. cedar gets mold so quickly... and it's usually along the joinings first... AND you are NOT supposed to shoot water via pressure washer up... but down.. so THAT poses a problem.. just not their worth... it's like those new deck woods.. Trex etc... they warp eventually giving you a trampoline for the kids...but... that is nails pulling up... and they discolor quickly as well.. and you can't stain them.. we all have to really do our homework first and subscribe to the "if it sounds too good to be true? it probably is" school of thought

  • Jack

    Cedar shingles = BIG MISTAKE !

  • jany

    Having fought fires as a volunteer firefighter, I have to say that cedar roofing is not good. It burns hot and drops into the attic space. Not only that, it pops like popped corn, meaning that it explodes onto other surfaces. It may be pretty, but it's just not practical.

  • gail

    this is ugly, it looks like a grass about slate? now that's classy

  • David S.

    The cedar shingles look fine on this fancier home. But on your average middle class home, I think they would look over the top. Plus I would think repairs would be a nightmare -- but I guess if you can afford this kind of roof, chances are you can afford the repairs.

  • Old Roof Contractor

    There are a lot of strong prejudices for and against cedar roofing. It IS combustible, it DOES occasionally wear prematurely if either procured or installed poorly, and it depletes a resource that is irreplaceable.

    However, there is nothing, no other product that will provide the character, ambiance, depth, and rustic shadow at the weight of beautiful straight grain old growth western cedar in both shakes and shingles. There are grades of this product from number three full of knots to straight grained siding grade which come individually boxed. When high end cedar is combined with copper flashings and installation by a true cedar artist, there is no other product that can make that statement.

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