Taking Care of Your Cedar Roof Throughout the Year: A Season-by-Season Guide
Updated: Jun 15
Nothing states a home’s elegance and good taste like a cedar roof. Many of the most striking residences in affluent neighborhoods throughout New England and other parts of America prominently display facades accented with natural cedar shingles or shakes. Cedar is the mark of quality, the sign of durability and the signature of an investment that returns decades of weather-resistant performance.
Importance of Maintaining Cedar Roofs
Maintaining a cedar roof is the key to longevity. Cedar roofs are expensive to install and equally expensive to replace once their natural lifecycle has expired. But a cedar roof’s lifespan can be significantly expanded through scheduling seasonal inspections, cleanings, preventative maintenance and by performing periodic repairs.
Cedar roofs that are properly installed with quality materials can be expected to last 40 to 50 years. Some cedar roofs in certain climate conditions exceed 100 years of weather resistance and continue to brave the elements year after year. These old roofs have one thing in common. They were carefully maintained and properly prepared for seasonal changes.
Cedar roofs aren’t just a pretty top to an attractive face, and they’re more than durable, weather-tough and excellent returns on their money. Cedar roofs provide top insulation value and are exceptionally eco-friendly. Cedar is one of the most long-lasting, natural building materials on the market and has been for hundreds of years. As a truly renewable resource, cedar will continue to top homes for hundreds more.
Maintaining a cedar roof throughout the seasons takes more care and attention than most other roofing products. That may sound like another price to pay, but the rewards in performance, longevity and continual beauty coming from a cedar roof are well worth the extended effort. It also requires a bit of education into what cedar roofs are composed of.
Maintaining Different Cedar Roof Materials
Cedar roofs come from two species: red cedar and white cedar. Both have natural preservatives built into their cells that make them resistant to insects, mold, mildew, fungi, moisture, rot and decay. Cedar trees are perfectly suited to their growing habitat and are properly suited for serving their end-use for roofing homes in tough climates.
Cedar roofs also take two shapes — sawn shingles and split shakes:
Sawn shingles give a uniform, more tailored look to a roof, as they’re manufactured from cedar logs by machines that cut each shingle exactly the same.
Split shakes give a home that rustic appearance, as each shake is split from a cedar block in random fashion, letting them lay on a roof in a rougher formation.
The choice in split or sawn cedar roofs is more of an architectural decision than a performance issue. Given equal materials, cedar shingles and shakes last an equal length, provided they’re equally maintained. Smooth-textured shingles and rough-hewn shakes both require seasonal protection to enhance their appearance and guarantee their longevity.
Many homeowners who’ve bought cedar roofs may not be aware how important it is to maintain their investment from the elements that throw seasonal challenges at the top of their homes. Simply scheduling inspections and performing seasonal maintenance is the best possible protection available for a costly product. Years of extra life comes from maintaining a cedar roof throughout the four seasons.
Maintaining a Cedar Roof in the Fall
Fall is the best time to begin a seasonal preventative maintenance program for a cedar roof. Fall is a calm time before winter’s harsh ice and snow arrives, the winds and rain of spring bash the roof and summer’s heat and ultraviolet rays bleach the shingles or shakes.
The start of each season’s maintenance is a visual inspection. It’s not necessary to get right up on the roof and walk about. This can be dangerous, and can also be harmful to the cedar roofing, as weight from stepping on the cedar surface can crack or loosen the shingles.
A simple, visual inspection can be made by standing back and scanning the roof for shingle integrity. Watch for the following signs of required maintenance:
Loose, cracked, cupped, curled or missing shingles
Raised or rusted nails are indications of trouble
Loose, bent or vacant flashings and vent pipes
Wide gaps between shingles
Noticing the gaps between shingles is highly important. The gaps allow the cedar to expand and contract according to the moisture content. Proper gaps should be approximately ¼-inch. Gaps that are too wide or too narrow are a problem and might require shingle replacement.
These defects should be obvious to the naked eye, but it’s helpful to use a pair of binoculars for a close look at problem areas. If it’s necessary to get up on the roof for a better inspection, or to perform minor maintenance and repairs, ensure that someone else is aware or helping. That can be for spotting a ladder or assisting to tie off a fall-arrest line and harness. Many injuries occur each year from homeowners falling from roofs and ladders. They’re made worse by having no one for assistance or being part of safety precautions.
Fall is nature’s time to deposit debris on all roofs. Nearby trees shed leaves, needles and branches that get trapped in tight places, like the edges of chimneys, intersecting valleys, skylight flashings and, of course, in the gutters. Animal signs and insect infestations are also culprits for messing with a roof. This debris needs to be cleaned off before it traps moisture and begins cedar’s deterioration cycle of attracting moss, mildew and natural decay.
Moss is a killer for cedar roofs. Moss naturally occurs in any environment where it’s damp, cool and shady. North and east roof sections are the first to sprout moss outcrops, as are shadow lines from high chimneys and intersecting rooflines. Moss is best scraped off by hand and then washed from the roof with water.
Moss and mildew inhibitors like copper and zinc strips, attached to the roof’s ridges, are inexpensive insurance. Fall is the time to replace any existing metal moss inhibitors or installing new pieces where necessary. These metal attachments are activated by water from rain and melting snow. It’s best to install metals before general roof cleaning begins.
Roof cleaning starts at the top and works its way down. Assuming the roof is safe to ascend, the best cleaning starts with hand-removing debris like branches and leaves, then washing the surface with a garden hose. Trigger-activated hand wands with adjustable pressure are best-suited to washing. Mechanical power washers are controversial around cedar roofs, as the excessive pressure can do more harm than good.
Although professional roofing contractors who clean, treat and restore cedar roofs routinely use pressure washers, they’re trained in the operation and know the techniques that avoid irreversible damage. Pressure washing should always be left to a professional contractor and should become part of a long-term cedar roof maintenance program.
Washing a roof is going to send debris to the gutters, no matter how careful someone is. That’s part of the process that includes gutter cleaning. Cleaning gutters should be done late in the fall as well as early the next spring. Twice a year is effective and should be a primary part of the program.
Cleaning gutters is a simple but somewhat misunderstood task. Here are a few tips to make the job easier, complete and safer.
Ensure someone is helping to support the ladder and assist with tools.
Use only an approved ladder and place it on stable ground at the proper angle.
Wear rubber, non-slip-soled shoes.
Use gloves, eye protection and water-resistant clothing.
Rake off and remove larger debris from the upper roof.
Remove gutter debris by hand and place it in a container that’s lowered by rope.
Flush the gutters with a garden hose using an adjustable spray.
Scrape out resistant sludge and repeat flushing.
Complete the job by flushing the downspouts until water flows unimpeded.
Fall is also the time to look for potential sources of leaks that may be covered by winter’s snow and which could be impossible to locate until spring. Tracking a leak is difficult, even for professional roofing contractors. Water can travel long distances laterally and may appear as an inside drip far away from the outer ingress point.
Leaks are best located by looking in the attic for telltale signs of staining on the underside of the roof sheathing or strapping, as well as about the insulation. Like gutter cleaning, a two-person team works best for leak detection with one party running a hose on the roof and the other spotting. Leak sources should be plugged according to their cause and, often, calling in a professional roofer may be the wisest investment.
Roofing insulation and ventilation need to be checked in the fall. Warm air escaping into a cold attic space, then condensing on the underside of a cedar roof, is a major source of early decay. Uncontrolled warm air is also the cause of roof ice dams and their winter signature — icicles.
Maintaining a Cedar Roof in the Winter
Maintaining a cedar roof in the winter is dangerous, not to mention unnecessary if fall maintenance is carefully done. Snow is a natural insulator and is best left alone, as nature runs its seasonal course. In rare circumstances where excessive snow builds or where slopes are minimal, it may be necessary to remove snow, but this should be a course of last resort.
The most likely winter maintenance for a cedar roof is removing the buildup of ice and snow at the lower eaves. This condition is well-known as ice dams, and it’s the result of poor insulation in the attic, particularly at the point where the ceiling intersects the exterior walls. Warm attic air causes roof snow to melt and run off. Once liquid water reaches the cold outer eaves, it freezes and creates a ridge that builds up over time to become a large blockage or dam of ice.
This cycle continues and can eventually turn into a dam at the roof edge so massive that the weight can be structurally destructive.
Removing winter ice dams is tricky and can be extremely unsafe. If ice dams are a significant issue that threatens structural safety, it’s best to call a professional roofing contractor to remove them. In some applications, electric heat cables are installed along the eaves to melt ice dams as they begin to build. Heat cables are expensive and ultimately unnecessary if the ice dam cause is addressed.
The simple cure for dangerous ice dams is preventing them during fall maintenance. That’s done by increasing insulation and allowing air flow at the roof eaves. Renovation jobs like insulating attics and ensuring adequate ventilation may be outside a homeowner’s expertise and is also best left to a professional roofing contractor.
Maintaining a Cedar Roof in the Spring
Cleaning the gutters is a top priority for maintaining a cedar roof in the spring. It’s unlikely all the debris was removed during the fall clean and likely more accumulated over the winter.
Spring is normally the time of high winds and heavy rains in areas where cedar roofs are common. Ensuring the gutters are unobstructed lets rainfall be dispersed as quickly as possible so, by the time the rain has stopped, the cedar can begin to quickly dry and maintain its natural cycle. Wet cedar is not a problem as long as it’s allowed a timely dry.
Spring is also the time when creatures begin to proliferate. Birds and small animals are nesting and insects of all sorts are laying eggs and making hives. Cedar roofs are excellent habitats for invasive species that can damage a roof by trapping moisture and burrowing into the wood.
Before creatures get a foothold in a cedar roof, take these early proactive steps:
Take a reconnaissance of the roof, including nooks and crannies where critters can take cover.
Block small holes, especially in eaves and soffits.
Destroy any infestations before their population expands.
Spring is also the prime time to consider any major cedar roof repairs or maintenance projects. What may seem to be a minor, inexpensive problem to the untrained eye might be a huge red flag to a professional roofing contractor. Investing in a call to a roofing company and an inspection may discover underlying issues that are caught in the nick of time, when they can be tackled in the dry and roofing-friendly summer weather ahead.
Spring is also the best season to plan for a professional cleaning and treatment of a cedar roof. Having a cedar roof professionally cleaned and treated should be done once every four or five years. It not only brings back a youthful beauty in the looks of the cedar roof, but it also adds years to its life expectancy.
Planning to have a cedar roof cleaned and treated in the spring allows plenty of time to have it scheduled for the summer months, when the weather is more suitable. Spring planning also allows for budgeting to have the roof cleaned and treated, which is a fairly expensive undertaking. However, cleaning and treating a roof is far less expensive than paying for a complete removal and replacement of the roof that could have been prevented through proper seasonal maintenance.
Maintaining a Cedar Roof in the Summer
The blazing days of summer may not be the best season for the homeowner to prowl around on a cedar roof, but it’s the best time for a professional roofing contractor to clean and treat the shingles or shakes.
Cleaning a cedar roof does far more than bring back its original beauty. As a natural product, cedar resists moisture that causes decay through a chemical in the wood cells called lignin. Lignin acts as the glue that holds cedar wood fibers together. Over time, ultraviolet, or UV, rays from the sun break down lignin and open the cells for moisture ingress.
Cleaning and professionally treating a cedar roof restores lignin in the shingles and removes mildew, mold, moss and fungi that attack and break down the wood fiber. With lignin intact in the cedar roof, it continues to resist the destructive forces of nature, which is exactly why cedar makes the best natural roofing product.
Having a cedar roof professionally cleaned and treated in the summer is the single best preventative maintenance step that can be taken. Professionals know cedar roofs from top to bottom, and are able to spot small problems before they become huge emergencies.
Cedar Roof Coatings is an industry expert in cedar roof systems and has the expertise necessary to clean and treat your cedar roof, as well as provide the roofing maintenance it needs. Our goal is to save you money by maintaining your roof throughout the year and give you the stunning curb appeal your house deserves.
We offer quality workmanship and professionalism at a fair and competitive price. If you live in the Fairfield County, CT or Westchester County, NY areas, contact Cedar Roof Coatings today for professional cedar roof maintenance services.