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Is a Cedar Roof Right for You?

Updated: Sep 11, 2019


Is a cedar roof a good choice? Deciding on roofing material is often challenging. The material choice isn’t just about looks. You want a roof that lasts, looks beautiful and protects your home. Cedar roofing earns major points in the aesthetics department, but the roofing material has many nuances to consider. Learn the ins and outs of this roofing option before making your decision.

Basics of Cedar Roofs

Cedar roofing has been around since the colonial days. It is a classic roofing material that never goes out of style. The roofing is made by splitting wood from cedar trees, which grow all around the world. Red cedar is the traditional option for roofing, but white cedar is becoming more popular in roofing. The white cedar version tends to cost less.

Cedar roofing is available in either shakes or shingles. The two are similar, but they have some slight differences in how they are made and how they look.

Cedar shingles are generally thinner than cedar shakes. They are usually machine cut on both sides for a thin, uniform appearance. Cedar shingles come in four grades. Grade 1 is the highest grade and is made from heartwood with no defects. Grade 2 is a flatgrain shingle with some sapwood, limited knots and defects, as long as those knots and defects are above the clear portion, which is what shows when installed. Grade 3 shingles include sapwood and flatgrain with limited knots and defects acceptable above the clear portion. Undercoursing is the lowest grade and is used only on sidewalls as the undercoursing on a double coursed wall.

Cedar shakes are hand-split with some slight differences depending on the type. Handsplit and resawn shakes feature an exposed split face with a sawn back. They tend to have textured surfaces because the face is split with the grain.

Tapersawn shakes feature a sawn fabrication on both sides, which makes them similar to cedar shingles with a thicker profile. They have a somewhat textured surface. The shakes are generally thicker than shingles and lack the uniformity of shingles, which gives them a rustic look.

Lifespan of Cedar Roofing

Cedar roofs offer a long lifespan, which makes them a popular roofing choice. You may pay more upfront, but you save money over time when you don’t have to replace your roof frequently. A cedar roof can last 50 to 60 years when properly maintained. Warranties often last 20 to 25 years, so you get a long life out of the roof, plus the security of a long warranty period.

Installation Process

The cedar roof installation process is very important to ensure the roof lasts. Poor installation can cause warping, curling, cracking and other damage that makes it impossible for the cedar to protect your home properly. The cedar shingles or shakes need proper protection underneath. Proper ventilation is also important. Without it, the shingles may rot.

The positioning of the cedar roofing material is also important. The shingles overlap one another with only a portion of the shingle showing below the piece directly above it. The amount of that exposed shingle depends on the size of the pieces and the pitch of the roof. Lower pitches need smaller exposures to protect the wood properly.

Because of the variables that go into the installation process, having the cedar shingles professionally installed is often the best option. A roofing company with extensive experience installing cedar shakes and shingles understands all the specifications and requirements for proper installation that lasts.

Pros and Cons of Cedar Roofs

One of the best ways to decide whether a particular roofing material is right for your project is to weigh the pros and cons. Looking at both sides helps you decide if the pros are valuable enough to deal with the potential drawbacks. Cedar roofing has a lot of pros on its side that sway many people into choosing it, but there are a few potential problems to consider before you make the leap.

The benefits of cedar roofing include:

  • Longevity. Cedar roofs last much longer than other roofing materials. You save on long-term roofing costs by eliminating the need for a replacement. If you don’t want to worry about replacing the roof in the near future, consider cedar.

  • Eco-friendly. The long life of cedar roofing plays into its eco-friendliness. They are sourced naturally from a renewable resource. Some cedar roofing companies proactively plant new trees to replace the ones they use. Look for a manufacturer who uses sustainable practices to ensure your roof is as eco-friendly as possible.

When you do replace the roof, the cedar is recyclable. The shingles often end up as mulch. You get peace of mind knowing your old roof won’t take up space in a landfill some day.

  • Weather resistant. Cedar shingles hold up well to a variety of weather elements, which is a definite bonus since they come into direct contact with every type of weather. They can weather UV rays and withstand extreme temperatures. They hold up through freeze and thaw cycles. The roof even holds up well in high winds and hurricanes.

This weather resistance means you won’t likely need to worry about repairs even after severe weather, which further saves you money on your roofing.

  • Natural insulator. Cedar acts as a natural insulator for your home due to its thermal resistance. You may see a significant reduction in your utility bill, thanks to this effect. During the summer months, the cedar roof keeps the cooled air inside your home.

In winter, the roof holds in the warmed air. Your home stays at a comfortable temperature while putting less strain on your HVAC system, so the roof offers benefits in different systems within your home.

  • Resistant to damage. Natural oils in the wood resist damage from a variety of factors, including mildew, decay and bugs. That natural resistance contributes to the long life of the roof and saves you from performing costly repairs.

  • Strength. Cedar is a very strong, tough wood, which contributes to its longevity as a roofing material. That strength also protects the structural integrity of your roof, unlike many other roofing materials, which don’t actually make the roof stronger.

  • Minimal shrinking. Cedar roofing resists shrinking even with temperature fluctuations and weather changes. That resistance to shrinking means the shingles or shakes retain their original dimensions. The lack of shrinking also prevents further damage to the roofing.

  • Natural beauty. A selling point for many homeowners is the natural beauty of cedar. The roofing comes in a variety of colors and textures with styles that fit most architectural types. Over time, cedar roofing develops a natural patina in a grayish or silverish color that adds to its aesthetic appeal.

A cedar roof has a timeless look that won’t ever feel outdated or out of place, even if you change your home’s exterior color or other design elements.

  • Variety. While cedar has a distinct style, you’ll find a wide range of options to get a custom look that fits your preferences and your home’s architecture. All cedar shakes and shingles come in the natural wood color, but you’ll find subtle differences in the tones, including amber, gold, red and brown hues. The amount of texture also affects how the cedar roof looks.

  • Increased property value. Installing a cedar roof is an investment in your home. This roofing material is attractive to potential buyers, and it can increase your property value. Even if you don’t have immediate plans to sell, increasing your property value is a good thing.

  • Coating options. Cedar shingles have many attractive traits on their own, but the numerous coating options available enhance the positive aspects of the roofing. Color coating options let you change the look of your cedar roof to fit your preferences. This is particularly appealing if you’re not a fan of the natural patina of the cedar roof.

Another option is a coating to help preserve the cedar. While cedar is naturally resistant to damage from elements, special coatings can help protect them even more.

  • Repair possibilities. Some roofing material is difficult to replace if you only have one or two damaged sections. Cedar is easy to match up if you need to replace one or two pieces because the product remains the same over time. A professional repair company can replace the damaged section, and the areas blend in with the rest of the roof.

By replacing just a few pieces, you save the roof by not having to replace everything, which saves you money and extends the life of the roof.

Cedar roofs come with some potential drawbacks to consider, including:

  • Cost. The cost to have a cedar roof installed is sometimes viewed as a negative. The roofing material generally costs more than synthetic roofing materials. However, when you consider the extended life, your investment is a good one. When you think about spreading that cost out over the life of the roof, it ends up being quite affordable.

  • Potential slipping hazard. Cedar roofing tends to get slippery when it is wet. This isn’t an issue unless you’re performing some type of maintenance that requires you to be on the roof. Use caution any time you climb on your cedar roof, especially if it has recently rained or snowed.

  • Maintenance. You’ll need to perform regular maintenance to keep the cedar roof in good conditions. The maintenance demands can be a negative if you prefer a hands-off approach. However, almost every type of roofing material requires some maintenance, so this potential negative isn’t exclusive to cedar.

Cedar Roof Maintenance Requirements

Before deciding if a cedar roof is right for you, consider the amount of maintenance work required by the roof. As we already mentioned, you can expect some maintenance work no matter what type of roofing material you choose. It’s one of those aspects of homeownership that you just have to do.

Some of the typical maintenance tasks specific to cedar roofing include:

  • Removing leaves and debris from the roof at least twice per year to allow proper runoff and melted snow

  • Cleaning downspouts for proper water runoff

  • Trimming branches that overhang the roof to minimize debris on the cedar

  • Pressure washing the roof every few years to remove fungus, algae and moss growth

  • Patching and replacement of shingles as needed

  • Ridge cap replacement about every 15 years

Pressure washing is sometimes a debated topic in cedar roof care. Too much pressure can cause damage to the roofing. If you are inexperienced with cleaning cedar roofs or using a power washer, the risk of damage is even greater. Having a professional company handle the cleaning and restoration process reduces the potential for damage. The company can also add proper coatings after washing the roof to protect the cedar.

Should I Get a Cedar Roof?

If you’re still wondering why you should get a cedar roof, reviewing all the factors can help you decide. A lot of the decision comes down to personal preference. Take into consideration the key traits about cedar roofs to make the decision.

Consider the following points when making your final decision on cedar roofing:

  • Do you like the look of the roofing? Looks aren’t everything, but if you aren’t a huge fan of cedar, you may want to pass on the major investment. If you don’t like the graying effect that comes as the patina develops, choosing specialty coatings can give you the look you want.

  • Are you willing to make the financial investment? Cedar roofing is an investment. You pay for the quality and longevity of the material. However, when you look at the long-term investment, cedar is a solid choice that gives you a good return on investment.

  • Can you handle the maintenance? Cedar roofs take a little more work than some other materials, so make sure you’re willing to put in the work to maximize the life of the roof. Keep in mind that most roofing materials require a little upkeep, so choosing another material doesn’t necessarily make your roof maintenance free.

  • Does your home have proper ventilation? Your cedar roof needs adequate ventilation, so it can breathe. If your home lacks proper ventilation, you may need to install a ridge venting system or another form of ventilation system. Consider the amount of work and the added cost associated with installing that ventilation.

  • Are you willing to find a reputable company? Since installation is such a crucial component of a quality, long-lasting cedar roof, you need to do your research to find a qualified company to handle the work. Find a company that has installed many cedar roofs in your area. Check out the work of the company.

If you decide a cedar roof is right for you, take steps to protect that investment and extend the life of your roof. Ensure the company you choose uses quality cedar materials. Opt for coatings that can improve the look and lifespan of your cedar shakes or shingles. Perform routine maintenance, and look for the beginning signs of damage so any issue can be resolved before it causes major damage to the roof.

If you’re considering or own a cedar roof and live in the Fairfield County, CT or Westchester County, NY, give us a call. We can provide you with information on coatings that can protect and enhance your investment further.


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