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Cedar Roof vs. Asphalt Shingle Roof

Updated: Apr 13


Few features are more important on a residential property than the roof. As the part that keeps a home sheltered from rain, snow, sun rays and falling objects, the roof is what makes each home a shelter from the outside.

For a roof to remain intact and drain away rainwater as needed, it must have strong shingles. Here in the U.S., cedar shingles and asphalt shingles are two of the most popular roofing options. But which is better — a cedar roof or an asphalt roof?

Appearance

In the cedar roof vs. asphalt roof debate, one of the most clear-cut distinctions between the two is in their appearance. Since cedar shingles are made from wood, they are favored as a classic roofing option that can complement virtually any style of home. Asphalt, on the other hand, is admired by some for its color variations.

1. The Look of Cedar

As a natural material cut from the lumber of the cedar tree, cedar shingles are among the most timeless and versatile of roofing options available to American homeowners. Derived from a tree native to the Pacific Northwest, cedar has long been a staple of traditional residential roofing throughout the country.

Unlike synthetic materials that are liable to date and visually clash with certain architectural styles, cedar has a visual appeal that lasts throughout the ages. On older homes, cedar is generally considered the ideal and most appropriate roofing choice. Cedar shingles also match well with the style of most newer, modernist homes.

2. The Look of Asphalt

Opinions are divided on the aesthetic merits of asphalt shingles. According to some homeowners, a home sacrifices visual appeal for strictly functional reasons with asphalt roofing. Others claim that the coarse texture and sandy appearance of asphalt give the material its own unique charm that perfectly suits contemporary houses.

On the positive side, asphalt shingles hold onto their original appearance throughout the lifespan of a residential roof. Asphalt is also available in a variety of shades and tones, from sandy grey to brick red. As such, an asphalt roof could visually complement siding of various colors.

Longevity

When homeowners weigh the benefits of cedar shingles vs. asphalt shingles, longevity is one of the foremost concerns. Naturally, people want roofs that will last through the foreseeable span of a residential occupancy. Moreover, people want roofs that will still be intact and attractive to prospective buyers when the time comes to place their properties back on the market.

The average family will occupy the same house for approximately 13 years. Thankfully, cedar and asphalt shingles both surpass that span.

1. The Lifespan of Cedar

Cedar first became a popular housing material due to its strength, which made it capable of withstanding inclement weather and the ravages of time. If properly maintained, cedar shingles can last up to 30 years. With a cedar roof, a house could easily undergo two rounds of occupancy before the time comes for new shingles.

If you decide to replace your shingles, cedar would be the ideal choice because your new roof would likely last through the remainder of your time at the address, even if you outlast the average occupancy. If and when you do decide to move, the further life expectancy of the shingle roof could be an attractive proposition for the future occupants, who in turn might never need to replace the roof during their time with the property.

2. The Lifespan of Asphalt

Asphalt has long been popular because of its strength and resilience. If properly maintained, asphalt shingles last about 20 years. If you occupy a residence for roughly a third or two-thirds of that time, asphalt would provide you with roofing that would last through your time at the address and beyond.

However, asphalt lasts only two-thirds as long as cedar, and you should take this into account before you make your final choice. Thirty years might be longer than you care about regarding the structure of a home, but consider the property's resale value down the line. If you replace the roof five years into your time at the address and continue to live there for another eight, a cedar roof could last through your time and the next owner's time in that house.

Durability

When you examine the relative strengths of a cedar roof and an asphalt shingle roof, you need to consider the durability of each material. In many ways, cedar comes out the winner because of its natural solid properties.

1. The Durability of Cedar

Cedar is resilient in the face of inclement weather and the elements. Just like cedar trees stand tall and straight winter after winter, cedar shingles withstand many years of abuse in some of the coldest climates.

Note that cedar shingles can develop mold growth if the raw wood is subject to constant water exposure. Fortunately, this can be avoided for the natural lifespan of a cedar roof as long as the shingles are treated for water resistance. For maximum life, the roof needs to have a working drainage system and be free of overhanging branches.

2. The Durability of Asphalt

Asphalt is popular for its relatively low cost and durability, but the latter quality pales when compared to cedar. The shorter lifespan of asphalt shingles can largely be attributed to the durability issue.

Asphalt roofs are generally less resilient in the face of harsh weather than cedar shingles. Water can also have its effect on asphalt, which is subject to algae growth. If not removed, the problem could make your house less attractive to prospective buyers if you decide to sell the house without replacing the roof beforehand.

Cleanliness

To ensure that a cedar roof or asphalt roof reaches its full life expectancy, clean the shingles on a periodic basis. As a homeowner, you should work regular cleanings into your annual budget.

1. Cleaning a Cedar Roof

As long as the cedar is properly treated before installation, the shingles should remain in good shape for several years between cleaning cycles. The main things that need to be examined twice yearly are the gutters, drains and nearby tree growth. If there is any blockage along the drainage system, clear it immediately, as this could prevent rainwater from draining the roof and lead to mold on the shingles and saturation under the roofing.

2. Cleaning an Asphalt Roof

Asphalt is likelier to serve as a breeding ground for algae, which can spread quickly and ruin the appearance of an asphalt roof. If algae takes hold, have the roof cleaned by a professional, preferably before the rainy seasons begins.

An asphalt roof also needs to be clear of overhang, as this can expose the roof to dripping water, which facilitates the growth and spread of algae. Again, make sure the gutters and drains remain free-flowing to prevent water from lingering on the roof and ultimately making its way through the shingles and into the underlying structure.

Flammability

As with all the components that comprise the structure of a residential property, fire resistance should be a top priority when you choose a type of roofing shingles for your house. Even though residential fires rarely begin on the roof of a house, cedar can either make or break an inferno, depending on the type and quality of the shingles. Fortunately, both cedar roof and asphalt roof shingles can help prevent the development and spread of flames.

1. Fireproof Quality of Cedar Shingles

When it comes to the prevention of fires, cedar must be treated with flame retardants before installation. Otherwise, the lumber could be as vulnerable as any wood to fire ignition.

Fire-proofing does make the difference between high quality and low-quality cedar shingles. The chemical preservatives in a fire-proofed set of cedar shingles can help slow flames and give rescue crews enough time to extinguish a fire, whether the flames start inside the attic or are passed over from a nearby tree.

2. Fireproof Quality of Asphalt Shingles

In terms of fire resistance, asphalt is one of the safer types of roofing material. Asphalt can inhibit the spread of flames from within and outside a residential property and even withstand the effects of blowing embers. For these reasons, asphalt roofing is allowed in select urban quarters where wood shingles are prohibited due to fire-safety concerns.

Asphalt shingles will not prevent a fire from spreading inside a house. For an asphalt roof to give way, however, there would have to be an inferno inside.

Wind and Impact Resistance

Depending on the inclement weather patterns in your area, wind resistance might be one of your primary concerns as a homeowner. For homes in the northeast, it is critical for a roof to withstand the impacts of blizzard-like winds. Cedar shingles are among the best of roofing choices in this regard.

1. Weather Resistance of Cedar Shingles

Cedar is one of the most wind-resistant materials for roofing on the market. Shingles made of cedar can withstand wind gusts of up to 173 miles per hour, while shakes made of cedar can handle wind blasts as high as 245 miles per hour.

Granted, these are unrealistic speeds and beyond the concern of any homeowner, but the figures show that even the most violent of storms are no match for cedar roofs. If weather patterns have been particularly volatile in your area during winter months, nearby trees and surrounding fences are likelier to incur damage than a cedar roof.

2. Weather Resistance of Asphalt Shingles

When it comes to wind resistance, asphalt shingles pale in comparison to cedar shingles and shakes. Whereas cedar withstands the most extreme possible wind blasts, passing wind currents often pick off asphalt shingles. If a blizzard or hurricane passes through your area, chances are some of the more damaged residential roofs will feature asphalt shingles.

Maintenance

For a cedar roof or asphalt roof to last its full lifespan, maintenance must be performed on a periodic or as-needed basis. Both types of roofing could be compromised if certain conditions are allowed to persist.

1. Maintenance for Cedar Shingles

When tree-branch overhang is allowed to fester, a roof is more easily exposed to foliage, fallen pinecones, rodents and insects. These activities can leave shingles vulnerable to saturation, mold and infestation, all of which compromise a roof's structural integrity. If a branch falls onto the roof, the impact can damage cedar shingles.

For cedar shingles to remain in optimal condition, the branches of nearby trees must be trimmed away from the roof. If a nearby tree has long branches, they should never be allowed to grow over any part of the rooftop. Ideally, no tree should be within six feet of a house.

2. Maintenance for Asphalt Shingles

Tree overhang poses much the same threat to asphalt shingles as it does to cedar. A fallen branch could easily cause chips and cracks in an asphalt roof, which could also be vulnerable to saturation due to foliage buildup. If the asphalt absorbs rather than drains rainwater, algae if liable to form and spread.

Though algae won't actually damage an asphalt roof, it can cause the shingles to curl at the edges. This, in turn, can render the shingles even weaker in the face of windstorms. To remove algae, spray-wash an asphalt roof with a water/chlorine mixture at low pressure.

Property Valuations and Curb Appeal

To get the best return on investment from a new roof, it will need to boost the value and curb appeal of your home. In this regard, cedar is the far preferable option to asphalt. With cedar shingles, roofs tend to be viewed more favorably by onlookers.

1. Cedar and Valuation

A cedar roof can add value to a home. As one of the most ageless of roofing types, cedar is featured on many classic homes throughout the U.S., particularly in older neighborhoods along the northeast. For just about anyone in the market for a traditional home, cedar is the natural choice in roofing. If you already live in a classic home, a cedar roof could be your only option, as only cedar will retain the home's architectural integrity.

2. Asphalt and Valuation

An asphalt roof is not likely to add value to a home. If you replace an old cedar roof with asphalt shingles, the change could easily lower the market value of your property. If you live in a historic home or district, you might be prohibited from switching from cedar to asphalt.

Get Shingle Maintenance and Repairs from Cedar Roof Coatings

To keep your cedar roof in optimal condition for 30 or more years, have your shingles inspected from time to time and repaired when necessary. At Cedar Roof Coatings, our team of roofing professionals has serviced and repaired cedar roofs in Fairfield County, Conn., and Westchester County, N.Y., for the last 35 years. Contact us today for more information on what we can do for your cedar roof.


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