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Are Cedar Shingles Really Eco-Friendly?

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

Sustainability has become a top priority for many consumers. Homeowners want to do their part to help restore a healthier natural environment. Sustainability concerns are important to consider when designing, upgrading or maintaining your home's elements. The roof is no exception. Eco-friendly roofing materials, such as cedar, can make your home more sustainable in multiple ways. Green roof options involve ethical sourcing and safe manufacture. They also result in more effective, longer-lasting roofs, which save energy in the long-term.

A cedar roof has several positive effects on the environment, which we'll discuss throughout this piece. If you're looking for an environmentally friendly, beautiful and reliable roof material, cedar is a great choice. As a natural, renewable resource, cedar is a sustainable building material for roofs and other applications. It's easy to maintain, as well — for cedar roof inspections or repairs, you can rely on Cedar Roof Coatings. This guide covers everything you need to know about cedar shingles — their history, sourcing, environmental impact and initiatives for improved sustainability.

Historic Uses of Cedar

Cedar has a rich history of uses spanning thousands of years. Its durability, humidity- and insect-resistance, fragrance and beauty have made it a popular building material since the dawn of written history. Ancient Asian and North American people used cedar to construct their houses, temples and ships, relying on the wood for every aspect of society. Egyptians used cedar to create paper and repel insects during embalming. Cedar has helped propel cultures' architectural and intellectual progress. It holds both practical and cultural importance.

Cedar's Cultural Importance

Though cedar has always served practical purposes, it also holds great religious and spiritual significance for many cultures across the globe. Over several centuries, cedar has played a vital role in spiritual and religious activities.

Mentions of cedar are quite common in the Bible's Old Testament, placing cedar in a place of reverence for various religious groups. Even the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known piece of literature, references "the cedars of Lebanon," a cedar species native to the Eastern Mediterranean basin. Trees of this cedar species are sometimes called the "Cedars of God" because of their rich religious history. This sense of spiritual significance has manifested in many ways.

Ancient Nordic people used cedar to connect with their god, Odin. Some Native North Americans used cedar lumber to create sacred and ceremonial objects. Tibetan and Nepalese people continue to use Himalayan cedar as incense and a meditation aid, enjoying the wood's signature fragrance. These are only a few examples — many ancient and modern groups consider cedar an integral part of their culture.

As you can see, cedar is more than your everyday building material. It serves spiritual as well as practical purposes, transcending the barriers of religion and geography. Across the globe, cedar has been an important material for many centuries.

History of Cedar Shingles

Since the days of early colonial America, cedar has been a popular choice for both home and public building roofs. Historic homes in North America often feature Northern White Cedar roofs. Some were later covered with asphalt shingles for better fire resistance in homes with coal-burning furnaces. However, asphalt shingles are much less environmentally friendly than those made of wood.

With modern heating technology, homes with wood roofs no longer present a fire hazard. Today, many homeowners seek to repair and maintain their cedar roofs for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Historic preservation often involves restoring a cedar roof. If your home has a cedar roof, consider repairing it instead of replacing it.

Why Is Cedar So Popular?

Several reasons explain cedar's popularity. For one thing, cedar is beautiful. It has a rich, full color. With exposed weathering, its color can change from reddish-brown to silvery grey, which is still appealing. However, modern staining will help preserve the original hue.

In addition to its beauty, cedar is stable and strong, with properties allowing it to stand up against nature. It's resistant to decay, bugs and humidity. This is why it was so popular in ancient times and why it makes an effective material for boats and roofs alike. Repelling bugs and humidity is a relevant concern for many projects — cedar often lined the inside of linen closets to keep moths away.

Cedar is versatile and has many different applications in home and furniture building. Its high tolerance against the elements makes it a great choice for external building parts, such as roofs. Year after year, well-treated and well-maintained cedar will offer continued protection and beauty to any home.

Sourcing Cedar for Roofs

Cedar trees are coniferous and native to the western Himalayas and the Mediterranean. They're evergreen, growing leaves all year long in mild to moderate climates — anywhere the weather is right, you'll likely find a species of cedar. Several North American varieties are scattered throughout the continent. The Western Red Cedar grows from southern Alaska to northern California and is a popular choice for shingles and other outdoor structures.

Other cedar species are also great lumber choices. The Northern White Cedar grows throughout eastern North America, as does the Eastern Red Cedar. Yellow cedar grows in Alaska and surrounding areas, while Spanish cedar grows in Central and South America. Cedar lumber, depending on the species variety, can come from many different regions, several of which are domestic.

Cedar Harvesting Environmental Impact

If you appreciate cedar's qualities, you'll be glad to learn building with cedar can have a positive environmental impact. Manufacturing wood, in general, releases far fewer greenhouse gases than manufacturing human-made building products. Wood is a renewable, recyclable and biodegradable material. In fact, wood products are the only completely renewable widespread building material. You can reclaim and repurpose wood several times over, but cedar's durability and rot-resistance help it last a long time in its initial application.

As long as the wood comes from a sustainable and responsible forest-management program, cedar is one of the greenest roofing options available. Using cedar in place of concrete, vinyl or steel may help mitigate climate change. Large-scale wood sourcing can help reverse greenhouse gas buildup by supporting forests' young trees.

Young vs. Old Forests

You might associate tree-cutting with deforestation, which debilitates ecosystems. It's true that irresponsible, unmanaged wood sourcing can hurt the environment and drive species toward extinction. However, responsible tree harvesting is more effective in the fight against climate change than leaving forests untouched. Young trees, replacing those that are cut, absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen more rapidly than their full-grown neighbors.

Young to mid-age forests absorb more carbon dioxide than they release, soaking up the element to support their growth. In older forests, tall, full-grown trees outcompete younger ones. Old forests maintain a lower carbon capture than younger forests. As old trees die and decompose, they re-release carbon back into the atmosphere. This is why harvesting mature trees is better for the environment than allowing them to die in the forest.

Keeping forests skewed younger helps stop climate change and promotes a natural system of carbon dioxide absorption. In other words, using and replacing older trees has an overall positive influence environmental influence. Employing wood as a building material, especially a readily available wood species like cedar, is an environmentally conscious choice. If you're looking for sustainable shingles, you might consider cedar.

Responsible Sourcing Helps the Environment

Using cedar can help decrease greenhouse gases and reduce landfill waste. Restoring or repairing a cedar roof is a better option than replacing it with a human-made alternative. Keep in mind that not all wood-sourcing is beneficial — wood sourcing has to take place under the guidance and instruction of a forest protection organization. When old trees are cut, young trees must take their place to continue the carbon dioxide absorption cycle. Clear-cutting forests with no intent to replace trees does not support environmental efforts.

Initiatives for Sustainable Roofing Materials

Sustainable wood sourcing initiatives are necessary for preserving the world's forests and restoring the environment. As you shop different types of wood shingles, look for environmental protection program certifications and awards. These programs seek to maintain and protect forests by supporting responsible wood sourcing and tree replacement. One such organization is the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)

The PEFC is a non-profit, non-government organization that uses third-party certification to support sustainable forest management. It's the largest forest certification system in the world, maintaining over 300 million hectares of certified forests through 40 national certification systems. The PEFC promotes best forest practices for sourcing lumber and non-lumber products. Its third-party assessment process contains consistent benchmarks for ecological, social and ethical standards. It offers certification to family- and community-owned forests as well as lumber sourcing companies.

Following PEFC guidelines ensures sustainable, ethical lumber sourcing. The PEFC updates these guidelines regularly to keep up with changing needs. Several of the world's nations use PEFC standards for their lumber procurement policies, including the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany. With its stringent set of requirements, the PEFC tracks forest products from their origin to their consumers.

If you're concerned about sustainability, buy wood products from PEFC-certified forests. This assures that the wood products are from well-managed forests, meeting strict social and environmental guidelines. Earned labels like these provide peace of mind for ethical consumers.

Cedar Roof Sustainability: From Tree to Shingle

As long as cedar lumber results from responsible forest management, cedar can be one of the most sustainable building materials on the market. Its origin, manufacture, placement, repair and eventual reuse or disposal create a complete, sustainable life cycle. Homeowners who wish to support environmentalism will see cedar's many benefits.

1. Sustainable Sourcing

Cutting down aged cedar trees ensures stored carbon dioxide, which would release back into the atmosphere with the natural death of the tree. It also helps skew forests younger, which promotes ample carbon dioxide absorption. Cedar from PEFC-certified forests helps stop climate change and promote healthy, young forests.

2. Sustainable Manufacture

The next step, manufacturing cedar shingles, requires much less fossil fuel emission than creating other roof materials. Synthetic roof materials have to undergo intense manufacturing processes, producing mass amounts of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, creating cedar shingles involves little more than cutting and treating the natural resource.

3. Sustainable Use

Cedar shingles are also lighter weight than other roof materials, which means transportation takes less energy and results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Once installed, cedar roofs are effective, durable and long-lasting — all qualities that contribute to positive environmental impact. Cedar's powerful insulating effect reduces how much homeowners have to use artificial heating and cooling. Its resistance to the elements means it has a long life span. Other roof materials call for more frequent repair and replacement, which has a taxing effect on the environment.

4. Sustainable Reuse

Wood is one of the most recyclable materials on Earth. When wood shingles need replacing, the lumber has not reached the end of its usable life cycle. Recycled shingles made from cedar can serve other purposes. Extending material life cycles is one of the most important ways to support sustainability.

Recycled wood can serve many purposes. It can become new building material, mulch for landscaping projects, pulp for paper or stripped of its paint and used as fuel. Woodworking is one of the oldest trades, with millennia of useful knowledge.

5. Sustainable Disposal

Disposing of wood will not harm the environment like disposing of other materials. Wood is biodegradable, meaning it will decompose rather than taking up space in a landfill for decades. As it breaks down, it does not release harmful toxins in the air or harm wildlife. Wood decomposing is a natural process that supports life, offering nutrients to the soil for new plant growth.

Cedar Shingles Are an Eco-Friendly Choice

Compared to synthetic roofing materials, cedar shingles have long lifespans and better disposal options. The entire life cycle of cedar as a roofing material is eco-friendly, including sourcing, manufacture, use, reuse and disposal. With ethical, well-maintained lumber sourcing, wood is the best building material for an eco-friendly home.

Cedar is longer-lasting and stronger than most other wood species, which makes it even more environmentally friendly. If you're looking to make your home more sustainable and reduce your carbon footprint, maintaining a cedar roof is a better choice than replacing it with a synthetic alternative.

Contact Cedar Roof Coatings for Cedar Roof Maintenance

Cedar roofs are among the best choices for environmental sustainability. Regular roof inspection and maintenance ensure a cedar roof's soundness for many years to come. Historic cedar roofs might need some attention after decades of protecting a home. For cedar roof treatment and maintenance, consider Cedar Roof Coatings.

At Cedar Roof Coatings, we offer professional cedar roof inspection, repair and maintenance. We use only the best-quality finish products to extend the lifespan of your cedar shakes and shingles. We can minimize splitting, erosion, water absorption and mold damage. We'll help your cedar roof stay as beautiful and strong as the day of its installation. We understand that no two cedar roofs are the same, and we have the expertise needed to keep your roof in top shape. For more information about cedar roof services, contact us today.

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