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History of Cedar Roofing in North America


Residential home with a cedar roof

Since pre-colonial times, people have valued cedar wood. It's known for its beauty, resilience, hardness and fragrance. Native Americans used Western Red Cedar wood in religious and cultural ceremonies, canoe building and constructing plank houses. As a historic roofing material, cedar roofs originated as the primary roof type in North America during the 19th century.


Cedar Wood in Pre-Colonial North America


Western Red Cedar trees are large conifers that grow in moist forests in the Pacific Northwest and Oregon. These trees prefer cool, shady habitats like wet bottomlands, streams, seeps and bogs. In pre-colonial times, these trees were vital to Native American communities.


Native American tribes used cedar wood for creating objects such as ceremonial headdresses, dishes, rattles, storage boxes, canoes, houses and coffins. They used the bark to make clothes, mats and baskets, and the aromatic foliage to treat ailments like nausea, rheumatism, venereal sores and colds.


The Cherokee people have a legend about cedar trees. According to the legend, the people asked the Creator to make it day all the time. When the Creator complied, the forest grew so thick it was difficult to walk and find the path. People toiled for many hours in the heat, pulling weeds from their gardens.


As a result, the Cherokee people realized they had made a mistake. They asked the Creator to switch it so it was only night. When the Creator made it night all the time, the crops died and it became cold. The people spent most of their time collecting firewood. Because it was dark, they could not see to hunt, and it wasn't long before they were cold, hungry and weak. Many people died. Those who survived beseeched the Creator for forgiveness and asked that he make it day and night again.


Once the Creator restored balance, the crops grew, the game was plentiful, sickness dwindled and the weather was pleasant. Life was good, but since many people died during the long nights, the Creator formed the cedar tree and placed their spirits inside. It is said that the wood of cedar trees houses powerful protective spirits. Thus, many Cherokee carry a small piece of cedar wood in their medicine bags for protection and to honor their ancestors.


Aged cedar wood with a gray texture

Colonial Settlers and the Origins of Cedar Roofs


During colonial times, early settlers were drawn to the lush forests of pine, maple, beech and oak trees. The colonists used these trees to build tools and homes. They prized red cedar for cabins.


The history of roofing saw colonists making roofs with thatch in the 17th century. These roofs couldn't handle the weather conditions, so the colonists began building roofing, framing and sheathing systems with materials imported from England. Even though some historic roof shingles were wooden, most colonists used slate or tile.


As time went on, wood replaced the old roofing materials that were heavy and more difficult to work. Since timber was abundant in North America, the roof framing systems changed and wood shingles became the primary roofing material.


Wooden shingles were more lightweight than slate and tile, easy to install and producible using simple tools. These wooden shingles were made from the most common wood species regionally available, such as pine, cedar, redwood, oak and cypress. In studying the roofing background of the Western Red Cedar, records note that early colonists valued red cedar shingles for their beauty and resilience against poor weather.


Cedar Roofing in the 18th and 19th Centuries


Before the 18th century, colonists didn't coat wooden roofs to protect them from age and the weather. However, during the 18th century, they began to use linseed oil, pine pitch and brick dust as roof coatings. The colonists also began to treat the roof with colors like gray, red and brown for aesthetic purposes. Untreated wood shingles remained naturally gray or light brown.


Additionally, during the 18th century, roof sheathing transitioned to a horizontal application. The horizontal sheathing boards provided natural ventilation to the wooden shingles' undersides.


The 19th century marks a pivotal turn in the historical background of cedar shingles. For the first time, cedar wood shakes and shingles became the primary roofing material for buildings and homes. For instance, numerous National Park buildings were constructed from cedar and had cedar shingle roofs. Cedar was most popular in the Western United States, where it was most abundant.


The colonists considered shingles decorative during the 19th century. They often used them as design elements for grand houses and cottages.


Cedar Roofs Today


While the history of cedar roofing is extensive, it continues into the 21st century. Cedar shingles and shakes are appropriate for 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st-century homes and buildings. Many homeowners value cedar roofs for their beauty, fragrance and resistance to pests, humidity and temperatures. In addition, cedar roofs can last up to 30 years with proper maintenance. Other benefits of cedar roofs include the following:

  • Durability: Wood shakes and shingles are resistant to wind.

  • Decay-resistant: Cedar shingles contain oils that naturally resist decay. The wood also allows air circulation on both sides of the shingles, preventing moisture that causes rot.

  • Lasting appeal: Many people find cedar even more attractive as it ages. Its color changes from warm and bright to a distinct gray or brown.

  • Individuality: No two shake roofs are the same due to the natural variations in the cedar trees and shingles.

  • Environmentally friendly: Wooden shingles are a natural product that you can recycle into mulch or chips after replacing a roof.

  • Energy efficiency: These shingles and shakes have natural insulation properties, which keep indoor temperatures moderate and comfortable despite how it feels outside.

  • Timeless visual appeal: Cedar roofs remain marketable and increase curb appeal, regardless of age or changes in your home's architecture.

  • Lightweight: As one of the more lightweight woods, cedar doesn't add excess weight to your home. That means you can replace a weaker roofing material with cedar without compromising your home's structural integrity.


Cedar roof services in Fairfield & Westchester counties

Contact Cedar Roof Coatings to Preserve Your Cedar Roof


When you have a cedar roof, you must maintain it to preserve its longevity and keep it looking as good as new. Routine maintenance includes inspections, repairs and preservation. Cedar Roof Coatings is the leading cedar roof repair, preservation and restoration company in Fairfield County. We do what's needed to retain your roof's appearance and make it last. One of the best ways to increase your roof's longevity is through preservation.


Preserving your cedar roof involves removing moss, mold, fungus, mildew and debris to restore its clean, natural appearance. Cedar Roof Coatings professionals then treat the wood to prevent UV damage, mold, mildew and fungus. This treatment adds years to your roof and keeps it looking its best. Browse our services or consult with us today to discuss your roofing needs.

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