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Cedar Shake Roof: Why You’ll Want One and Why You Won’t

A simple guide to help you decide

cedar shake roof

If you are re-roofing your home or commercial or industrial property, then the type of roofing system you choose is of paramount importance.

It should be both elegant and durable, and fit the style of the building as well as the types of weather conditions that it is likely to be exposed to, which of course will vary depending on your location.

While your roofing choice depends on many things including your local weather, the building itself, and the style you desire, you should consider a cedar shake roof or cedar shake shingles if those make sense for your environment.

It’s important to understand the fundamentals of cedar shake roofing and cedar shake shingles, which are two similar but fundamentally different roofing products.

For instance, cedar wood shingles are sawn on both sides, while cedar wood shake shingles are split on one or both sides.

Cedar wood shingles are also generally more precisely milled than cedar shake siding, resulting in what is often considered to be a more durable and elegant roof or siding solution.

cedar shake siding

The Difference Between Cedar Shakes and Cedar Shingles

These are similar wood siding products, but there are different reasons to use each. Shingles are sawn on both sides, while shakes are split on one or both sides.

Wood shakes are split from logs (literally logs cut and split in half down the middle) and usually have a rough-hewn effect, and they have been used as a roofing material for centuries.

There are two types of shakes, hand split, which is more traditional in appearance, and tapersawn which is a bit sleeker and more modern.

Since they are split directly from logs, shakes are also thicker and more irregularly shaped and don’t lay as close to each other once installed on a building, while shingles are thinner, more precisely milled and fit closely together.

Both provide a unique look, with shakes being thicker and most rustic-seeming, while shingles are considered more elegant and refined.

Why People Choose Cedar Roofing

Cedar is one of the most popular materials for both kinds of wooden roofing, with red cedar and white cedar being preferred for different reasons.

Both kinds can be treated to be fire-retardant and other chemical preservatives can be used; as always, see what types of treatments are available and find a roofing contractor who specialize in roofing systems in your area and its particular climate recommend.

Red cedar roofs are typically higher price due to its significant natural advantages, including the fact that it contains tannic acid, a natural preservative.

People also tend to enjoy the rich reddish hue of western red cedar.

shake shingles

Silvery white cedar is also considered a wise investment and an attractive choice, with natural decay resistance and generally will not splinter under stress.

All of these types of cedar roofing systems can be stained (but still allowing the natural texture and grain of the wood to peek through) and otherwise customized to meet your needs and design desires.

Compared to similar options like asphalt roofing, cedar is generally considered the more attractive aesthetic choice and in some cases with older properties, the more historically accurate one.

If you live in an area with lots of cedar roofs, there are typically roofing contractors that specialize in the maintenance and restoration of these types of roofs, and that’s definitely something to consider before installing one or buying a property with an existing cedar roof, since they are beautiful but fairly high maintenance.

Pros and Cons of a Cedar Roof

The durability, longevity, resistance to rot and insects, energy efficiency, natural insulation capabilities, and the naturally beautiful appearance of a cedar roof all means they hold a great deal of appeal to property owners.

Accordingly, cedar roofs tend provide a good long-term value and return on investment due to the aforementioned properties.

Chemically treated wooden roofs can last up to 30 years, depending on factors including the quality of the installation and materials, attention to maintenance, age of the rest of the structure, things like overhanging trees that drip sap onto the roof, the local climate, and even surrounding traffic.

Cedar roofing will also take well to topical treatments like water repellents and ultraviolet inhibitors that will help the roofing keep its original finishes.

What’s more, if individual cedar shakes and shingles need to be replaced, the initial look can often be duplicated.

Keep in mind that cedar shake and a wood shingle roof in general are particularly susceptible to damp environments with large amounts of rain and the associated mildew and mold.

Some buildings or areas prone to wildfires may have fire codes that don’t allow for wooden roofs, in these cases a metal roofing system may be the best option.

However, if cedar roofs are permitted in your area, having your roof treated with a topical fire retardant (which should not affect the appearance of the roof) and getting it inspected regularly should help reduce the overall risk.

As always, ensure that you have the appropriate insurance and speak to your public adjuster if you have any questions – before disaster has a chance to strike.

Cedar roofing systems are a winner when it comes to wind resistance and impact resistance, however, cedar roofs have been shown to stay intact in over 200 mph winds and they are more likely than other types of materials to withstand the impact of falling branches and other debris.

cedar shakes

Installing and Maintaining A Cedar Roof

However, cedar roofing systems are expensive compared to the common alternatives and require a fairly significant maintenance program to keep them in proper shape – something to budget for when you are estimating the cost for a new roof and the corresponding insurance that you will require.

For instance, this type of roofing requires regular cleaning of the gutters and proper ventilation around the shingles or shakes to maintain air flow, powerwashing to keep their original appearance, and similar services performed by professionals as amateurs can easily destroy the finish of a roof or otherwise damage it further, reducing the value of your investment or even destroying it all together.

If they are poorly maintained they can burn easily, and will likely suffer significant damage during natural disasters like hurricanes or tornados. Even the smallest hailstorms can cause long-term significant roof hail damage.

They also need to be serviced at least once every ten years, and obviously if a significant disaster or other major damage occurs.

And if a disaster does, your public adjuster should be the first person you call (after you’ve made sure everyone is safe and you’ve taken some basic steps to secure the property of course), not your insurance company or a contractor to perform roof repairs.

Installation costs can also be pretty significant as opposed to other roofing options, plus you’ll need a cedar roof contractor with experience installing these types of materials.

wood shake roof

What to Do If Your Cedar Roof Gets Damaged?

If you have a cedar roofing system installed on your property and it gets damaged through a natural disaster or similar act of God (such as a tree falling on the roof), it’s essential to reach out to your public adjuster before filing your roof damage insurance claim.

A public adjuster can help you get the payout you deserve and the team in place to restore your cedar shake or shingle roof to its former glory if it’s salvageable or work with the proper contractors to replace it if it’s not.

The costs of insuring and maintaining a cedar roof can be extensive; however, replacing a cedar roof with an asphalt roof or metal roof can significantly lower the property’s value.

Keep in mind that if your building is located in a historic district where most of the properties have cedar roofs, you may be required to maintain the same style and replace your cedar roof if it experiences extensive damage.

Document Everything and Thank Yourself Later

One more thing to consider is that no matter which type of roofing system you choose for your property (or that you happen to acquire based on the previous owner’s decisions), you should document the condition of the roof from the beginning, and regularly update that documentation.

That’s because if a natural disaster or accident of some kind happens, you have proof of the prior condition of your cedar shake or shingle roof, which will make your upcoming insurance claim much easier to process. You will thank yourself – and so will your public adjuster.

Getting a new roof installed is a major investment, especially in the case of cedar shake or shingle roofing systems which require significant maintenance over the course of their existence, which can extend for several decades.

Which is why working with your public adjuster in advance and getting all your questions answered before you write that first check to a contractor is essential.

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