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What is a Cedar Shake Roof? (7 Things to Know Before Investing In One)

March 4th, 2024 | 7 min. read

What is a Cedar Shake Roof? (7 Things to Know Before Investing In One)

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Cedar shake roofing is a popular option for homeowners who want one of the best-looking roof systems on the market. But the truth is, it’s not a right fit for most budgets or situations. 

That’s why there’s a lot to learn if you’re interested in a cedar shake roof before investing in one. The best place to start is simply with what it is. 

At Bill Ragan Roofing, we believe in being transparent on all things roofing so homeowners can make the right decisions on their own. That’s why I’ll use my 30-plus years in the roofing industry to break down what you need to know about cedar shake roofing. 

By the end of this article, you’ll know what a cedar shake roof is and the 7 things you need to know about it before investing in one. 

What is a cedar shake roof?

A cedar shake roof is a premium roof system made of natural wooden (cedar) shingles (or shakes) and other roofing components. The cedar shingles are made from trees from the Northwest United States or Southwest Canada. 

cedar shake roof

Each tree is cut into 2-foot sections before hand splitting them or sawing them into a tapered thickness (tapersawn). The hand split method provides a rugged, rustic look, while tapersawn is a much smoother and uniform look. 

Usually, the shingles are made to order, which means they aren’t split or sawed until an order is placed. Because of this, most cedar shake manufacturers don’t keep stockpiles of the shingles.

Depending on the suppliers in your area, it could take up to 3 to 8 weeks to get all the materials for a cedar shake roof. 

7 things to know before investing in a cedar shake roof

Now that you know the simple definition of what a cedar shake roof is, let’s dig into specifics. After all, you need much more information to decide if it’s the right roofing material for you. 

Below are the 7 things you need to consider before investing in a cedar shake roof.

1. The 3 grades of cedar shake shingles 

There are three grades of cedar shakes that vary by quality: common, select, and 100% straight grain. Common cedar shakes are basically the leftovers of other cuts, making them the cheapest and most inferior grade.

Select cedar shakes are a mix of the other grades, around 80% straight grain and 20% common. They’re called “select” because your roofer goes through them to select the best quality cedar shingles to install. 

100% straight grain cedar shakes are the highest quality and best cut, but also the most expensive. Each one is hand-selected and straight-grained, which ensures they lay flat and helps prevent curling as they age.

2. A cedar shake roof won’t keep the fresh look forever

A cedar shake roof has one of the highest curb appeal in the residential roofing industry. Unfortunately, some homeowners don’t consider that the cedar shake shingles won’t keep their original color forever. 

freshly installed cedar shake shingles compared to aged cedar shake shingles(Freshly installed cedar shake shingles compared to aged cedar shake shingles)

Instead of the original bright coloration, wear and tear turns a cedar shake roof into a darkish brown instead. Luckily, an aged cedar shake roof still provides high curb appeal on cottage, brick, and stone homes.

However, you should move on to another roofing material if you don’t like the aged look. 

3. Your area needs the right climate for a cedar shake roof

Even if you want a cedar shake roof, your area needs the right climate to truly get the most out of it. Cedar shake shingles don’t last as long in a very moist or dry climate, so your area needs to be somewhere between. 

dried out cedar shake shingles that are curling

In extreme heat, the cedar will dry out and split or crack. In a very humid climate, the shingles can absorb and hold excess moisture, which shortens their lifespan. 

Our area in Nashville, Tennessee, is great for a cedar shake roof. But I wouldn't recommend it if you live in an area with either of these climates. 

4. How long a cedar shake roof lasts

Speaking of lifespan, you should expect to get as many years as possible with the investment a cedar shake roof requires. As long as it’s properly installed and with routine maintenance, a cedar shake roof should last 30 years. 

If you invest in quality materials and live in an area with the right conditions, you could possibly get up to 50 years out of it. Also, keep in mind that the grade you choose has a big impact on the lifespan. 

A cedar shake roof with 100% straight grain grade shingles will always last longer than one with inferior cuts. 

5. The warranties that come with a cedar shake roof

Roof replacements come with two types of warranties, one from the roofing contractor on their workmanship and another from the manufacturer of your roofing materials.

Because cedar shake shingles are naturally made, there’s usually no manufacturer warranty on the materials. Keep in mind that this can vary by location and the specific manufacturer. 

But most of the time, you’ll have to rely on your roofing contractor’s workmanship warranty for any problems with your cedar shake roof. That’s why it’s crucial to hire a local roofing contractor with cedar shake installation experience and who stands behind their work for at least 10 years. 

6. A cedar shake roof needs routine roof maintenance

As I mentioned earlier, routine roof maintenance helps you get the most life out of your cedar shake roof. Whether it’s once or twice a year, maintenance keeps your roof running smoothly by catching and fixing potential problems before a leak happens.

This is also the perfect opportunity to clear your roof of sitting wet debris that shortens the lifespan of the cedar shake shingles. And after every inspection, you’ll know its condition, how it’s performing, and if any issues need to be addressed.

That’s why I recommend getting your cedar shake roof maintained at least once a year.  

7. How much does a cedar shake roof cost?

For tear-off and installation, a cedar shake roof costs around $25.00 to $30.00 per square foot. Cedar shakes and the labor (and time) required to install them are very expensive, plus metal flashing is needed in valleys because the wood can’t fold to form a watertight seal. 

copper flashing in a cedar shake roof valley(Copper flashing in a cedar shake roof valley)

However, there are also other cost factors based on your roof and the specific roofing contractor you hire, such as:

At the end of the day, a cedar shake roof is one of the most expensive materials in residential roofing. However, you won’t know how much your cedar shake roof will cost until after getting an estimate from a local roofer

How does natural cedar shake compare to synthetic cedar shake?

Now you know what a cedar shake roof is and pretty much everything you need to know to decide if it’s the right roofing material for you. Unfortunately, it comes at a price most homeowners can’t afford.

But if you have the budget, it’s one of the best-looking roof systems you’ll see. Just remember that the “fresh” color won’t stay forever. 

If the price scared you away from cedar shake roofing, there’s still hope. Synthetic shingles are a cheaper material that provides the cedar shake roof look but without some of the drawbacks. 

To continue helping you find the right roofing material, I wrote another article comparing natural cedar shake roofing to synthetic cedar shake roofing on key decision-making factors. 

Check out Natural Cedar Shake vs. Synthetic Cedar Shake: Which is Right for You to learn if synthetic shingles are a better alternative for your situation.

roofing material quiz


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