How To: Care for Cedar Shingles

By Scott Sidler November 6, 2017

wood shinglesIf you’ve got cedar shakes or shingles on your old house you need to know how to care for them to make them last. Learning how to care for cedar shingles, whether they are installed as siding or roofing, is not particularly difficult.

Before you give in and paint your shingles, realize that cedar shingles can last decades with virtually no maintenance. But a little maintenance can keep them looking great and extend their life even further.

Step 1 Clean Shingles

Whether they’re on your roof or wall your shingles may develop mildew or algae and will most certainly weather to a silver/grey appearance after years of exposure. Cleaning away the age is the first step in caring for cedar shingles.

The Cedar Bureau recommends using a solution of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water. Apply it with a pump sprayer let it sit for about 15 minutes before rinsing it off with with a garden hose. Be sure to keep the hose pointed downward to avoid forcing water up behind the shingles.

You should find that this removes the mildew and algae and returns the shingles to a nice tan color rather than the weathered grey they were. If you find that there is still some remaining dirt or growth that remains you can use a nylon bristle brush to scrub the surface.

You want to avoid pressure washing shingles at all costs. Pressure washing can remove wood fibers thinning the wood and shortening the life of the shingles. Not only that, but it forces water into the places where it doesn’t belong possibly causing rot and mold. Read 4 Reasons You Should Never Pressure Wash Your House.

Step 2 Refinish Shingles

After the wood has dried (normally 2–4 days), you can let the wood age naturally or apply an oil-based semitransparent stain. Staining the shingles on a regular basis will help them maintain their color and last longer. Oil-based stains are my preference for wood products in general because the oil penetrates deeper and rejuvenates the wood better compared to water-based stains.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for application, which usually includes recommendations for the proper wood moisture content and ambient temperature at the time of application. In general, finishes should not be applied to wood having a moisture content above 15%. You can use an inexpensive moisture meter to test the content.

The temperature during application and for 24 hours following application should be above 50° F, depending on the manufacturer. That applies not just to the air temperature but to the surface temperature of the shingles themselves.

Using a pump sprayer and a 4″ or 5″ paint brush you can cover a wide area by spraying and then back brushing the surface to work the stain into the wood. Give it at least 24 hrs drying time before further handling.

Step 3 Repeat

While shingles can be left bare to age gracefully, regular cleaning and refinishing is key to keeping wood shingles looking great and lasting for decades. Depending on the exposure and your climate a good cleaning every few years is usually called for since semitransparent stains require regular renewal.

In the end, it’s up to you whether you’re happy with silver weathered shingles or you want to maintain the original color of your shingle siding or roof. Maintaining the color takes some work, but it will extend their life over shingles left alone. The question is, “how do you like your shingles?”

Share Away!

7 thoughts on “How To: Care for Cedar Shingles”

  1. I am surprised that this post does not cover the difference between white and red cedar shingles. Is the default assumption red cedar because of your locale? In New England, especially near the coast, white cedar is often the choice for walls. Near our coast, red cedar shingles turn black and blotchy unless carefully maintained. Many choose to leave white cedar shingles completely untreated and let them age to a nice silver. They will likely not last as long as stained/maintained shingles, but when done right and with appropriate roof overhangs, they still last a long time. Another consideration for many of us is that its a local product milled from sustainable forests. Ours come from a small family operation that mills from whole trees, and has a big dog that rides around on the forklift. You don’t see that at Home Depot!
    And thanks for the anti-pressure washing stance – what a terrible say to clean a house.

  2. Thank you! One of these days I’m going to redo the siding on my 1916 (stone first floor) Craftsman, and cedar shingles are high on my list. BUT, I’ve been curious about the maintenance. This answers a lot of my questions!

  3. I think that I will need to replace the cedar shingles. My house is a 1930’s cape cod style house. What do you recommend for a roof that will stay somewhat true to the period.

Leave a comment!

Keep the conversation going! Your email address will not be published.

*