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Ask The Craftsman: Wood Shingle Roofs Gone Forever?

Ask The Craftsman: Wood Shingle Roofs Gone Forever?This week’s question comes from Jeremy in Tampa, FL.

“Why does no one use legitimate cedar or wood shake shingles anymore?…didn’t some of the older houses begin that way?”

Good question Jeremy!

I love the look of wood shingle roofs and despite what a lot of folks might think wood shingle roofs can last just as long, if not longer, than asphalt shingles.

Shakes are hand-split shingles and regular shingles are saw-cut. Shakes are generally thicker and much more expensive than sawn singles because they can last longer and withstand the elements better.

Depending on materials, climate and installation a wood shingle roof can last 20-40 years comfortably while you’ll rarely get more than 25-30 years out of asphalt shingles.

Two Reason’s Wood Shingles Aren’t Used Anymore

First, they are more expensive. Wood is a finite resource and quality shingles have gotten more expensive as the decades have progressed.

Second, is the risk of fire. In Florida (which is the lightening capital of the world) a wood roof is a big fire hazard. Increased risk of fire means increased homeowner’s insurance costs, if they will even cover you at all.

Due to the fire risk a lot of local building codes won’t even allow wood shingle roofing as an option anymore.

Wood shingle roofs are still available, but due to their cost and dangers, they have generally fallen out of favor. Even if they are one of the most character rich roof coverings you can have.

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8 thoughts on “Ask The Craftsman: Wood Shingle Roofs Gone Forever?

  1. Hmmm, I was going to post a question on the forums…but I don’t see them.
    A repeat of the question/comment above. I have cedar shingles on the semi-round roof of a turret, that replaced asbestos tiles a few years ago.
    I am redoing the turret face (painted cedar shingles) including the trim around the windows and molding at the top of the wall. The cedar roof shingles sit directly on top of the molding (yellow pine?) overlapping at a sharp angle. The molding has some slightly rotted spots, but overall is in good shape. I plan to drill and infuse Abatron WoodEpox in the worst spots, but I think I need to do something to prevent perpetual wicking over the years. I am looking for someone with experience to give me a helpful tip. The options I can think of include:
    – a physical barrier between the shingles and molding (what?, stiff plastic makeshift?)
    – impregnate the entire molding with WoodEpox (lots of time and effort)
    – pry up the shingles a bit and put a bead of high quality caulk
    – pry up the shingles a bit and apply some brushable sealant (clear GeoCel, my go-to)
    – ???
    Thanks for any thoughts anyone can share.

    1. Mike, I took the forums down due to a lack of interest. Sorry about that. The bottom course of shingles should be left about 3/4 to 1″ above the roof. That way the water damage will be minimized. Also make sure there is the proper step flashing behind the wall shingles at that juncture.

      1. Thanks for the comment and the explanation about the forums.
        I don’t think I made myself clear on my question, or I don’t understand your response, one of the two.
        I’m not talking about how to deal with the wall of the turret abutting the adjacent roof. I’m talking about the roof of the turret being cedar shingles, with the bottom course of roof shingles resting directly on top of the molding/trim at the top of the wall that covers the base of the top course of shingles.
        I know the shingles should last 20 years or more (depending on who you talk to). What I am pondering is whether the wood trim under the bottom course of shingles will wick in water and be slower to dry than the shingles above, promoting rot,
        and if so, how would others minimize this problem.
        (Part of my effort is because previous workmen did not leave enough space between the bottom of the shingles and the roof as you said. Not only did that result in excess weathering of the [wall] shingles, but much debris was trapped at that angle, promoting failure of much of the flashing from rusting through [galvanized].

  2. When we bought our ~1895 Queen Anne it had the old asbestos tile for a roof. When we had it replaced I went with an architectural shingle that looked (a little) like slate, but was told that the dome shaped roof over the turret had skipped boards underneath and would need sheathing first, unless I wanted to go with cedar shingles (much of the walls are cedar shingles, painted, in various patterns). I had been thinking of doing a different shingle on the turret dome anyway as an accent, so we went with the cedar shingles.
    I’ve since wondered what I will do when the roof needs repair or replacing, as the fellow who did it is well into his 60’s and will one day make good on his threat to retire. He claims it will last past when he’s no longer around and that I may never have to face it, either.
    But I am scratching my head over what to do where the bottom shingles rest on the wood trim at the top of the turret wall (which I am repairing and repainting). While I know the cedar will dry after a rain, I’m a bit more concerned about the trim that will wick moisture in and be slower to dry. It’s in pretty good shape, but I know most of the last 120 years it was not in contact with wet shingles, but under water impenetrable shingles. I was thinking of putting some metal flashing between the two surfaces, and my roofer friend said to add some black felt between the wall and the metal flashing to limit condensation, but looking at it today, I realize anything I put there will be visible, sticking out under the roofing at the top of the wall.
    Maybe I will do a thorough impregnation with liquid epoxy and leave it at that.

  3. Some nice observations Scott. I’ve use vertical grained, older growth Western red cedar shingles on many of my historic property rehabilitations for 40 years. From the Rockies east to the Atlantic, fire hazards with wood roofs are mostly not an issue since folks quit using coal to heat their homes. In most of the region I described, insurance rates do not go up, cedar roofs meet code and add to the appraised value of a home. Yes, cedar shingle are more expensive but since they must be laid on skipped boards for ventilation, which most old houses dating before 1925 had, you save money by not having to sheath the roof, after tearoff, with plywood or OSB. If a #1 Blue label western red cedar shingle is laid directly over the old skipped boards, these roofs in the Midwest and eastern seaboard can last 40 to 60 years depending on roof pitch and a few other factors. The cost is about 15 to 25% more for an authentic roof that lasts twice as long.

    1. Bob, it’s all local as building always has been. For us here in Florida wood shingles are still allowed by code, but as the lightning capital of the world most insurance companies either won’t cover you or charge astronomical rates. But you’re right, nothing performs better than vertical grained Western Red Cedar on a roof. Most folks don’t even know why vertical grain is better than flat sawn shingles.

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