What are Cedar Roofing Shingles?

Published: Sep. 25, 2018
cedar shingles on roof

How Cedar Shingles are made

The western red cedar shingles are mostly a byproduct of the logging techniques used in the northwest of the U.S and Canada. Cedar shingles are sawn with two smooth faces and are supplied in three lengths: 16”, 18” and 24”. Blocks or “bolts” are pre-cut to size. The pre-cut bolts can be sawn or split into final products. These products are made in the forests and then delivered to the manufacturing plants.

History of Cedar Shingles and Roofing

Cedar shingles have been manufactured for over 100 years. Many national parks buildings in the U.S were constructed using cedar shingle roofing. In the late 19th century, cedar shingles were the primary source of roofing materials for residential and commercial buildings. Before the shingle machine, wood shingles were cut using a mallet and froe. They were then filed using a drawknife. The shingle machine provided an economical and smoothly finished shingle product and also utilized the unusable grains of wood into lower grade shingles that would otherwise be useless.

Alternatives to Cedar Shingles

Asphalt Roofing: Asphalt was very popular across North America in the 70’s and 80’s. Almost 97% of asphalt shingles used in North America are made of fiber-glass. Asphalt, both in the form of 3-tab shingles and architectural shingles is easy to install and has a low installation cost.

Composite Polymer/Roofing: Composite polymer imitates natural cedar in its thickness, color, texture and profile size. Its natural wood-like appearance makes it very similar to cedar. Composite polymer is durable and increases longevity.

Lightweight Tile Roofing: Lightweight tiles cost more than cedar shingles and composite roofing products but offer increased durability and good performance. Lightweight tiles come in a variety of colors and are fire-resistant.

Plastics and Synthetics: There are many plastic roofing products that are designed to look like slate and cedar. These products are easy to install and lightweight in nature. Some plastic shingles have a shiny finish and are relatively thin with average widths of 6”-8”. Plastic shingles are highly prone to breakage and do not provide good resistance to cold temperatures.

Clay Roofing: Clay roofing products are natural and renewable. They do not curl, flake or fade. Clay shingles are resistant to moisture but are not suitable for extremely cold temperatures as they are unable to withstand freeze-thaw.

Rubber: Rubber roofing shingles are usually made from recycled tires. Some rubber shingles also contain fiberglass and anti-degrading agents, adhesives and curatives. While rubber shingles are not natural, they are a sustainable roofing option.

Advantages of Cedar Shingles

  • Environmentally-Friendly:

Cedar shingles utilize a lot of wood fiber that would otherwise be wasted in forests. They also have one of the lowest carbon footprints since they are a bi-products and supplied from sustainable sources. Cedar shingles require little energy to be manufactured.

  • Durability:

In their natural state, cedar shingles are durable and long-lasting. Cedar wood has a lifespan of around 50 years and is resistant to insect attack and decay to the presence of naturally occurring oils. Due to their thinness, cedar shingles always have three overlapping layers at any point when installed. This makes them durable and resistant to rain and extreme temperatures.

  • Higher R-Value:

Cedar shingles have a higher R-value as compared to alternative roofing materials. They also have double the amount of bitumen making them good insulators. Cedar shingles work well to keep buildings warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

  • Lightweight and Easy to Install:

Cedar shingles are very lightweight making them easy to handle and transport. They also require little effort to be installed and therefore, reduce the roof or cladding installation time. Installed like other pitched roofs, they use battens and underlay that is twice fixed with steel staples or nails.

Disadvantages Of Cedar Shingles

  • Costs:

Harvesting old-growth cedar takes time and is not sustainable in the long run. Cedar shingles cost more to install and can be very expensive to replace as cutting restrictions limit the availability of old-growth cedar in the market.

  • Maintenance:

Cedar roofs need to be replaced quicker than other roofs and are more difficult to maintain. In order to prevent moss and mold growth, cedar shingle roofs demand regular maintenance. Cedar treatment preservatives can be used during the crafting process to help protect the wood.

  • Combustion:

Cedar is naturally combustible and therefore there are restrictions to where it can be used. Regular treatments are required to maintain the cedar and protect it from rotting and damage.

Fire, Wind and Hail Ratings

Cedar shingles can be categorized according to the level of fire retardation that they offer. Customers should choose the level of fire protection according to the temperature and area condition. Western Red Cedar has a Smoke Development Index rating of 4.

Cedar shingle roofs have been approved to be highly resistant to winds. The Southeast Forest Experiment Station and the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, describe the performance of cedar roofing in their publication "Houses Can Resist Hurricanes", static uplift tests on cedar shakes and shingles prove that wind resistance exceeds 130 mph.

Cedar shingles perform better in hailstorms when compared to other roofing materials. Haag Engineering of Dallas, Texas determined that cedar products receive only superficial marring from ¾” hail. There are no permanent visual damages to cedar shingles due to hail indentations.

Cedar Shingles and Solar Reflectance

Cedar shingles manufactured using Western red cedar offer good thermal resistance. Their high R-value enables them to retain heat when using the heater in winter. They also prevent cold air from escaping when using air conditioning in summer. With the use of cedar roofs, fewer greenhouse gases are released into the environment and this can reduce your energy bills, particularly during the summer when using the air conditioning.


Cedar shingles are about $2-3.5 per square foot. As of 2018, the average cost of cedar shingles is $6,800-9,500 installed on a 1,700 sq.ft. ranch style home. You can expect to pay $4-7.5 per sq.ft. or $8,500-$12,750.