Pros and cons of cedar shingles?
September 18, 2006 11:31 AM   Subscribe

What can you tell me about cedar shingles?

We're thinking of siding our new house with cedar shingles, which will be in the 'burbs of Boston. I love the look of new, unpainted cedar but I'm concerned with the look of the house over the long term. I know down on Cape Cod all the houses have sort of a faded look to them, which is fine. But in-land the cedar shingles seem to darken as they age. They look almost dirty, mildew-y.

What about bugs? I don't like 'em and I'm told bugs think cedar tastes like ass and will stay away from it. Does this change over time as the wood ages? Will the bugs eventually take up residence in the walls?

Please, tell me about your experience with this type of siding.
posted by bondcliff to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I do know that Western Redcedar (which is not realy a cedar) is the most recommended wood for cordwood construction because of its resistant to rot and bugs.

I've also seen cedar shingles used everywhere from the northern Sonora desert to the rainforests on the coast of British Columbia, to varying degrees of success. The most failure I've seen has been because of wind, not because of rot or mildew.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:45 AM on September 18, 2006

Wood shingles are more prone to fires than some other types of roofing materials. Fire + wind = flying embers = fire embers landing on the roof and igniting the shingles.
posted by frogan at 11:52 AM on September 18, 2006

my parents sided their house with cedar shingles in suburban chicagoland. the color changed considerably, but never achieved the weathered grey look you describe. still looked cool, though. no problems with bugs.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 12:01 PM on September 18, 2006

i have cedar shingles (shakes) on my house and am a proponent of them. they were there when i bought it about 10 years ago and i have a bit of experience with them now.
first, they really do need to dry out well and thus should be in at least decent sun exposure. the one side of my house which is in the shade of the neighbor has a good amount of rotting shakes. and when a few rot, it is very hard to replace just those pieces as they are nailed down under the ones above it which are nailed down above them and so on. thus to get one out you need to take a lot out. or replace the whole thing.
mine were painted to begin with so i am not sure about how they would have aged if they were left natural.
i have had no big issues at all. i don't think they would attract bugs though ever.
i love the look of them so would not at all want vinyl siding or the like, even if it would cost much less.

supposedly also, the cedar shakes help the house "breathe" a lot better which keeps the structure of the house in much better condition as condensation should be form inside the walls and the like.
posted by annoyance at 12:10 PM on September 18, 2006

Cedar siding (shakes or otherwise) will weather to a silver-grey colour if left to the elements. If you want to keep the red cedar colour you'll need to treat the shakes with stain and/or UV inhibitors every 5-10 years. The shakes themselves are fairly durable. The good shingles that you see on 100 year old homes were split from old growth trees, most new shakes cut from second growth trees won't have that kind of inherent resistance to rot and bugs. However properly installed (IE: flashed correctly and with a ventilation space) they'll last a long time and what resistance they have doesn't leech out over time.

Cedar shakes (well, all siding really) should be protected from continuous wetting by rain. The best method is wide overhangs. If your house has minimal overhangs cedar shakes aren't a good match if you get much rain or long periods of drizzle.

When you're looking around make sure you aren't looking at pine shakes. Those will deteriorate fairly rapidly especially when exposed to water. And definately don't buy treated pine shakes. Every 10-15 years some bright boy comes out with a new treatment for pine shakes and they sell them like hot cakes for a few years till the shakes start failing.
posted by Mitheral at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2006

Shingles are very nice. They have a tendency to breath without locking moisture into the structure. They are like paint in the sense that they wear slowly over time, and then you do it again. They also patch well.
White cedar turns grey with age.
Red Cedar turns dark.
Cypress lasts the longest, and greys with age, but very hard to find.
Red lasts somewhat longer than white. But some of the Pacific Northwest cypresses (like Port Orford Cedar) last nearly as long as Swamp or Bald Cypress and age grey like the white cedar.
Any finish you put on shingles will eventually wear away, and then you will have to do it again. It is a pain. Some people dip their shingles prior to installation in a preservative, but I always thought that darkened them over the years. There are pre-stained shingles now on the market.
The amount of shingle that shows in a course defines its ability to deal with wind. 4 1/2 inches is considered standard, but the courses on my house are 1,3,4, 3,1 ... which gives a very interesting lateral or horizontal detail ... I am on the ocean open to the sea in all directions. About half my shingles have lasted 96 years, through a dozen real hurricanes as well as hurricane w.inds four or five times a year. They are cypress
The nails used to attach the shingles are most important. The biggest failure I am having at the present is the corrosion of the fastening system. The old timers used cutnails and sometimes copper. The new gun driven ring nails suck and do not last long and repairs become very problematic. This part is a cost issue because airguns speed the work up so much.

Lastly, it is important to have your landscape plantings away from any wood siding, as plants allow moisture and moisture allows bugs and various forms of rot and fungus. You need to surround a house with air, and then with plantings. Plants grow, and what looks far away today will be encroaching in four years. So trim the back as well as the front.
posted by elmaddog at 12:42 PM on September 18, 2006

My parents had a huge debate about this a couple of years ago. This is what I remember from it:

There are two kinds of treatments you can do to cedar shake shingles: anti-mildew/mold, or anti-fire. You cannot do both.

If you are in a townhouse, or if your house is within a certain distance of other houses, you may be required by town building codes to have roofing materials with a specified fire-retardancy. Untreated cedar shakes, or ones with the anti-mildew treatment, are relatively highly flammable. Check if they meet the requirements.

If you are in a wet area, or if your roof is shaded by trees or other buildings, it will be very prone to mold/mildew. This will mean that the shingles will come to look mildewy, and that they will need to be replaced soon (my parents' information indicated replacement within 10 or 15 years).

My parents decided against using cedar for these reasons.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:47 PM on September 18, 2006

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