The use of wooden roofing materials in the United States dates back to the early colonies. Because trees were plentiful, they used wood in almost everything they built. While Europeans preferred thatch or tile roofs, the colonists chose wooden shakes made by splitting logs along the grain of the wood and securing them in rows. The wood species used to make these early shakes varied according to the trees indigenous to the area.
With the shakes exposed to direct sunlight, rain, and snow, these early builders needed to devise methods to protect the wood and the integrity of their roofs. Linseed oil and pine pitch applied to the shakes helped to seal out moisture and slow deterioration of the wood. By the 19th century, cedar became the wood of choice. Already popular among native cultures due to its unique properties, the colonists recognized its natural resistance to rot, decay, and weathering.
Maintaining Cedar Shakes
Today western red cedar shakes and shingles are still popular choices for roofing as well as siding. The natural wood can last decades, but proper care and maintenance can extend the life of the wood even longer. The best way to preserve your cedar siding is to prevent damage and decay before it happens. The two most significant factors that contribute to cedar deterioration are moisture and sunlight. While cedar wood contains some oils that naturally protect it from water, it can still become water-logged.
1. Remove Vegetation – Trees planted close to your home that shade the roof or outer walls can prevent the roof or siding from drying completely after rainstorms. Bushes in direct contact with the wood can even hold water against it, accelerating decay. Trimming back the vegetation regularly allows the wood to dry, preventing mold and mildew from growing.
Falling leaves and pine needles can collect on the roof and clog gutters causing water to accumulate on your cedar roof. Wet wood is a breeding ground for moss, lichen, mold, and fungus. These organisms can take root in the wood and destroy the integrity of the shakes, leading to cracks. These growths also contribute to the problem by holding onto rainwater.
2. Clean Regularly – Cedar shakes need regular cleaning, especially if you see spots of algae and mildew. Pressure washing your cedar shake siding can do more harm than good. The concentrated spray can force water between and underneath the shakes. Too much pressure can even gouge the wood.
Instead, the Cedar Bureau recommends cleaning cedar with a solution that is one part bleach and three parts water. A pump sprayer works well for applying the solution. After 15 minutes, gently rinse it off, taking care to spray the water down to avoid spraying it up behind the wood. There are also many wood cleaning and brightening products for maintaining outdoor wood. If you choose to use one of these products, be sure to follow the directions on the bottle for the best results.
3. Treating the Wood – If you want your cedar roof or siding to look great and last a long time, it is a good idea to apply a high-quality stain every few years. Like the linseed oil used by early colonists, oil-based stains penetrate the wood well and help provide a protective seal against moisture. Transparent stains provide little protection against aging caused by ultraviolet rays. Choosing a semi-transparent or opaque stain can protect the wood from sunlight significantly better.
To achieve the best outcome, be sure to wait for the proper conditions to apply your stain. If the wood is too wet or the weather is too hot, the stain will not adhere properly to the wood, and you may need to reapply much sooner than you had planned. Remember that even on a cooler day, the sun may heat the surface of the wood past the optimal temperature.
If you are thinking about installing cedar siding because you want that traditional look, but you don’t want the maintenance that comes with it, you may want to consider siding panels. We love the Cedar Valley three-layer panels. The outer layer is made of western red cedar cut against the grain, which is excellent at absorbing stain. This outer layer is mounted on a plywood backer attached to a laminate underlayer. These three layers work together to provide superior protection against the outside elements. Because this siding comes in panels instead of individual shakes, there are fewer gaps in your siding, and installation goes much faster, saving time and money.
Cedar Valley panels come in custom contours and colors, which can be prefinished at the factory or on-site to match your home. This material naturally insulates your home better than aluminum or other types of siding. It is lower maintenance than traditional cedar siding and comes with up to a 50-year warranty. You can enjoy the appearance of cedar shakes without the work or cost of refinishing it every few years.
For hundreds of years, homeowners have been using cedar wood to build their homes, decks, and fences. The wood is very workable and looks great for a long time. Investing time and money into installing and maintaining cedar shake siding and roofing is well worth the cost.