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What is a cedar shake roof? 

view of cedar roof with large windows

Simply put, a cedar shake roof is a roof with wooden “shingles” that are cut from cedar trees. The shakes are set in overlapping rows, much like asphalt shingles, and are either hand-split or sawed. In general, hand-split shakes are more rustic in appearance, and sawed shakes take on a smoother, more uniform look. 

If you like a shingled roof but you’re looking for something with a bit more character, you might consider a cedar shake roof. These roofs provide great insulation from outside temperatures, offer excellent durability and of course, are a bit more environmentally friendly since they’re made of natural materials. 

Pros and Cons of Cedar Shake Shingles

Before we dive into everything you need to know about cedar shake shingles, let’s take a deeper look at a few pros and cons of this type of roof. We’ve included a table to help you decide whether this type of roof is the right one for you. 

Ages beautifullySimilar lifespan as asphalt shingles
Can withstand high winds and severe weatherA pricey roofing option
Can help lower energy billsRequires maintenance
Environmentally friendlyNot suitable for heavy snow or very rainy climates
close up of straight grain cedar shakes on roof

Grades of Cedar Shake Shingles 

Cedar shakes come in grades, which you’ll quickly learn when shopping for this type of roof. Essentially, these are three levels of quality, which can inform how long your roof will last. Here, we’ll take a look at the three different grades of cedar shake shingles, and an approximate cost for each grade. 

Common Cedar Shake Shingles

This is the most basic type of cedar shake shingles, and tends to be made up mostly of the leftover cuts after the higher quality shakes have been cut. Common shakes can come from just about any part of a cedar tree, and are the most likely to warp with the passing of time and exposure to the elements. According to Forbes, the average cost per square foot for common cedar shake shingles is between $4 and $8. 

Selects Cedar Shake Shingles

Opting for “selects” cedar shake shingles will enhance the look of your cedar shake roof and increase the lifespan of your roof as well. You can think of selects as a mix between straight grain and common, with about an 80/20 mix: about 80% of the shingles will be straight grain and 20% will be common. Forbes lists the cost for selects at about $6 to $8 per square foot.

100% Straight Grain Cedar Shake Shingles

The most expensive type of cedar shake shingles is referred to as straight grain. These cedar shingles are hand-cut for the highest quality and a straight grain, which makes them far less likely to curl up. Because of this, you’ll pay more for these cedar shakes; between $9 and $15 per square foot. 

brightly colored cedar shingles on a roof

Cedar Shake Roof Installation 

A cedar shake roof is installed in much the same way as an asphalt shingle roof. Flashing will be laid with care in order to seal moisture out and prevent mold and mildew from entering your home. Then, a roof deck – a thin sheet of plywood – will be put in place and covered with an underlayment. Battens, or thin strips of wood spaced evenly apart, will then be nailed down, serving as an anchor point for the shake shingles. 

Finally, the shakes themselves will be laid, in what’s referred to as a “broken bond” pattern: two shingles laid side by side and a third that overlaps them in the middle in order to protect the seam. After all the cedar shakes have been laid, a saw will be used to cut the edges of the shakes in order to perfectly fit your roof. 

Cedar shake roof installation cost

You can use our roof replacement cost calculator to determine a ballpark estimate for installing cedar shakes on your roof. This is a great place to start, since the calculator will use the square footage of your actual roof to project an estimate. 

The industry standard for the cost to install cedar shake shingles is between $25 and $30 per square foot. While this might seem like a lot, it’s crucially important that the roof is installed properly to ensure longevity. A roofing professional will have the expertise necessary to ensure your roof is properly installed. Instant Roofer has a convenient find a roofer tool you can use to find the best contractor for your job. 

buckling and sun bleached cedar shakes

Cedar Shake Roof Maintenance

From the table above, you’ve learned that cedar shake roofs do require a bit of routine maintenance in order to stay in top condition. It’s one of the few types of roofs that require ongoing care and attention, but it’s worth it in order to retain the natural beauty of a cedar shake roof. 

Inspect for moss, mildew and algae

It’s important to regularly inspect your cedar shake roof for moss and algae growth, as well as mold and mildew. Any time there’s wood involved, these problematic issues can cause water damage. Regular inspection can prevent excess build up and extend the life of your roof.

Clean cedar shingles 

Every five to seven years, cedar shake shingles need to be cleaned with water and a mild detergent. Just a gentle cleaning is all that’s needed, and you should avoid power washing a cedar shake roof, as the high pressure of the water can cause damage to the shingles. 

How long does a cedar shake roof last?

When properly cleaned and maintained, and in the absence of weather conditions that can damage cedar shake shingles, like heavy snow or excessive rainfall, you can expect your cedar shake roof to last between 30 and 50 years. 

When to Replace Cedar Shake Roof Shingles

If you’re wondering how often should a roof be replaced, know that the answer differs based on the type of roof you have. Cedar shake shingles last a long time, but they will break down and require replacement at some point in time. Here are some signs to look for that can clue you in that it might be time to replace some of your cedar shake roof shingles. 

  • splitting
  • fraying
  • loose or missing shingles
  • curling up (from the bottom)
  • cupping (curling from the sides)
  • visible underlayment or battens

Cedar Shake Roof Repair 

The good news about a cedar shake roof is that in the vast majority of cases, you can replace individual shingles when they’re worn or damaged, instead of having to replace the entire roof. Of course, there are some cases where total replacement might be in order, but for the most part, you can simply replace cedar shakes by removing the damaged ones and replacing them with new shakes. Of course, you’ll experience some color variations when doing this, since cedar shakes start off orange and age to a beautiful silver wood tone. 

Fact checked by Christin Perry – 3/29/2024