The Real Story On Wood Shingles and Shakes
Wood shingles and shakes go back to 1800's
when they were the roofing system of
choice. They are typically made from Red Cedar.
The shingles are sawn uniformly, in a few standard
Shakes are split, creating a more rustic
appearance, but that does require an additional
course of roofing felt between each layer to help
Wood shingles and shakes can be installed on
roofs that are 3:12 and over. They are also light
weight, so they can be installed on virtually any
The benefits of wood shingles and shakes.
The big benefit these systems offer is their visual
appeal. Few things are more attractive than their
rustic appearance. They are especially beautiful
when they are still fairly new, but have weathered
into a natural gray.
The look is so attractive that all the asphalt shingle
manufacturers have architectural shingles made to
look like “weathered wood” or “cedar”.
The problems with wood shingles and shakes.
The main disadvantage with wood roofing is the
inherent fire hazard. I saw an aerial photo of a
neighborhood in California that had been struck by
a brushfire. Every home had burnt to the ground
except one. They all had wood roofs except for
the one left standing, which had a tile roof.
Brush fires aren’t the only fire hazard for wood
roofs… Sparks from a wood-burning stove or
fireplace have started many wood roofs on fire.
Insurance companies hate wood shingles and
shakes, as they have been burnt so many times
insuring them. They won’t provide coverage, or
want enormous premiums to do so.
The fire risk is so great that many areas have
outright banned wood shakes and shingles,
despite manufacturer’s attempts to make them
more fire resistant.
I’m a tad dubious on how fire-resistant they
actually are. Here’s why I say that…
The owner of a roofing company I used to work for
liked to save dump fees by burning trash that
accumulated around his warehouse and office.
Almost every day he had a bonfire, burning up old
pallets and such. I had just returned from cleaning
up my first wood shake job and had some scraps
of the “fire- resistant” material in the back of my
truck. It occurred to me to test their fire-resistance
by throwing them on the bonfire. I was amazed at
how fast they burst into flames.
Other disadvantages of wood roofing include:
They can be extremely hazardous to walk on when
wet, which it might just be when you are chasing a
Wood requires periodic cleaning and treatment to
keep it free of fungus.
Wood tends to curl and split, creating leaks. That
is a big problem in places like Florida, which has
lots of rain, immediately followed by lots of sun.
Wood shakes and shingles are expensive. On top
of a labor intensive manufacturing process, is the
shipping expense. The last ones I bought here in
Florida were trucked all the way down from
Installing wood shakes and shingles is labor
intensive. Each one covers a fairly small area and
has to be individually positioned and installed with
And great care must be taken to select or cut each
piece to avoid exposing nails in the course below. I
once replaced a wood shake roof that was only
three years old because the roofer screwed this
up. He had exposed nails (and leaks) all over the
place. This work is somewhat of an art and is not a
do-it-yourself friendly project.
Wood shingles and shakes also have a fairly short
life span… typically 15 years or less depending on
the climate. Combine that with high repair and
maintenance expense, and you have huge lifecycle
My opinion of wood shingles and shakes: They
may have been the best choice a century or two
ago, but their time has come and gone. I love the
look, but the fire hazard is a “Problem” that rules
them out in my book.
You can do better… for less money.
If you choose wood anyway… Go with a
contractor who specializes in wood shakes and
shingles. The correct flashing details and nail
placement are critical with this system. You want a
guy who does it all the time.
And be sure to get the type treated with fire
retardant, for whatever that’s worth. At one time I
think they just sprayed it on, but the kind to get is
the type where fire retardant is pressure treated
deep into the wood.
You are better off going with wood shingles than
shakes as they are easier to flash effectively.
Also, inquire about a premium underlayment. That
will help the system be more forgiving to any water
that gets under the wood roofing.www.macgregorroofing.com By Bob Murphy