Cedar Shakes vs. Shingles | Compare Costs, Durability, Styles

Typical Price Range To Install a new Roof Average: $4,090 - $6,340
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Are you debating between installing a cedar shingles vs shake roof?

The two have significant design, installation and cost differences. On average, a cedar roof can cost $12,000-25,000, depending on whether you select wood shingles or shakes, grain quality, style and other factors.

Wood shake and shingle roofs are not the same when it comes to durability, longevity and protection against the elements.

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Average Roof Costs For:
Most Homeowners Spent Between: Most People Spent: $4,190 - $5,740 (For a 1600 sq. ft. Roof)
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Cedar Shingles vs Shakes

To a discerning eye, the visual contrast between shake and shingle is obvious right away.

Shingles have a smooth uniform look that spans the entire roof surface, while wood shakes have a more rugged appearance, with each piece looking a little different than the rest.

Indeed, this difference is the result of the distinct ways in which each one is manufactured. For centuries, and as recent as 50 years back, cedar roof shingles were sawn from a block of wood, while shakes were split off using a mallet and a froe (sharp blade).

Today, with the advances in technology, shingles are machine made. They are sawn smooth on both sides and cut tapered. Shakes are still made by hand, but now power equipment is used to speed up the process. They are typically sawn on one side and split on the other.

Another important difference is that shakes are thicker, ranging from 1/2″ to 3/4″ or greater at the butt end. Shingles range from about 3/8″ to 1/2″.

From an aesthetic perspective, shingles may be a good option for a classic home, such a Colonial, Victorian, Ranch, etc. Shakes on the other hand, add unparalleled charm and character to Cottage and Cabin style homes.

Cost Of Shakes vs Shingles

Once significant difference between the two materials is the cost. Because shakes are a premium quality product and is also harder to install, it can cost up to 1.5-2 times as much as shingles.

You can expect to pay $15,200-$24,000 for cedar shake (roof size 1,400-2,100 sq. ft), depending on the type and finish options you choose.

By contrast, installing cedar roofing shingles on the same size house will cost $12,800-$19,700, depending on the type and finish options you choose.

Wood Grain On Shakes And Shingles

There are three types of grain, each with a specific capacity for durability:

Edge: Cut perpendicular to the tree rings. because it is the most stable cut, it offers the highest quality and is least likely to split or distort over time.

Flat: Cut parallel to the tree rings. As a result, it is less stable than edge grain and is likely to split over time.

Slash: Cut perpendicular to the tree rings, but at an angle. This is the least stable cut, which is most likely to split or distort over time.

Wood Shingles Options

Cedar roof shingles are recommended for use on pitch of 3:12 or steeper. They are available in a number of different thickness and lengths, as well as grades.

Thickness and length

Fivex: 1/4″ thick by 16″ long

Perfection: 3/8″ thick by 18″ long

Royal: 1/2″ thick by 24″ long

Wood grades

In general, there are 4 wood grades for roofing:

Grade 1: premium quality; manufactured from the tree’s heartwood, 100% edge grain, with no defects.

Grade 2: good quality; manufactured from flat grain, with some sapwood allowed. Limited knots and defects are possible above the clear portion (it will show once shingles are installed). This grade is often used for re-roofing, as a starter course, or for a wall.

Grade 3: budget quality; may include sapwood and flat grain. Limited knots and defects are allowed above the clear portion. It is typically used for the undercourse in a two course application, garden sheds, or walls of outbuildings.

Grade 4 (Under-coursing): utility grade for under-coursing of double coursed sidewalls. This is NOT a roofing material and should not be used as a starter course for roofs.

Types Of Wood Shakes

Shakes are recommended for installations on pitch of 4:12 and steeper. All are cut from the premium Grade 1 (clear heartwood, with no defects).

There are 3 types of wood shakes

Heavy split and resawn: sawn on the back, while the front is split with the natural grain. This creates a highly textured surface on the exposed face, that can be instantly recognized for its rugged appearance. This is also the heaviest type of shakes, with available thicknesses of 3/4″, 7/8″, 1″ and 1 1/4″+.

Medium split and resawn: it is similar in appearance to the heavy split, and also produces a textured look. However, it is not as thick or heavy, with available thicknesses of 1/2″ and 5/8″.

Tapersawn: it is actually sawn on both sides to mimic the smooth uniform look of a shingle, only it is thicker.

As a result, you get the tailored shake shingle look, accentuated by a sharper shadow-line, created by the thickness of the butt. It is available in thicknesses of 5/8″, 7/8″ and 1″.

This is the most popular wood shake roof, as it works well with virtually any architectural home style.

Premium Shingles & Shakes

Depending on your needs and budget, there are a number of premium products available for both cedar shingles and shakes.

If you are looking for enhanced aesthetics, you can order the following:

Fancy Butt ShinglesFancy-butt shingles: (see picture on the right). These gorgeous shingles are manufactured in a variety of dramatic shapes. These are ideal for decorative accents.

Jumbo Shakes: a special order shake, typically a nominal 1″ or greater at the butt. By contrast, a Heavy Shake measures a nominal 3/4″ at the butt.

If you are looking for enhanced durability, you can order the following treatments (these are available both for shingles and shakes):

Fire Retardant Shingles/Shakes: while a typical cedar roof is susceptible to fire, it is possible to order Class A, B & C fire-retardant shingles and shakes. During the manufacturing process, these shingles/shakes are pressure-impregnated with fire-retardant polymers, and provide permanent fire protection. These products carry a distinguishing Certi-Guard label.

Fungal Protection Treatment: to extend the life of your roof, you can have your shingles/shakes pressure-impregnated with preservatives that will provide long lasting protection from fungal decay.

This is an ideal option if you live in an area of high humidity. These products carry a distinguishing Certi-Last label.

It is important to note that you can have your shingles/shakes treated only for fire OR fungal protection, NOT BOTH!

Installation Differences Between Shakes And Shingles

It is obvious that because shakes are thicker and are made from premium grades, they will typically be more durable and long lasting than shingles. However, there is one very important design and installation difference that affects overall functionality.

Because wood shakes are not made to be uniform and cannot lay completely flat (unlike shingles), the gaps between and under, make them more susceptible to wind blown precipitation.

To mitigate this issue, it is required by code to install a layer of felt paper between courses of shakes.

Felt helps block excess moisture and protects the roof. It also enables shakes to be installed with 2 rather than 3 layers, which would be very thick.

However, there are a number of inherent problems with this type of installation. First, there are many unscrupulous roofers, who cut corners and ignore building codes.

It is a requirement that even when felt layers are installed, joints between shakes must still be offset by at least 1-1/2″ from course to course, to create maximum protection.

Instead, because there is felt paper, roofers install these joints in an adjacent fashion, without off-setting them, which leaves felt as the primary source of protection against precipitation.

Moreover, even with proper installation, felt paper is not a strong guard against the elements, because it is thin and weak by nature. During the install, it often ends up being riddled with holes, which further weaken its ability to serve as a weather barrier.

On the contrary, shingles can lay flat and provide a more precise installation (felt paper is never used). Because they are thinner, shingles are always installed in a way that there are 3 overlapping layers at any point. This provides strong protection against rain and snow, even in severe weather areas.

This means that if you live in a region with frequent inclement weather, you have the following options:

1. Install Premium Grade shingles: you will avoid this issue all together.

2. Select Tapersawn shakes: they are similar to shingles in their uniformity.

3. Go for Heavy or Medium shakes: make sure to hire an experienced contractor, who will do a top notch job with the felt layers. Realize that with this option your roof will still be susceptible to moisture penetration, as felt is not meant to be a primary protection barrier.

Quality Considerations – The Certi Label

Not all shakes and shingles are made the same. If you want to ensure that your roof is made from the highest quality materials, select a product that carries the Certi Label, a registered trademark of the Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau.

Since 1915, it has been an industry leader in monitoring and inspecting member mills and manufacturers for quality assurance.

Participating members that carry the blue color Certi Label on their products must adhere to the most stringent grading rules and are inspected by legitimate, third party agencies, accredited by the Bureau. (see the proper label on the right).

Be careful of scams by manufacturers that put a blue color label on their products to lure consumers. We recommend you consult their website for a list of member manufacturers.

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Author: Leo B
For over 20 years Leo has run a successful roofing business in New England, specializing in metal roofing, as well as cool flat roofing technologies. Having replaced and installed hundreds of roofs in New England, Leo has first hand experience with pretty much every residential roofing material and roofing manufacturer available in the US.
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4 comments on “Cedar Shakes vs. Shingles | Compare Costs, Durability, Styles

  1. Really great tips! Many people don’t know the different materials for their roof and what it means for how long it will last.

  2. Leo, you are giving out information that is based off your opinion. I think that is important to note. In one of the misleading comments you decided to express is that cedar causes you to lose more heat. Firstly, factually speaking, the cellular structure of Western Red Cedar retards the passage of heat and cold with each cell acting as a insulating agent. Wood roofing and siding in fact has the highest insulation of ANY wood SUBSTITUTE. Wood has 413 times the thermal resistivity (R-value of steel, 2000 times that of aluminum, an 8 times that of concrete. Respectively, wood roofing AND siding helps to REDUCE the amount of energy needed to heat or cool your home. Wood hold in more heat in the winter, and keeps cool air in the summer. Wood is the most energy conserving product. Products like shakes is the only product that is made from a 100% renewable resource. You can recycle wood and it is BIODEGRADABLE. Withstands pounding hail storms, survives 130 mph hurricane winds, highly resilient in earthquakes, aesthetically pleasing, 20-50 year warranties, Fire treated available and you can get a CLASS A rated fire roof, which is the highest fire rated roof one can get. THE CHOICE IS WOOD John.

  3. It looks like we have to replace our 26 year old cedar shingle roof, and are debating which way to go. The old roof is on strapping. Any other roofing material would mean to resheet the total roof first, before considering another type of roofing material. Our question is replace with the same or what would be a better option? A suggestion is very much appreciated. Regards John Maas.

    1. Hi John,

      I hope this is still relevant (we had issues with comments, so I just found this).

      My personal opinion is that a Metal Roof is the best option for steep slope roofs. I very much like metal shingles – they can look like slate, tile or even Wood Shingles. I know aesthetics is a big deal, and only you can decide what you like.

      In your case – you can keep strapping and have a metal roof or synthetic slate installed, and you would not need to install solid sheathing.

      A standing seam / R-panel / 5-rib system or any vertical panel metal roof can be installed over spaced strapping.

      If you want the look of wood shingles you can still have a very realistic looking metal roof that resembles wood, and has multi-tone paint – check it out here.

      Would I install another cedar roof if it was me? No, I would not. I do not see any benefits of using cedar shingles/shakes. They are expensive and do not last too long in my opinion. I also do not like discoloration. Lastly, you loose a lot of heat through a cedar shingles roof. So what I would do – strip wood – either go with standing seam or new plywood + metal shingles.

      If you want solar (at some point) then standing seam is the way to go. If you don’t care for solar and want the look of wood shingles – go for Matterhorn metal shingles. There are also plenty of other styles that look great. I have Red Slate steel shingles by MetalWorks on my roof and am very happy.

      But definitely metal … it’s great for snow/ice dams, reflects heat, you can insulate underneath, you don’t need to worry so much about ventilation if you use breathable underlayment, and so many other benefits – like over 50 years of roof life…

      I hope this helps and is not too late – let me know what you decided to do.