Wood shingle roof, Wappingers Falls NY (C) Daniel Friedman Wood Roof Shingles & Shake Properties

  • WOOD ROOF SHINGLE PROPERTIES - Characteristics of wood shingle & shake roofing materials. Guide to wood shingle/shake grades & wood species. Wood roof shingle/shake warranties. Best practices for roofing material installation, flashing, ventilation, nailing, underlayment.
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Wood roof shakes & shingles, properties:

This article discusses the properties of wood roof shingles and shakes, including shingle grades, wood species used in roofing, and wood roof shingle or shake warranties. Our page top photo shows a wood shingle roof on the historic Mesier Homestead in Wappingers Falls, NY.

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Wood Roof Shingles & Shakes: Materials, Grades, Properties, Warranties

Wood shingle roof, Metal roof-over, worn out (C) Daniel FriedmanAdapted/paraphrased with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, chapter on BEST ROOFING PRACTICES:

[Click to enlarge any image]

Wood shakes and shingles are traditional American roof coverings dating back to Colonial times. They remain popular in many coastal areas and are common or even mandated in certain historic districts.

Traditionally, wood roofs were laid on spaced sheathing, which provided good ventilation around the shingles and contributed to a service life of 30 years or more.

New wood roofs set on solid sheathing have been known to fail in 10 years or less unless the installer takes adequate precautions to allow for good drainage and drying of the wood roofing materials.

With installed costs of over $600 per square for premium materials, it is important to design a roof that will last.

Materials Used in Wood Shingle & Shake Roofs

Wood shakes and shingles soak up water through their end grain, dry unevenly in the sun, and slowly erode on the surface from a combination of ultraviolet radiation, wind, and precipitation. In humid conditions, wood shingles may become a breeding ground for moss, lichen, and decay fungi. To survive those harsh conditions, wood roofing should be made from a durable wood species that is either naturally decay-resistant or pressure-treated.

Wood Species for Wood Shingle or Shake Roofs

The most commonly used wood on roofs today is western red cedar. The heartwood of red cedar is rich in extractives that provide natural decay resistance. Eastern white cedar also has good decay resistance and is commonly used on the East Coast.

However, white cedar is typically flat-sawn and has a mix of heartwood and sapwood, making it less durable on a roof and more prone to cupping and splitting. Other less common species with good track records are Northern white cedar, Alaskan yellow cedar (actually a cypress), and white oak.

Whatever species is selected, use the best grade available. With red cedar and other decay-resistant species, the heartwood is far more decay-resistant than the sapwood. Edge-grain wood is more stable and less prone to cupping and splitting than less expensive flat-grain wood. The best choice for wood roofing is all-heart, edge-grained shakes or shingles.

Wood Shingle & Shake Shingle Grade Choices

Make sure the lumber to be purchased has been graded under the authority of a recognized grading agency such as the Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau for red cedar or the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau for yellow pine. A blue label on the packaging, for example, may simply be a marketing tactic and does not necessary indicate that the shakes or shingles are certified as Grade 1.

Wood Shingle & Shake Roof Warranties

If installed in accordance with the Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau’s specifications by a certified installer, the CSSB will guarantee wood roofing for 20 to 25 years, depending on the thickness of the shake or shingle. Some pressure-treated shakes and shingles carry warranties of up to 50 years.

Preservative Treatment for Wood Shingle or Shake Roofs

If premium red or white cedar is too expensive, consider pressure-treated southern yellow pine shakes and shingles. In its favor, yellow pine is a tougher and stronger wood, and although not as pretty as red cedar when new, over time they will both weather to a similar silver gray.

Because penetration of the treatment is nearly 100%, pressure-treated pine shingles carry guarantees against decay for up to 50 years, making them well suited to high-moisture environments, shallow slopes, and shady wooded sites where organic matter may collect on the roof. The preservatives should not leach out over time.

One drawback to yellow pine shingles and shakes is that many are flat-grained, so most come pretreated with a water repellent to help them resist cupping and splitting. However, retreatment with a water repellent at some point may be required for optimal performance.

Western red cedar shingles are also available pressure-treated for severe applications where standard cedar shingles are prone to decay.

More about preservatives and treatments for wood shingles and shakes is detailed at WOOD ROOF COATINGS & FIRE RATINGS and at WOOD ROOF MAINTENANCE.

Characteristics & Grades of Wood Roof Shingles

Shingles are sawn from blocks of wood, which gives them two smooth faces. They are relatively thin and cut to a taper. Red cedar shingles come in four grades, but most roofs use No. 1 or No. 2, which are all edge-grain heartwood (Table 1-6 below). They are available rebutted and rejointed (R&R), where a uniform appearance is desired, or machine-grooved for a textured surface.

[Click any image or table for a larger, more detailed version.]

Table 1-6: Western Cedar Shingle & Shake Grades (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Eastern white cedar shingles are also available in four grades. Most roofing work uses Grade A (Extra), which is all-clear, all-heartwood, or Grade B (Clear), which has no knots on the exposed face (see Table 1-7 shown below).

Table 1-6: White Cedar Shingle & Shake Grades (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Characteristics & Grades of Wood Roof Shakes

Shakes are split from large blocks of wood and may be resawn to create a taper. They are heavier than shingles, less uniform in thickness, and are generally rough-textured on one or both sides creating a more rustic appearance. Grades and characteristics for red cedar shakes and shingles are found in Table 1-6 shown earlier. Red cedar shakes come either tapered or untapered and are usually installed on roofs in Premium or No. 1 grade.

Fire-Retardant Treatment for Wood Shingle Roofs

Once popular on the West Coast, wood roofs have been banned in many residential areas by fire regulations designed to slow the spread of wildfires.

Fire-retardant treated (FRT) shingles and shakes have been developed to address these issues and can obtain a Class B or C rating when combined with other components in a fire-resistant roof system. With pretreated shingles, consult with the treating company regarding fastener requirements and any special application instructions.

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

Resources: Roofing Materials & Equipment Suppliers


Ridge Vents

Air Vent/A Gibraltar Company A complete line of roof ventilation products, including shingle-over and exposed-ridge vents with exterior wind baffles and internal weather filters. Also soffit and drip edge vents and passive and powered attic turbine-type vents.

Benjamin Obdyke Shingle-over ridge vents. Low-profile Roll Vent uses nylonmatrix. Extractor vent is molded polypropylene with internal and external baffles.

Cor-A-Vent Shingle-over low-profile ridge vents, including Cor-a-vent, Fold-a-vent, and X-5 ridge vent, designed for extreme weather. Corrugated core.

GAF Materials Corp. Cobra vent: roll-out shingle-over ridge vent with a polyester-matrix core 102 CHAPTER 2 | Roofing

Mid-America Building Products Ridge Master and Hip Master shingle-over molded plastic ridge vents with internal baffles and foam filter

Owens Corning VentSure corrugated polypropylene ridge vents; also passive roof vents and soffit vents

Trimline Building Products Shingle-over low-profile ridge vents, Flow-Thru battens for tile roofs

Elk Premium Building Products Highpoint polypropylene shingle-over ridge vents

Tamko Roofing Products Shingle-over ridge matrix–type Roll Vent and Rapid Ridge (nail gun version) and Coolridge, which is molded polypropylene with external and internal baffles

Venting Underlayments

Benjamin Obdyke Cedar Breather, a 3/8 -in.-thick matrix-type underlayment designed to provide ventilation and drainage space under wood roofing

More Information about Roofing Materials, Methods, Standards

Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA)

Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau

Metal Roofing Alliance

Tile Roofing Institute


-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

This article series discusses best practices in the selection and installation of residential roofing. This article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons


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