June 19, 2019

Your Complete Guide to Wood Shingles

Learn everything you need to know about wood shingles and make the best choice for your next roofing project!

Time to read:
5 Minutes
Written by
Nicholas Capobianco

Wood shingles are some of the oldest roof coverings anywhere (second only to tile). They were invented at a time when people were using whatever they could find to build their homes, and have remained a staple in modern roofing technology.

Wood shakes and shingles have that old-world charm.

Examples of wood shakes versus wood shingles

In the 19th century, we saw some of the first well-formed wood shingles being made for colonial-style homes. Prior to this, there wasn’t a commercial way to cut and mass-produce uniform wooden shingles. It was during this time that people used what we refer to as wood shakes.

Wood shakes are made by splitting wood, and are usually rougher and less exact than shingles. Shingles are cut, and have that perfectly measured look that creates neat and predictable lines. Both are types of wooden shingles, but they present very distinct styles.

In fact, wooden roofs are one of the most stylish roofing material choices homeowners can make. It’s a very purposeful design decision and durability combined with the look helps to offset the increased cost.

Shakes vs. shingles: is there a difference in performance?

Wood shakes are uneven and tend to have a thicker end, while shingles have a uniform thickness throughout. The material used to make them and the way that it’s treated is what dictates the quality of the wood roof.

There’s also a difference in installation techniques and in wood grades. Some people opt for inferior wood when purchasing shakes because they’re traditionally more expensive. This is due to the need to split them by hand. Shingles can be mass produced using machines, while shakes are still made using old-world craftsmanship.

Both need to be layered on and carefully placed to create a watertight barrier against the elements. But, wooden shingles will give the roof a smooth and more traditional finished look than the shake versions, which will appear more old-fashioned and rough.

The way that both wood shakes and shingles are made also has an impact on their quality. Shakes have a grain pattern that prevents water damage and allows them to last longer. Shingles need to be replaced more often but cost less. The decision has a lot to do with the upfront costs, size of the roof, and overall style of the home.

Installation basics

Experts recommend treating even pretreated shakes or shingles with a transparent stain or compatible oil. Heavy sealant will cause too much moisture to build up in the body of the wood and lead to early degradation.

Any treatments should be applied before the shingles are attached to the roof. Adding the extra waterproofing to the entire surface of the roof isn’t a great way to try and protect the longevity of the materials used.

Once this is done, it’s time to figure out whether the shingles or shakes need to be nailed directly to a thicker decking, or to a slightly raised section specifically prepared to receive the shingles.

The only time that wood shingles or shakes should be nailed directly to the roof decking is when they’re being installed in an extremely dry and predictable climate. Otherwise, they require a small amount of space between the shingles and the actual surface of the roof. This allows for airflow that prevents damaging moisture build-up.

As you can imagine, the installation of a wood roof requires special skill and a contractor that knows what they’re doing. Always make sure that you thoroughly vet your roofer to avoid choosing a company that doesn’t have the necessary expertise.

The pros of wood roofing

The majority of complaints related to wood shingles involve the cost and difficulty to replace. Both of these things are mitigated by the durability and visual appeal associated with a well-installed wood roof. The reason that these materials remain so popular include:

Energy efficient

Wood (specifically cedar) doesn’t conduct heat very well. This results in excellent insulation from cedar wood roofs, reducing your heating and cooling bills. The savings on your utility bills is another value-add from wood roofs.

Durability and stability

Wood shingles stand up to wind, debris, impact, and provide superior protection for decking. This results in less of a need to replace shingles and an average life of thirty years before the entire roof needs to be replaced. Wood shakes and shingles are also resistant to swelling and hold nails and fasteners better than many other shingles.

Fire resistant

Cedar shingles can come in a variety of fire safety ratings. Wood shingle manufacturers can create shingles and shakes with an A fire safety rating that meets the highest level of standards.

The cons of wood roofing

Deteriorating wooden roof

Again, the costs of wood roofing are usually the reason why consumers hesitate to make the decision. The location can also have a significant impact on the longevity of wood shingles or shakes. Additional cons include:

Susceptible to algae growth

Wood shingles are susceptible to the growth of algae and moss. This can cause the wood to rot and require premature replacement. Even shingles that are treated for this can lose their protective coating when constantly exposed to adverse weather. It’s extremely important to check the average life of wood roofs in your geographic location before making any decisions.

Insects and rot

Wood-boring insects can eat through wood shingles and cause damage to the integrity of the roof. It’s a good idea to speak with your contractor about potential threats in your area.

Working with the best professionals available

Whether you’re a contractor or a homeowner who needs expert insight, Roofr can help! Contact us today and we’ll help connect you to the resources you need to get your next roofing project done right.

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