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Advantages and disadvantages of a cedar shake roof

A look at the environmental advantages as well as disadvantages of using cedar shakes for roofing.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 17, 2009

Sheep Dog Hollow is a 1902 farmhouse that's being restored in Connecticut. One of its first needs is a new roof.

Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor

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Compromise, although often essential for harmonious living, is not always easy. This post is about the decision to put cedar shake roof on Sheepdog Hollow and it is an ode of sorts to compromise, albeit, a grudging one.

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My research made it clear that a highly reflective standing seam metal roof would be the most energy-efficient and long-lasting roofing option. And while it was not the most economical choice in the short-term, it was by far the most economical in the long-term simply because of its durability.

I can imagine generations to come gratefully looking up at that standing seam metal roof and murmuring a quiet thanks that 100 years from when it was installed, it was still keeping the house warm and dry.

But alas, that’s not what future generations will see. No, Martin, my fiancé and partner in this project, wants a cedar shake roof, and so, in the spirit of compromise, that’s what we’re putting on.

If I had my druthers, a faux cedar shake roof made of long-lasting recycled materials like the EnviroShake brand would have been the perfect compromise. Even Bob Vila, formerly of "This Old House" fame, has featured them on his website. They cost about the same as a high-quality metal roof, have a life expectancy of about 50 years, don’t need to breathe – which means they can be applied directly to plywood – and they don’t need much maintenance.

But Martin would have none of it. “We agreed to try to retain Sheep Dog’s original appearance,” he said. “I want cedar.”

OK. So here are some of the energy and environmental benefits of a cedar shake roof:

According to the FinerLiving.net site: “One of the reasons they are popular is that they are very easy to install and look beautiful. Repairing them is also very simple and can last for 50 to 60 years if you treat them well.”

Our local roofing contractor – we’re trying to use as much local labor and resources as possible to help sustain our new community – also had some good words about cedar shakes.

“They’ve only recently started to recycle asphalt shingles, so there are millions of cubic yards in landfills around the world,” says Reid Parady of Parady & Sons in East Haddam, Conn. “With wood shakes, they either rot or, in our case, we stockpile them and shred them up and use them as chips for mulch.”

Reid also noted you can ensure that your cedar shakes come from a sustainable forest, one that’s certified by Forest Steward Council or other forest certification organizations.

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